Can I control a FireWire camcorder via USB?
July 28, 2012 1:17 PM   Subscribe

I need a firewire to USB converter to import some old and precious MiniDV video to a MacBook Air using the camcorder. Does such a thing really exist?

My only computing option is a laptop so a simple FireWire card won't help me, and the old PowerBook G4 I had with a FW port has left this mortal coil.

I searched Amazon and it seemed like all the converters/adapters I could find had overwhelming 1-star reviews saying they didn't work.

Is there such a thing as a simple converter that works and would allow me to use my ~9 year old Sony MiniDV camcorder to import my video?
posted by gazole to Technology (9 answers total)
You can find one here - bottom of page. Don't know about working, but the price is so low, it can't hurt to try.
posted by yclipse at 1:46 PM on July 28, 2012

It looks like there are some wacky cables out there that simply wire a USB plug to a Firewire plug, that work with certain camcorders that are set up for this kind of wacky adapter.

Does your MBA have a Thunderbolt port? Apple announced a thunderbolt to firewire adapter but it's not in the store yet. When that comes out it will almost certainly work if you have thunderbolt; it will have a 9-pin firewire cable and so you will need a 9-to-4 pin firewire adapter (monoprice, unless apple throws it in).
posted by ftm at 2:14 PM on July 28, 2012

yclipse, those look like 9 pin to 4 pin FW adapters. ftm, I have the early 2011 model with no Thunderbolt, unfortunately.
posted by gazole at 2:48 PM on July 28, 2012

As a work around, there's lot of portable external drives that have firewire and USB jacks. You can probably daisy chain them together and get to the MiniDV that way. You might not be able to control the MiniDV camcorder though it, but you can just let it roll and do a live record of the output.
posted by DaddyNewt at 6:12 PM on July 28, 2012

Based on my experience with such devices in the past (I've done a lot with Macs and MiniDV and Firewire connections of all kinds), the ones that you can find will never work. You're talking about two fundamentally different protocols. The reason you can adapt things like DVI and HDMI is that those two connections are electrically compatible and sending similar data on similar protocols.

Firewire and USB are just data transfer, but they're doing it in fundamentally different ways. When you do firewire video capture, it's transferring the data in a very specific way. Feeding it in a different way is going to cause issues; video capture was cranky enough with the various Firewire devices we did use.

Your best bet is to just find or borrow someone else's computer, capture the video, transfer the data, and be done with it.

I should note that tape support is starting to be dropped, and while there were good reasons to use tape in the past (especially for certain people), replacements are now cheap and better enough that there's no good reason to keep using it.

Transfer your video as I suggested and don't put yourself in the position of needing to use tape again, if you can help it.
posted by Strudel at 6:12 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed with Strudel; USB and Firewire are very different, you aren't going to find a dumb adapter that go between the two.

This is going out on limb: You could get a Firewire ExpressCard and then connect it to your MBA with this USB to ExpressCard adapter. The adapter is marketed toward Wireless Broadband Cards so I can't be 100% it'll work, but it's only $20.

Or find a friend with a ExpressCard slot, since the Firewire card should definately work by itself.
posted by rdhatt at 6:54 PM on July 28, 2012

Thanks for the answers, all. I see this is not as easy as it appeared at first.
posted by gazole at 8:11 PM on July 28, 2012

The USB to Expresscard adapter thet rdhatt links to will not allow you to control a firewire expresscard. Expresscard has two interfaces, PCIe and USB. The USB Expresscard adapter just has the USB interface and all the PCIe stuff is not connected at all. See the page for that product.

I don't have solution for you, but the USB Expresscard adapter will certainly not work.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:08 PM on July 28, 2012

@Confess, Fletch ah makes sense, thanks.
posted by rdhatt at 6:00 PM on July 29, 2012

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