How long do camcorder and VHS tapes last?

October 20, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

How long do camcorder and VHS tapes last?

Wednesday 7 October, 2020

Research shows that magnetic tapes such as VHS, if stored well, will start to experience signal loss after 10 years. Magnetic tapes older than 15 years could be in serious jeopardy!

Do not delay in transferring your treasured family movies into a digital format. Any tape that you have recorded your home movies to back in the day is magnetic. 

Do magnetic tapes degrade?

Over the years the magnetic part of the tape literally comes away from the base of the tape. Initially this will be visible to the viewable tape as flickers, or white snow on the screen, but leap ahead a few more years and your memories are literally falling away from you. It is definitely never too early to get your memories preserved forever.

Do it yourself tape transfer is risky

You can't always retain quality when transferring your old camcorder tapes into a digital format via your computer. 

There are many devices listed on eBay that purport to helping you achieve VHS tape transfer, normally costing anything from £30 to £90. These devices connect your camcorder or VHS player and take the signal into to the USB socket of your computer. 

Many people discover that the end result flickers or "rolls", therefore the quality will be sub-standard and the sound out of sync. 

Professional VHS to digital transfer

What quality can you expect if you use a professional tape transfer company?

Described below is the process and equipment that we, AG Studios, use to successfully retain the very best tape transfer quality possible. This description will allow you to decide whether to go down the DIY tape transfer route or use a professional. 

Firstly, we start with dedicated and high quality machines to play your tapes. We have a wide range of video tape playing machines in our studio:

  • Camcorder
  • Mini-DVD
  • DVD
  • VHS
  • VHS-C
  • 8mm
  • Hi-8
  • Digital-8
  • Mini-DV
  • DV-CAM
  • Betamax
  • Betacam SP
  • U-Matic

The signal from these machines, as we play your tapes, firstly passes into a Time-Base Corrector (TBC). This device smooths out the signal, reduces or eliminates the flicker, standardises and enhances the colour and quality of the image, and keeps the sound completely in sync with the visual footage. 

Our TBC machine, which costs around £2,500, is used by all TV production companies worldwide to achieve the above advantages.

The signal from the TBC then reaches a digital transfer device that converts the signal into a digital format. The final video feeds into our edit suite computer where it is captured.

If required, we can then take the digital file into our editing software and tidy up the beginning and end, lift the volume and quality and convert to your preferred format.

The most common tape to digital conversion choices are:

  • Convert VHS to DVD
  • Convert VHS to computer file suitable for editing
  • Convert VHS to AVI
  • Convert VHS to MPEG
  • Convert VHS to MP4

Which computer file should I ask for?

There are several files that will work on your computer to edit with or simply view. An AVI file is used by a Windows PC. An AVI however will not play on a Mac, the operating system simply doesn’t to have any recognition of this codec at all. The AG Studios suggestion is to request an MP4 file. It is superb quality, a relatively small file size and best of all plays on either PC or MAC. We can drag the file either onto a portable hard drive, a memory stick or send you a link to download the file online, which sometimes works well if you’re sharing with other family members who may want to also download.

Rest assured that here at AG Studios, all tape to digital transfers are done in-house using our dedicated transfer studio with a huge amount of care and personal attention. We will ensure the best possible results are achieved and the highest level of care is given to your precious memories,  preserving them digitally forever.

We can arrange collection UK wide. All parcels and deliveries are fully insured and signed for and we offer the same for the delivery back to you. Alternatively, we are based in St Albans, Hertfordshire and our shop is open weekdays for you to hand the tapes to us in person. The prices are incredibly cost effective for the amount of work involved, we only ever charge for what is actually on your tape, not how long it actually takes us.

Questions about tape to digital transfer:

How do I transfer old camera tapes to memory stick? 

We recommend a professional transfer service with conversion to a digital format such as MP4. An MP4 can then be copied to a memory stick.

How can I edit Sony Mini-DV tapes?

The original tapes should be converted to a digital format. Once digital, you can use software such as iMovie to edit your family videos.

Sound out of sync when my VHS tapes were transferred to my computer?

This problem usually happens when using poor quality tape playing and tape transfer machinery. A professional service will provide synched voice to footage.

How to transfer video from an 8mm or Hi8 camcorder to a computer running a windows operating system?

Our article above provides the answers to this question, we essentially recommend a professional service to avoid losing those precious family moments. 

Can you connect an old camcorder to computer? 

It depends on the connection, and you won’t always achieve the best quality using either a direct transfer, or the camcorder software. 

Convert camcorder tapes to DVD near me?

If you are looking for a local tape to digital transfer company, look no further, AG Studios in St Albans offer both a local and UK-wide service.


Event Photography — Getting Creative in London, Park Lane

February 21, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Event Photography — Getting Creative in London, Park Lane

Friday 21 February, 2020

It's always great fun engaged as the professional photographer at corporate events. This particular job was for an event company called Beyond Certainty Ltd, based in London. I have undertaken event photography for Beyond Certainty for the past 20 years. Haralambos Stavrou and his business partner Elia Nicolas head a great team of experienced event professionals organising events for all types of corporate functions internationally. 

I was contracted as the event photographer in London at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park lane. The entire Great Room, the largest ballroom in London, was transformed by Beyond Certainty into a Phileas Fogg, Around the World in Eighty Days themed space. This transformation took place for their client’s New Year party.

The theming was superb and the whole venue looked spectacular, with hot air balloon table decorations, life-size elephant statues and a toastmaster dressed and announcing like Phileas Fogg himself. In keeping with the film, there was even an old London pub bar installed, featuring a cockney pianist, which of course was used as the event reception drinks area.

The evening not only featured a full sit down meal, but was full of surprises. Acts such as aerial ribbon acrobats performed from the extensively high Grosvenor Great Room ceiling. Other activities included dancers, speeches along with a host of fun games for the guests.

On arrival, the guests had the opportunity to have their photograph taken, either as a couple or with work colleagues and friends. I, the professional event photographer, was extremely busy! Totalling up the head count, I think I photographed about 150 couples within an hour of arrivals. Not only did they all get a lovely full length image showing off their beautiful attire, but the AG Studios professional on-site instant print service team were hidden in the backroom producing a beautiful mounted print for every person to take home as a surprise when they departed.

Creative Event Photography

As the photographer, I am totally in my element at this type of event. So much to photograph and get creative with!

Roaming the room and creating images that tell a story. Not simply snapping at happy and smiling guests, but trying to incorporate the clever branding and theme around the subjects.

I try not to use flash photography too much, enabling me to be very discreet and preserve the ambience of the event. 

Towards the end of the evening, a very unique awards ceremony took place. It had me laughing while taking the photographs, not an easy task! The ceremony presented prizes to the company’s employees, you'll see what I mean when I list just a few of the categories:

  • The lowest company expenses mobile bill
  • The highest company expenses mobile bill
  • Highest amount of days holiday taken
  • The highest meal expenses bill used for entertaining clients

Altogether it was a very different evening’s event photography in London, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Amazing theming, even to the last detail, where each act and element or room decor was crafted in the Phileas Fogg theme. To take it one step further, whilst the guests ate their meal, huge screens projected clouds and sky, giving the guests the feeling as if they really were flying in a balloon.

Congratulations to Haralambos of Beyond Certainty for this event. It’s always great working with him, and even more so, to be able to undertake the event photography in the Grosvenor House Hotel, London at this fantastic and elaborately visual event.

If you’re looking for a creative event photographer for your next London event, or closer to home in St Albans, why not give me a call. I would be more than happy to provide initial advice as well as a guide to event photography pricing.


Picking the perfect Wedding Venue by St Albans Photographer

February 14, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Picking the perfect Wedding Venue by St Albans Photographer

Friday 14 February, 2020

I have been a wedding photographer in St Albans, Hertfordshire since my training began, about 30 years ago. Back then I used photographic film, taking just 15 exposures on a single roll of film. For each wedding I used to get through about 6 rolls of film, taking about 90 photographs.

Adaptation into digital photography means I can probably add another zero to that figure. The opportunity to take more photographs and be more creative is now common place.

Being a wedding photographer is something I enjoy, immensely.

The chance to be creative with enough experience to capture all the important moments of the wedding day is a winning combination, producing the perfect end result. Combining photography in and amongst people who are having fun and being able to make them laugh and smile makes the job so much more rewarding.

In one instance it was a huge compliment for a couple to book me before even booking the main date and venue for their wedding.

Wedding Venues in St Albans

I often get asked advice from couples, including questions such as:

  • Which St Albans venue is the best for wedding photos?
  • Which venue has the nicest grounds in St Albans?

My knowledge even extends to seeing behind the scenes, I can offer advice on how I feel the venue staff run the day.

So I thought it may be useful to share detail on a few local venues and point out the good and bad points. Its always helpful, and indeed my own wedding was booked at a venue simply because the staff were nice to me as a photographer when I was working there. The Bobsleigh Inn in Bovingdon was the venue, I had a few wedding photographic jobs to do there and the staff were just lovely, checking I was ok, offering me drinks etc. I remember thinking to myself; wow this is nice, they don't have to do this for me, I'm not a customer! "Imagine how nice they would be if I were to...”  And one day, I was a customer! And a great day it was!

Sopwell House in St Albans

An amazing venue with many good sized rooms to choose from. The grounds are lovely and the gardens always well maintained, with a small pond with bridge making a good photo opportunity. Staff always efficient too. However, they do squeeze a lot of weddings in per a day, sometimes up to five in one day. Although the wedding times are staggered, with only one area for photos in the grounds, the wedding photographers do find they are given a time limit to get the photos done before having to go in for the meal. Curtains are drawn and then while you eat the next wedding is ushered outside for photos. Decor at Sopwell House is good, but building and interior lacks a little character. Overall a good venue choice.

Ardmore House Hotel in St Albans

A family run, non-chain hotel that boasts a great conservatory area for the service, or an outside licensed gazebo for lovers of open air weddings. The garden is a decent size, well maintained with flowers and greenery, offering nice photo opportunities. The owners are Italian, so standby for some lovely cooking for the wedding breakfast. There is only ever one wedding a day held at this venue.

Tyttenhanger Park

An old manor house set in quiet and picturesque countryside. Exclusively one wedding held at any one time, you will have the use of all the stunning grounds complete with the unique architectural pond. The manor house itself it full of character, not only making a great backdrop for photography, there are also some quirky doorways and arches to use as settings too. Not always allowed, so check with venue, when last there I had the pleasure of popping upstairs to see a very unique little chapel.

Mercure St Albans Noke

A building with great character, and I have never heard any of my wedding couples giving anything other than praise for the venue. There are not a lot of outside spaces here at all, making it tricky for large groups. However a little wooded area can accommodate approximately 25 people for a group shot. In wet weather you can use the front of the hotel which makes a nice backdrop. Unfortunately the venue for me has some downsides, such as the yellow lines painted on the road to the front, which I have to remove in photoshop! Also it is quite a busy and noisy location, right on the roundabout of the A414. Generally the venue looks a little tired and could do with some TLC.

St Michaels Manor Hotel

A stunning wedding venue. Plenty on character here, inside and out. Large gardens containing a lake and small jetty, ultimately backing onto Verulamium Park. It gives the same look and feel in the gardens as Verulamium Park, if you are familiar with that location. The gardens provide beautiful photo opportunities and a set of steps ideal for group shots. The venue is licensed for outdoor weddings too, on the Jetty. The conservatory area provides an ideal space for the wedding breakfast. Downsides may be that the exclusive use of the hotel and rooms, which although nice, can be expensive. Also, be careful where you tread in the grounds, as it is full of ducks and geese that may have left their mark!

Beaumont Hall

Beaumont Hall is a magnificent Grade II listed Georgian farmhouse that offers exclusive hire for your special wedding day in St Albans. The house includes plenty of traditional features and character, creating a warm and inviting ambience for your wedding day celebrations. This venue is a reception only venue and can cater for small or large weddings. Your celebrations can take place in the venues grounds where you can hire a luxury marquee, tipi or tent and then get creative and add your own special touches to the space. You will be sure to get plenty of remarkable wedding photos at this venue with many backdrops to choose from.

Top wedding venue and photography tips

  • Find out if there is only one wedding taking place at your preferred venue on your chosen date.
  • Where areas are available for the wedding photography?
  • Check where the sun will be in the sky at the time of the wedding photography - you wouldn’t want the sun in your eyes, equally you don’t want dark shade.
  • Always go for a food tasting!
  • Make sure you enjoy the company of the venues professionals who will be looking after you on the day.
  • What are the wet weather contingency plans - ie where can photos be done inside if it’s raining.
  • What time does your evening function need to end? There may be sound restrictions in built up areas, meaning your music may have to stop at 10.30pm.
  • Choose a photographer that knows the venue.
  • Allow yourself time after the service before you eat (I would suggest 90 mins).

Arif Gardner
Wedding Photographer in St Albans


St Albans photographer at the Travel Convention ABTA Conference in Tokyo

December 16, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

St Albans photographer at the Travel Convention ABTA Conference in Tokyo

Monday 16 December, 2019

I have been providing photography services for ABTA now for the past 12 years. Each year they run a travel convention conference at differing destinations around the world. 2019 was a little special, and I was asked to be their conference photographer at the event in Tokyo, Japan.

AG Studios, St Albans Photographer to travel to Japan

For this particular conference, my connection with ABTA came via their events team Dellar Davies, based in Ware, Hertfordshire. A highly professional and skilled team headed by Elaine Dellar. The whole Dellar Davies team always make me feel welcome on their productions. They not only produce a top notch result for their clients, but they are a wonderful bunch of individuals. I get on really well with the team, so much so that I’m able to enjoy a swift Asahi with them after the hard days’s photography is over.

Three solid days photography in Tokyo

So, three days photography and another five in Tokyo in total, including travel. Luckily, prior to the conference start, I was able to enjoy a couple of days not only adjusting to the +9hrs time difference, but taking in some of this magnificent city’s sights. With the Dellar Davies crew we had a fun day out navigating the Metro underground system, visiting a temple and sampling a traditional Japanese restaurant which was beautiful! Fried chicken with noodles… no, I don't do Sushi!

To be honest, Japan was never on my ‘places I must visit bucket list’, but having visited, I can honestly say I am totally in love with the place.

The Japanese really make this country special. You couldn’t imagine just how respectful and polite people are, always going that extra mile to make you feel welcome. Helpfulness beyond belief!

You wouldn't get that in ASDA!

An example was after I had finished photography for an ABTA Lifeline charity football match. My next assignment was to attend and photograph a very important VIP lunch.

Having left the football ground I had to find a taxi in a rather remote area of Tokyo – I failed to find a taxi rank and not an UBER anywhere near range for my 45 minute journey to the lunch! What should I do?

Starting to panic slightly, I walked for 20 mins down the road wheeling along my camera bag and came across a large supermarket. I wandered into it, straight to a girl working at a till and I used the Google translate app on my iPhone - I spoke into it "could you order me a local taxi please”. The cashier took my phone and listened to the live translation, as her English was zero, and my Japanese was even more zero than zero! She spoke back into it, and translated to me that she had said "yes, no problem".

To my amazement, she left the till, made a call for me, came outside with me where she had organised the pickup and then waited 10 mins with me for the taxi to arrive. We spoke through Google translate whilst waiting which was fun. Then when the taxi arrived she told the driver where I wanted to go, once done she bowed her head to me. I couldn't resist a quick hug to say thanks as that was such a nice gesture and so helpful, she then went back into the supermarket.

In the taxi, I couldn't help thinking to myself 'you wouldn't get that in ASDA!’

I arrived with plenty of time to provide the event photography at the VIP lunch.

As a photographer I wanted to experience and capture the culture

This was not an isolated incident. Everywhere you go, people acknowledge you and bow their head, ready to help. Even pavement roadworks are protected not only by cones and barriers, as you'd expect, but also a person, with what can only be described as a mini lightsaber, ushering you around and warning you.

The same man with a sabre is always present when buses are pulling out, or anywhere that any kind of hazard could occur.

The tube trains run like clockwork, all clean and air conditioned, there is no graffiti or litter anywhere. In fact there are no public bins, because it is the cultural norm to take your rubbish home with you. The taxi drivers are smart, polite and very reasonably priced. The driver opens and closes your door electronically and each taxi has little lace white seat coverings where your head and shoulders rests. Just lovely!

Culturally different but so good to see and experience; you cannot talk on your phone whilst on public transport! Nor can you whilst you walk along the street. It is best to stand in a corner in a still position and you won't get stared at. It is also not acceptable to eat whilst walking along.

These things aren't illegal, you aren’t going to get arrested for them, but it is considered very impolite. Someone described to me how Japanese people feel when they see someone doing any of those things. Imagine being served your cornflakes in the morning in an old urn that used to contain someone's cremated ashes... ewww I hear you cry… well, that's how they feel apparently.

Smoking was pretty unusual. You could smoke indoors with no problem, but you can't smoke outside unless you find a rare smoking sheltered area. Seems the opposite to the UK, especially St Albans.

There were some very strange shops in Tokyo

I witnessed a queue to get into a shop where you paid to go in and stroke dogs.

There were cat cafes, and even an Owl cafe. Certainly not inline with the westernised animal care etiquette that we are used to. Perhaps they have a little to learn on that score.

Conference photography with a difference

Enough about my love for this vast, quirky city, with so much to see and experience.

Enough about the helpful, wonderful Japanese people and their lovely culture.

I had a job to do. Conference and Event Photography.

The conference itself was large, with a rather impressive stage set and an audience of over 500. My job was to photograph each guest speaker and discussion panel on stage.

I had to take extreme care to photograph the branding / logos and sponsor names behind each person, creating the perfect PR photography.

I normally sit on the back press row with all the journalists during conferences, supplying them with pretty instant photographs from each business stage session. Their articles and tweets are able to contain my photography, keeping the news fresh for the worldwide audience.

There were host nation shows, welcome dinners, auctions, football, bowling, an ABTA Lifeline charity cycle ride, and lastly, a Gala dinner. All of which needed capturing photographically.

The three day’s photography are pretty long and pretty full-on! I'd say my hours were 8am to 3am solid, for all three days. The client and UK press required the photographs almost instantly. Therefore the work included post processing of photographs, on-site, during each session.

After the three full day’s photography, it's safe to say I need a well earned rest! So upon landing back in the UK and arriving in St Albans, I welcomed the pre-booked day off that I arrange each time I return from this job. I caught up on an awful lot of sleep!

Do I enjoy it! Of course I do – I absolutely love it!


Wedding Photography at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire

September 09, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Wedding Photography at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire

Monday 9 September, 2019

It’s fantastic to receive thanks for the Wedding Photography service that I provide. But it’s so much more than a service, it’s a real pleasure to capture a couple’s most treasured moment. 

Wedding photography wherever the venue, fills me with pride and a sense of duty. The photographs have to be perfect, not only must I capture the bride and groom looking their very best, but the wedding venue needs to stand out within the photographs as a place that the couple will remember forever. 

Wedding photography for Stephen and Jenny was one such occasion. The wedding took place at Whittlebury Hall in Northamptonshire, where Jenny and Stephen were a genuine delight to work for and photograph. 

Here is their story as published in The Wedding Planner, I’d like to thank them again for the kind words expressed in the article.

Stephen & Jenny

Married on the 29th December 2018 this was a wedding with a Christmas feel

As we married at the end of December, we did have some Christmassy touches. In fact, not only did we ask Whittlebury Park, our venue, if we could keep the Christmas trees but whether they could add more lights! We wanted a warm, romantic look with lots of twinkly lights and candles.

For the tables we used ornate candelabras as the centrepieces with mini Christmas crackers and personalised chocolates for each guest.

Our four-tier cake was special as it had a sparkly glitter tier.

My Dad and Steve’s Mum have passed away, in remembrance of them we had their initials on a candle which burned throughout the day.

Also, I had a charm with a picture of my dad, Ron, on my bouquet so he could still walk down the aisle with me.

Before the first dance we asked everyone to come outside for some photos with sparklers but really, we wanted to surprise them with a firework display by Halo FX – it was a huge hit with guests exclaiming it was better than some organised events. We finished with the sparkler photos which just added more romance and twinkly lights!

We love live music, so we felt the day needed a band. ‘Jukebox’ performed an acoustic set during the day, a chilled classic set through the drinks reception then livened up with covers across the decades; everything from Jackie Wilson to The Killers – they were brilliant.

Our photographer, Arif Gardner from AG Studios, was excellent. He put everyone at ease and was so happy he really got into the spirit of the day. He captured our day beautifully.

In a future article I will be giving you my experience as a Wedding Photographer, talking about the best venues for wedding photography in Hertfordshire and St Albans. 


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