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Old Nagra's

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What are people doing with there old Nagra"s these days? I have two 3's in mint condition a 4.2, X4S and a 4stc all sitting on the shelf. I thought somebody might like to look at this machine we used at the 1984 Olympics in Sarjeavo.

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Oh, yeah, that was the legendary Nagra VPR-5 1" C videotape recorder, released around 1983. It was an attempt to make a very small, high quality, portable video recorder that you could drag around for news or documentaries. In theory, it was much higher quality than the 3/4" machines people had been using for news for about 7-8 years.

Unfortunately, the machine didn't hold up well in the real world. It suffered from gyroscopic error, so if you tried to run down the street, or made a sudden sharp turn while carrying it, the picture would momentarily break up. Not good for video. It was light years better than the previous Ampex portable, the VR-3000 (circa 1972), which was even more unreliable. And because the latter used 2" videotape, it was extremely noisy and sucked power like it was going out of style. The VPR-5 was also very heavy, but they did engineer the heck out of it; I seem to recall an NAB demo where the designer practically jumped up and down on it while it played back (with the cover on), which was impressive.

The VPR-5 was a noble effort, and it showed that Nagra was trying to broaden their horizons. But ultimately Betacam killed it. The quality wasn't as good, but portability and reliability proved to be more important factors.

I'm still bummed that Ampex never came out with a timecode DAT machine (or even a high-quality analog cassette machine).

You can see more about these weird Ampex machines here on this "Lab Guys World" website, which is a treasure-trove of obscure video history:

http://www.labguysworld.com/Ampex_VR-3000-Anniversary.htm

http://www.labguysworld.com/Ampex_VPR-5.htm

--Marc W.

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Marc, you are correct it was better than the 3/4 machines and it had better specs than the Sony BVH 500. The biggest problem I had with it was we were doing the winter Olympics and I had to take my gloves off to get to those pin head sized buttons. When you did a tape change in a snow storm the moisture would get on the heads causing the tape to stick and shut the machine down. I will try and scan some old photos of my sound cart. I went to an army surplus store, bought an aluminum framed back pack and took of the canvas pack. I then mounted a BVH 50 with batteries and audio gear and carried it on my back. Oh to be young again!

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Ampex tried unsuccessfully to compete with the Sony BVH 1" Type C machines and pretty much failed.  In those days I was working in location production w/ Type C machines on a daily basis, and we had nothing but trouble w/ the Ampex decks and the Sonys mostly just worked.  The Sony BVH 500 was an amazing machine for its day, very complex but fairly reliable.  The engineers at the production company I worked for looked at the Nagra/Ampex, but passed because of all the problems they'd had w/ Ampex machines and because of the price--I recall that Nagra/Ampex as being a good deal more expensive than the BVH500.  No 1" vtrs were ever anything to write home about re: recording while moving.  A side note: I recently worked at a stage in SF that had changed hands a few months ago and was being somewhat remodeled.  In a pile of stuff to go the scrappers was a Sony BVH 3000, the 1" editing deck.  That made me feel very old.

Philip Perkins

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My two Nagra STCs and my cherry old Nagra III (you had to hold a button down to monitor direct) sit packed away in my shop.  I guess I wasn't smart enough to unload them before they were obsolete or perhaps I just never believed that something so elegant and utilitarian would ever be relegated to the trash heap.  Occasionally, I have the thought that someday some young hot shot mixers will find it cool to add some genius analog to their recording stacks.

Just dreaming...

Bruce

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I was able to sell my last Nagra III and have regretted it ever since--the only really cool looking tape recorder I ever had.  I still have my TC Nagra (with the "Harvey Board")--the offers I got for it pissed me off enough that I decided to be buried with it. I'll bet my body will still bear the twists and curves that machine inflicted on me even then.

Philip Perkins

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I actually had a friend of mine call me up the other day and say he is teaching his first year film students about the Nagra. When he asked me if I could give him any tips on it the first thing I asked was is it a history course. The last feature I did with mine was 3 years ago and I had to buy up all the stock I could find to make it through. So if anybody is looking for stock I know where there are unopened cases of 468 7" reels.

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I actually had a friend of mine call me up the other day and say he is teaching his first year film students about the Nagra. When he asked me if I could give him any tips on it the first thing I asked was is it a history course. The last feature I did with mine was 3 years ago and I had to buy up all the stock I could find to make it through. So if anybody is looking for stock I know where there are unopened cases of 468 7" reels.

I think I have 2 cases still, sitting next to the bin with the Nagra and all its accoutrement.

Philip Perkins

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I actually had a friend of mine call me up the other day and say he is teaching his first year film students about the Nagra. When he asked me if I could give him any tips on it the first thing I asked was is it a history course. The last feature I did with mine was 3 years ago and I had to buy up all the stock I could find to make it through. So if anybody is looking for stock I know where there are unopened cases of 468 7" reels.

Having started my career in the old analog days, I really miss the hands on feel of 1/4". There is something really special about watching the reels turn.

Eric

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Having started my career in the old analog days, I really miss the hands on feel of 1/4". There is something really special about watching the reels turn.

Eric

Eric, all you need is a hard drive with a clear plastic cover like the Nagra used.

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Eric, all you need is a hard drive with a clear plastic cover like the Nagra used.

I miss that too...  but I think my head would explode watching the "reels" turn at 4200 rpm!

-  JW

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I could never bring myself to part with my Nagras (4.2, IS, lVstc). I still even have my old Sela.

I did rent my 4.2 to some guys from Xbox here in Seattle to record explosions for some new games.

They went out with a pyro team with a bunch of hd recorders as well as Pro Tools.

I also rented them some of my old EV dynamics which went straight into the Nagra. 

The 1/4" mono tape at 15ips was a hit with young guys there.

I'm glad the old recorder got some use in the high tech world!

Btw, I believe we can thank the Nagra/Ampex video machine for establishing the Lemo as the standard for TC plugs!

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The good news is that we got to live in all these eras of technology. Love the here n now of our gear and lives, but nothing ever looked as cool as a Nagra recording IMO. I for one will never sell my Nagra's.

CrewC

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I keep hoping I'll stumble upon a Nagra IVS-TC real cheap on eBay. I'd never use the damned thing, but man, those were just built like... well, a beautiful Swiss watch. I want one just for nostalgia -- absolutely beautiful technology. They put a lot of thought and attention to the location of every knobs, how all the switches felt -- a lot of stuff manufacturers take for granted today.

On the other hand, the weight was a killer. The only Nagra I used out in the field was a Nagra III, which I think used what... a dozen D Cells? Whatever it was, it felt like it was at least 15 pounds, half of which were batteries. A real backbreaker. I used one of those and an 815 many times in the late 1970s.

Wilcox Sound in Burbank I think has a really old Nagra II (or what I think is a Nagra II) in a glass display case at the front of their building. It's definitely not a III or something later -- it almost looks like a WWII prop.

--Marc W.

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While we're talking about 1/4" tape, Many years ago at Gotham Recording in NYC I set up a 10 slave Ampex 3200 1/4" duplicator system that ran at 60ips with 14"/5000' pancakes of 3M 111 tape. Having a center drop out of a pancake and watching 5k feet of tape spiral onto the floor is not one of the joys of life. You never realize how much tape there is in a 5k foot pancake until it's not.

Eric

Eric

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I keep hoping I'll stumble upon a Nagra IVS-TC real cheap on eBay. I'd never use the damned thing, but man, those were just built like... well, a beautiful Swiss watch. I want one just for nostalgia -- absolutely beautiful technology. They put a lot of thought and attention to the location of every knobs, how all the switches felt -- a lot of stuff manufacturers take for granted today.

On the other hand, the weight was a killer. The only Nagra I used out in the field was a Nagra III, which I think used what... a dozen D Cells? Whatever it was, it felt like it was at least 15 pounds, half of which were batteries. A real backbreaker. I used one of those and an 815 many times in the late 1970s.

Wilcox Sound in Burbank I think has a really old Nagra II (or what I think is a Nagra II) in a glass display case at the front of their building. It's definitely not a III or something later -- it almost looks like a WWII prop.

--Marc W.

Yeah, 12, as did all the Nagras except the IS.  BUT....with the III, the 4.2 and the non-TC IVs you could run for days on that set of D cells....

Philip Perkins

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Reminds me of a short film gig I did many years ago (before i owned any gear). Where I requested a PSC or Wendt Field mixer and got a PSC Retro mixer instead that took 12 D batteries

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Yesterday I was doing part of a doco shoot and we were interviewing an 80 year old woman who told us quite incidentally that her late husband had been the agent for Nagras in NZ for many years.

She had remarried and when I asked her previous married name, realised he and I had worked together for many years for the same organisation. There were a few great stories exchanged and lots of laughter and while the i/v had nothing to do Nagras, it made her day and mine.

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Reminds me of a short film gig I did many years ago (before i owned any gear). Where I requested a PSC or Wendt Field mixer and got a PSC Retro mixer instead that took 12 D batteries

And 4 pin DC......

Philip Perkins

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Having a center drop out of a pancake and watching 5k feet of tape spiral onto the floor is not one of the joys of life.

I have many similar "post disaster" stories. One I'll never forget is, I worked on an episode of the old Incredible Hulk show for Universal in 1980. After the telecine transfer was finished, I was taking off the 3000' 3-track mag from the Magnatech, and the center core fell out and all the mag spiralled out all over the floor.

My tape op and I were scurrying around for about 3 hours, laboriously trying to hand-wind all that mag back onto the core. God, what a mess. (At least it wasn't the picture!)

--Marc

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I was taking off the 3000' 3-track mag from the Magnatech, and the center core fell out and all the mag spiralled out all over the floor.

I've heard the story, possibly apocryphal, of the New York editor who always arranged to have his editing suite above the tenth floor precisely to deal with incidents of this sort. With a core drop out, he would toss the film out the window, let it spiral down to the ground, and then simply reel it in.

David Waelder

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One of the stories that I love is the story behind how Stephen Kudelski designed the pilot tone.  The story I was told was that he had a friend who loved the opera, and he would take his battery powered recorder to the opera with him.  Upon returning to home and playing back the tape, the friend realized that the voltage drop on the batteries had caused the recorder to record at a slower speed than when it had started, subsequently changing the pitch and vocalization of the singing actors.

He presented the problem to his friend Kudelski, and he came up with the pilot tone that allows the controlling of the speed of the recorder while the voltage is dropping from the batteries.

I've never known if this story was true, but it makes for a great urban legend kind of thing.

I only have my IV-STC left, a couple of years ago I decided to sell my 4.2 and ended up donating it to the Hollywood Museum for a tax write off, no buyers.

Last recording my Nagra did was the pilot for the HBO series "Six Feet Under."  For which I won a Cinema Audio Society award for Best Sound, now that's what I call going out on top.

Cheers,

RVD

Pilotone allows control of the speed of the playback (by comparing the 60 or 50 Hz tone recorded on the tape to a stable reference such as the power line frequency, ie "resolving") and controlling the motor of the play deck accordingly.  In record, the Pilotone system is just recording the tone, not controlling the speed of the recording (as in a video type deck like a DAT etc..).  We were able to get this kind of system to work thru various funky methods on non-Nagra cheapo recorders like the Sony TC800, by taking the Pilotone out of cameras like the Eclair NPR etc. (even Nizo Super 8 cams) and then resolving the recorded control tone against 60 Hz.  I even had a Sony TCD5 cassette recorder modified to do this, pretty well.  The great thing about Kudelski's system (in the Nagra III "P" versions) was that it was a reliable system with its own dedicated (outboard) resolver that showed you a lot of info about the "state of sync" and the level of the Pilotone etc..  It also seemed to work perfectly under almost all circumstances (barring gross human error...).

Philip Perkins

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