Most of us use digital video cameras on our smartphones and might even take them for granted, but the history of the analog video camera goes back much further than you might think. Understanding the history of video cameras can help you appreciate the ability to capture important memories like weddings, graduations, birthdays, and everyday activities with the touch of a button.
Capture has preserved over 12 million memories and our archival experts are dedicated to preserving the history of video camera formats. That’s why we put together this guide to not only answer the question, “When were video cameras invented?” but to detail the entire video camera timeline.
Keep reading to learn about the origins of video cameras and the changes from the first video camera to digital camcorders as well as uses for video cameras throughout the years and the lasting impact they’ve had on our daily lives.
Evolution of Video Cameras
The history begins all the way back in the 1800s with the original motion picture devices. Before this, there were only methods for capturing still photos like daguerreotypes. Then, in 1879, Eadweard Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, which allowed projection of up to 200 single images on a screen. The next year, he gave the first presentation of projected moving images.
Still, most historians credit Louis Le Prince for the introduction of the first motion video in existence. In 1888, he created a single-lens camera and captured a video called “Roundhay Garden Scene” which was a silent film of people walking in a garden. Other celluloid film cameras with different functionality continued to be made leading to the early precursors of the video camera.
A few years later in 1891, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, the employer of Thomas Edison, invented the first movie camera called the Kinetograph to compete with the French Cinematographe made by the Lumiere brothers. While Edison also wanted to create a video camera, this model created by his boss was significantly more successful and could capture 25 mm film images in motion.
While we were still a long way from the video cameras that we recognize, this early video camera technology was crucial for the development of ideas that are still used today. For example, Kazimierz Proszynski invented the Pleograph in 1894 which offered a camera with a projector.
He also developed a camera called the Aeroscope that used compressed air and made it possible for people to capture WWI battles. By that time, video cameras were significantly more accessible to both amateur and professional filmmakers. The camera technology breakthroughs of the time contributed to a massive boom in silent black and white films and theater screenings.
Birth of the Video Camera
Early video cameras were based on the Nipkow disk, an essential component of the first televisions in the early 1900s. This technology led to the first functional video camera when John Logie Baird’s Phonovision was able to directly record video in 1927. Unfortunately, there was no technology to view the footage at the time.
The first commercially released system was the Quadruplex videotape produced by Ampex in 1956 for their Ampex VRX-1000 camera. This camera was only used by television networks due to the exorbitant $50,000 price tag but is recognized as a major technological breakthrough.
Advancements in Recording Technology
From that original commercial video camera, there were some significant video camera advancements. In the 1970s, JVC launched its iconic video home system, the Video Cassette Recorder or VCR. This propelled the use of VHS tapes around the world that made it affordable and easy for people to capture and view immediate playback of their home movies.
Sony also released a competition videotape format called Betamax, which eventually lost out due to the accessible functionality of VHS tapes. This era of video recording devices leads to handheld camcorders, CCTV, and, eventually, to digital cameras beginning when Sony released the first mass-produced charge-coupled device (CCD) video camera in 1983.
While this technology had been worked on by the American government and private corporations since the 1960s, Sony made it consumer friendly. This was the first step toward the digital revolution in video camera invention history.
The Digital Revolution
With the digital revolution came the evolution of video camera inventions. The beginning of this was with 8mm tape formats like Video8 and Hi8. While Video8 only offered analog recording, it led to the possibility of digital audio with Hi8. Additionally, it led to the digital video recording format Digital8. This new technology was first announced in January 1984 by Eastman Kodak of Rochester, New York.
By 1985, Sony jumped on the innovation and introduced the Sony Handycam, a portable camera that made it much easier to capture memories without lugging around a huge camcorder. It offered lots of new features unavailable with their previous Betamax camcorders. In fact, throughout the years the Handycam name has remained for digital cameras that include meta data, night vision, SD storage devices, DVD capability, and more.
Additionally, during the mid-1980s, many companies like Panasonic and JVC put Sony’s CCD technology to use for better image quality, higher pixel count, vivid colors, and enhance sensitivity to movement. This meant action shots would look clearer even when using relatively affordable consumer video camera options.
These technologies continued to improve throughout the 1990s. Then, in the early 2000s, Sony continued to work on video camera development as a true pioneer of video camera technology by developing the first high-definition digital video cameras. In 2003, they also introduced the first completely digital video camcorder that didn’t require any type of disc or tape.
Pretty soon, all video camera innovators realized that there was an open avenue for digital cameras: cell phones. The first cell phone with a built-in camera was manufactured by Sharp, but Samsung followed shortly after.
These old cell phones repurposed similar technology as a DSLR camera made by Nikon or Canon but compacted it into a tiny lens. As technology progressed, cell phone motion picture cameras were developed with video capabilities, higher resolution, zoom ability, and other features we take for granted on today’s smartphones.
Video Cameras and Industries
With such a long history, it’s no wonder that video cameras have offered a variety of beneficial uses for both professional industries and personal use. These are some of the major uses of video cameras and how the story unfolded for each.
Filmmaking and Television Production
While film cameras worked just fine for some uses, video cameras made it much easier and more affordable to record television shows and motion pictures. Affordability made the editing process cheaper while also making it possible to re-record and add different visual effects.
Film formats like Super 8 or 8mm film reels cannot be reused. That means that a day of shooting a film or television show costs more. You have to develop the film and editing is much harder. With video cameras, the entire process is easier. They are more compact, easier to edit, and cheaper to reuse. Digital took these benefits to the next level as well by making it possible to add CGI effects, easily combine footage, utilize digital green screens, and more.
Surveillance and Security
Before video cameras, security cameras were impractical and unheard of. Video cameras made it possible to monitor areas for public safety and record and re-record footage for later viewing as necessary.
It’s possible that the first security camera appeared in Soviet Russia in the 1920s, but most consider the first CCTV system to be the one used in Nazi Germany during WWII. From here, video cameras made it possible to get to where we are today with security cameras appearing on street corners, in front of almost any business, on stoplights, and more.
Journalism and Reporting
Visual journalism was almost unheard of before the introduction of the video camera because it was impractical to use standard film. Video tapes made it possible to document historical events in real time. While old film formats could also be used to visually record, videotapes were easier to hold, cheaper, more practical, and able to capture extraordinary events.
For example, it was possible to capture the moon landing on data tape recorders. While it took some time to make its way into everyday journalism, video tapes eventually contributed to vlogging and footage of almost every historical event. Digital video cameras only amplified this use and made it possible to preserve history in high definition.
Personal Video Recording
Videotapes made it easier to record family memories and became affordable for most Americans in the 1980s. This is why people have tons of videotapes lying around that contain precious memories of holidays, events, and family gatherings.
With digital technology, you can share video recordings over social media or email and even attend video meetings with someone on the other side of the Earth. We can share our everyday lives in video format with ease and carry a video camera in our pockets everywhere we go. We’ve come a long way from the original question about when were video cameras invented.
While the first early film camera technologies were introduced in the late 19th century using celluloid film, the history of the video camera really begins with the Nipkow disc. From there came video cameras that used data tapes and eventually videotapes that made it possible for families to capture video.
It also led to security cameras, cell phone videos, and the ability to create social media videos and share them with the world. Because of that, knowing when were video cameras invented demonstrates the start of a lone timeline that continues to impact our lives on a daily basis.
It’s important to preserve our video camera memories to maintain our legacy and ensure that history is never lost. Capture can digitize your old film, videotapes, and photos to ensure future generations can cherish your memories. Click here to learn more!