When I think about camcorders, I think about an 80s dad in Ray Bans, a neon tank top, and stone washed jeans tucked into high top Nikes. I think about giant, hulking cameras that required a pretty significant background in weightlifting to be able to hoist onto your shoulders to document some young child’s birthday.
Turns out, I was wrong. Camcorders actually refer to any handheld camera that records video, not just the giant masses of plastic that were so iconic in the 80s. Womp womp.But since we’re here, let’s learn a little bit about camcorders and what kind of tapes they used before they didn’t use tapes anymore.
Camcorders were invented in the early 1980s. They were a huge advancement over previous technologies because they were so easy to use, and they were pretty affordable. Technically, cell phones could be considered camcorders, but if you say that out loud, people will look at you like you’re wearing neon-pink short shorts, a leather vest, and rollerskates. Don’t ask how I know that.
On to the camcorders!
The first real camcorders were the hulking beasts that I was talking about Mr. 80s dad using in the opening paragraph, and they recorded straight onto VHS tapes. The name “camcorder” comes from a combination of the words camera and recorder. Basically, camcorders do both parts of the filming process in one step--they shoot video and record at once. You pop a tape into the camera, hit record, and your tape comes out with fully functioning video on it. You don’t have to take anything to get developed, which is the major boom that camcorders brought to the masses.
VHS-C was awesome. It was like the Russian Nesting Dolls of filming. These little boogers were small tapes that went into the camera, then to play the tape back, you would put the little tape into a regular sized tape and pop it in the VCR. Who didn’t love those little guys?
Put super in front of anything, and it makes it instantly cooler. Superman? Awesome. Super Soaker? That ain’t your grandma’s water gun. Super duper? Righto neighbor! S-VHS just means Super VHS, and it got its name from an increased filming capacity relative to regular VHS. These tapes were the same size as their less-superior brethren, but inside is where their real magic was. I feel like there’s something we could all learn from S-VHS.
Betamax and VHS were the original two formats in home video technology, and the cameras for these two formats were around at about the same time. Betamax looks pretty similar to VHS, except the tapes are a smidge smaller. Some folks say that Betamax was actually a better technology, but VHS was developed as a free-license product, so it won the format war.
These small tapes were part of a cool change in the history of camcorders. Instead of recording in analog onto VHS film, Hi8 actually coded its signal digitally onto the tapes. That means they’re a weird hybrid of digital and analog video in a smaller package. Cool.
These tapes looked almost identical to Hi8, and they were technically the same format, but Video8 had slightly better recording and audio quality.
If you’ve ever read my blogs before, you may know that I used to have a MiniDV camcorder and once had dreams of becoming a famous Hollywood director. Then, my College roommate, Zack, stole it from me when he moved out. Well, guess what, Zack, I’m not a famous director thanks to you. Moving on--specs wise, MiniDVs were really small tapes that recorded a digital picture on them, really similarly to Hi8. The difference is that MiniDVs were able to record high-definition, which was a huge improvement on the previous technology’s picture quality.
I had actually never heard about this format until a few months ago. These weird little tapes were tiny! They were a strange hybrid between tapes and DVDs. They looked and functioned like tapes, but they encoded video like DVDs. Unfortunately, DVD recorders made MicroMV kind of pointless, so this format fizzled out pretty quickly.