Video Camera History, How Was Invented

When was the video camera created? Let’s explore the history!

No doubt, video cameras have evolved throughout the years since their inception. Though they can produce much better results now as compared to their previous versions, their job is still the same- to take a motion picture, either live or on a storage device. How many of you remember watching the family videos on the videocassettes with 8mm films? Who would have thought then to watch the videos as easily as on DVDs or hand-held devices? Let us take you through the impeccable journey of the video camera progression. In this article, we will go through the history of video cameras and get to know how it took birth and how it reached its modern form. We will explore the types of video cameras and their uses as well.

F5-G/Bombsights/L-1/Preliminary Rpt Tech Report (1932) #41718 Credit Photo to the National Museum of the USAF

The ingenious invention

Initially introduced for the broadcast industry, the application of the video cameras has gotten in line with the day to day activities. It is hard to find a single person who does not own a video camera (thanks to mobile phones). Now, there are two modes in which the video cameras work. One is the broadcasting mode. For broadcasting, a video camera telecasts real-time images on the designated screen. The other mode of the video camera is used to record the video images on a storage device such as hard disc, optical disc, or flash drive for further processing. It will not be wrong to call the second mode as the primary mode of the video cameras. The video cameras have a long history dating back to the late 19th century, which we will explore in the later section of the article. First, we will have a look at different types of video cameras and their respective uses;

  • Professional video camera: These cameras are mainly used in the television studios for the electronic field production or broadcasting. They employ the three sensors; red, blue, and green for recording. Camera operators highly appreciate using professional video cameras because of the fine-grained manual control they can have, not the automated transaction. 
Image credits: Wikipedia
  • Camcorders: Camcorders are built by combining the different recording devices in one unit, mainly a VCR and a camera. Camcorders are easier to move from one place to another. Again, these have built a reputation for television production, citizen journalism, electronic news gathering, home movies, and many more applications. After the advent of digital video cameras, now nearly all types of cameras come up with a built-in recording system, so do the camcorder.
  • CCTV or Closed Circuit Television Cameras: Widely used for monitoring purposes, surveillance, and security with the installation of PTZs or Pen-Tilt-Zoom cameras. CCTVs come small in size so that they are easy to hide and operate without bringing them in somebody’s attention. When used in scientific and industrial settings, they are utilized for the monitoring of such environments which humans find it hard to access such as high heat, radiation, or toxic chemical exposures.
  • Web cameras: These are the video cameras that are used for streaming a live feed to the computing devices.
  • Built-in video cameras: We all get them installed in our smartphones. Nowadays, these cameras can record videos in 4K resolution.

Now let’s have a look at the history of the video cameras.

How the video camera was invented?

For the video cameras, we owe a big thanks to Thomas Elwa Edison who gifted this world his theory of light bulb. Without a light bulb, the evolution of the video cameras was nearly impossible. Thomas Edison didn’t stop after innovating the bulb, rather he reached the President Patent Office to file a patent for the creation of Kinetoscope. He was greatly inspired by the concept of Phonograph and he wanted to come up with something that might produce visual treats. In 1895, two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière launched and patented a Cinématographe; a film camera built on the theory of triple-threat motion picture along with a projector and a developer. This device laid the foundations for the progression of the video camera. The new developments were made back in the early 1900s when the experiments for the broadcasting cameras basing on the mechanical Nipkow disc were executed successfully. Nipkow disc used to break the image captured into scanlines, and for that, it had a rotating disc with holes into it. The early televisions kept on broadcasting the mechanical motion pictures till the 1930s when the basic designs for the modern-day video camera device were conceived by John Logie Baird, a Scottish Engineer, Philo Farnsworth, an American inventor, and Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian American engineer. Their all-electronic video camera designs supplanted the outdated Nipkow disc and replaced the mechanical technology with the image dissector, iconoscope, and the video camera tube. This system was embedded with the electron scanning technology. This version of the video camera was popularly used by the television industry for broadcasting till the 1980s. Then came the era of solid-state image sensor video cameras which carried CMOS active-pixel sensor (CMOS sensor) and charge-coupled device (CCD). This variation solved the major problem of the image burning that the tube technology imposed and made the digital video workflow more practical. 

The solid-state image sensors were constructed on the metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) technology, the byproduct of the MOSFET (MOS field-effect transistor) invented in 1959 at Bell Labs. This variation served as the base for the development of semiconductor image sensors featuring CMOS active-pixel sensor and CCD.

Next were introduced the practical digital video cameras with the most practical compression algorithm around 1988. DCT-based video compression standards were followed to enable practical digital video cameras. These standards featured MPEG video coding standards and H.26x. By this time, JVC and Panasonic together introduced the media world with self-contained video cassette tapes. This invention played a major role in bringing video recording into the mainstream and gained popularity in the consumer market as well.

From the 1980s and onwards, the television industry underwent a major transition as digital television took the whole industry by storm. As the world reached the 21st century, nearly all video cameras had converted to digital cameras. This evolution started with the introduction of the single-lens camera by Sony Mavica. A magnetic rotating disc was installed in this camera that could record up to 50 still frames. However, it stored the images magnetically. The later innovations in the video camera industry were introduced by the Kodak Company as it launched multiple camera products in 1987. The most prominent creation was that of the Photo CD, which came into light in 1990. In 1991, Kodak launched its first digital camera to cater to the professional needs of the journalists. Nikon, following the footsteps of Kodak, came up with another variation called F-3. It featured a 1.3-megapixel sensor. In 1997, professional photography leaped with the advent of the consumer digital camera, Apple QuickTake. Kodak, Casio, and Sony also released their consumer digital cameras later on. In 1993, the digital video cameras featuring video compression succeeded the camcorders. These cameras utilized optical discs and then, flash memory to record the videos. 

Modern-day digital video cameras

Sony is the pioneer in revolutionizing the high definition digital video cameras. It brought the high-resolution video cameras from the boundaries of television studios and made them accessible by consumers. Nowadays, these high definition cameras are being used to record independent films, web series, and vlogs. Sony also eliminated the need for the tape by introducing the digital camcorders in 2003. Nowadays, these handheld cameras are the journalists’ and hobbyists’ favorites.

The progression of webcams and smartphone cameras

Buy any computing solution today, and you will get a webcam fixed in it. The size of the webcams are getting smaller with time, but their quality is increasing. They first appeared in 1999, but now they are not as peripheral as they used to be. Once again, webcams are the hobbyists’ go-to option. They use it to stream their live videos or play games online or do a live chat with their loved ones.

As far as smartphones are concerned, they have also become an essential part of our lives. They first appeared in the late 1900s, and since then, they have become more ubiquitous, advanced, and compact. They are used for multiple purposes; making calls, sending messages, and making sites that make their way on social media.

How is digital camera technology helping human beings?

It is a fact that we cannot separate the digital camera technology from our lives now. It won’t be wrong to say that this technology is now even expanding more to much broader horizons. For example, tiny digital video cameras are revolutionizing the healthcare regime. The endoscopy has become much easier now, thanks to the digital cameras. New developments in robotics are also employing digital cameras.