Digital Camcorders

Written by Shirley Parker
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We hardly give it a thought today, as we compare pages of camera equipment, looking for the best prices, the friendliest warranties, the most impressive features. Yet digital camcorders are the still-ongoing product of decades of experimentation, inventions and patent filing. And we are the lucky ones to be the beneficiaries of so much genius and hard work! We run around filming the kids, our pets, grandpa shoving anniversary cake in grandma's face, or a coworker unwisely beating the boss at arm wrestling at the company picnic.

Film students know, or will learn from their studies, that video recorders originally used two-inch wide videotape, so the machines were huge and not capable of being transported. From that initial size of horizontal freezer chests, smaller machines were invented that used three-fourths of an inch or one-inch wide videotape. Still the size of suitcases, it took brawn, strong backs and shoulders to haul such cameras around, even with the help of a dolly, or porters on location.

Price also put the video cameras out of reach of the ordinary mortal, unless they had $30,000 to plunk down for a "home video system" from Ampex. One can only imagine the size of the equipment and accessories in 1963, since the camera alone weighed 100 lbs. Pass that old catalog, please, or visit LabGuy's World online for more information on truly vintage equipment.

Camcorders Became Smaller

By 1967 Sony had brought out its PortaPak, the Video Rover, as it was called. Model number DV-2400 had a heavy black-and-white camera that was separate from the VCR record-only unit. Although one person could carry the Video Rover, two people were needed to actually operate it. Today's camcorders use videocassettes, cartridges or mini-disks, but the PortaPak VCR was helical, meaning it resembled but was more complex than a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Some of us remember muttering at those, too. The VCR wasn't easy to operate and the camera itself had other temperamental behaviors.

Sony continued to refine its products, as did JVC, Panasonic and other names now well known to us in the digital camera field, such as Canon, Kodak, and Sharp. The new products came fast and furious, with Sony's Betamax vying with JVC's VHS during development of the two-hour length, half-inch format familiar to consumers. JVC introduced color VHS in the mid-70s. The world hasn't looked back, except in nostalgia or expression of artistic voice.

Uses for the Digital Camcorder

One of the most marvelous inventions was the Steadicam®, invented by Garrett Brown. His stabilizing system eliminated jitter and other problems from video recording. The camera could be as steady as the person holding it, even when he or she was hiking through rough and narrow canyons, or threading through crowds. Brown's 50 patents also include the registered trademarks Skycam, SuperFlyCam, GoCam, Divecam, Mobycam, and the Steadicam JR for handheld camcorders.

During the social upheaval of the '60s and '70s, hundreds of documentaries were taped using the more portable camcorders then available. No longer did the public only get the official version of what was going on--or the news networks' interpretation of it--they had their own reporters and cameramen and women out there in the streets. It is not so easy to rewrite history when it has been seen from many sides. Today we can do the same with the digital camcorder or to a lesser extent, with the digital camera, since most have video capabilities. However, nothing will replace the camcorder at this point in history. We can record life as it happens around us.


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