History of the Camcorder
History of the Camcorder
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History of the Camcorder

By Olivia Harlow

Like with all technological improvements, it’s just a matter of time before something sleeker, lighter, faster, and cooler comes along. Today’s pocket-sized camcorders provide high quality video, with a wide range of automatic and manual settings and impressive zoom ratios. Once video is created, the content can easily and immediately be downloaded to a computer for editing, using nonlinear technology. However, it wasn’t always this way. And it’s certain to get even better from here.




Not long ago, there was no such thing as mobile video. No such thing as laptop editing. No such thing as automatic settings. Equipment that once made videos was about the size of a refrigerator, and it wasn’t until the 70s that the machinery started to shrink. At this time, the recording devices were about the size of a small suitcase, using two-inch thick videotape. Videographers required a truck full of equipment to tape even the shortest reel. And because the cameras used electronic tubes to convert light, inconvenience only amplified.

Tubes required much more light to pour in than chip cameras today, and this caused the equipment to overheat. With almost every use, tubes would burn out. Throughout a shoot, the cameras required constant attention, to ensure the coloring was consistent. If tubes heated too much during a show, saturation and colors would shift significantly.

Another issue was of course the editing systems. Before nonlinear systems, videographers would have to cut out video content using razor blades, piecing them back together with scotch tape. Of course, this made the film very vulnerable, and if a cut wasn’t made perfectly between electronic frames, the entire video would be destroyed.

This makes the earliest successful videographers impressively talented, eh? And it heightens appreciation for the first videos ever made, huh?




According to experts, the first home video system was offered by Ampex in 1963, including a TV monitor, special furniture, and an Ampex VR-1500 that weighed about 100 pounds and costed around $30,000.

As equipment evolved, the 8 mm film camera gained popularity. But even this smaller and “easier” way of filming was difficult by today’s standards. Loading the camera required threading film through, and not exposing it by mistake. After shooting the brief without sound, you’d have to rewind it inside the camera, replace it with a proof canister, and then send it to be developed. After the film was developed, you’d thread the film onto reels from your projector’s gears and pulleys to watch the film. Without a quality projector, the film could rip or melt. Meaning, basically, even after production was complete, something could still very easily go wrong. Thankfully, tech continued to involve, with the solid intent of giving access to the masses.

In 1967, Sony introduced the DV-2400 Video Rover. This first Portapak—or “portable” video system—consisted of a large B&W camera and a separate record-only helical VCR unit. Unlike today’s camcorders and video recorders that use cassettes and cartridges, this portapak’s helical operated with a reel-to-reel. The tape spun off one reel, and then needed to be carefully threaded back around different heads, and onto the pick-up reel. It was fairly complicated and easy to make a mistake. Additionally, if you moved the camera around too quickly, imagery could smear. Pointing the camera at direct sunlight could burn permanent holes in the tubes. Yet, all of these cons were seemingly worth it. Although still heavyweight and bulky, it was much lighter and easier to transport than previous models. And for the first time in history, pretty much anyone interested in videography could give it a shot!

Eventually, other manufacturers started producing their own versions of the portapak, in higher quality. Over time, these devices became smaller and smaller, greater and greater. As companies revealed upgrades, demand rose. And as demand rose, competition increased among the companies to create better and better videos (and therefore better editing). It was an upward spiral, an impressive and quick-paced progression.




Jerome Lemelson invented more than 500 video recording devices in his lifetime, but his most famous is unarguably the camcorder. He received his first patent in 1980, and just a couple of years later it was a reality—one that changed filmmaking forever.

Of course, the camcorders we see today are very different from early models. When the devices first were made, there were no USB ports or handheld devices. Instead, motion picture was still recorded on cassette tapes, used primarily for television broadcasting. Soon enough though, the camcorder became a product for the masses, just like the Portapak. In 1982 JVC and Sony officially announced the creation of the “Camera/recorder”, or camcorder. Sony’s Betamovie Beta camcorder used the slogan “Inside This Camera Is a VCR” and came to mainstream market in May 1983. Just a year later, Kodak introduced the 8 mm format. In 1985, Sony introduced the first chip-based camcorder “Video 8”, and JVC introduced the VHS-C, a more compact alternative to the typical VHS cassette. In 1992, the first color LCD screen came to life, replacing the traditional viewfinder that necessitated squinting through a tiny hole to witness a scene. All in all, it wasn’t long before easy-to-use, colored, high resolution video became the new norm.  




The video technology you see today first arrived in 1995, when Panasonic and Sony brought digital recording to life. The first Digital Video camcorder kick-started a fast-paced evolution in digital film, and things have never been the same. Truly.

Today’s video systems are small, easy-to-use, and extraordinarily high quality. Things have changed drastically since the birth of video. Batteries now last for hours upon hours. Editing systems allow you to make cuts, alter audio, add text overlay, and more—all with the click of a button. It’s astounding how far we’ve come. And while the outdated formats will indeed remain outdated, they are responsible for what we see today. Each evolutionary step lead to what we see today. And given history, it’s likely that the modern recorders we see today will one day also become tech dinosaurs. Just like VHS, 8 mm cameras, and CAMcorders, our DVDs and iPhones will likely be replaced by something even cooler. It’s just a matter of time.

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