The Not So Happy History Of Our Early Home Videos

Brownie 8mm movie camera.

Some of you may recall that at one time the only option we mortals had for home movies was an 8mm silent camera. Other than being the only option, the product sucked. All the neighborhood kids running round in blurry, grainy, flickering black and white globs of motion and dust.

Then came Super 8mm cameras and the quality became… I haven’t a clue. Other than costing more money I can’t say much more without Googling.

Circa 1975 VHS video camera.

The next advance was the VCR/VHS camcorder that was both huge in size and in price. The early versions ran between $1,000 and $1,500 (adjusted to today’s dollar that would be over $6,000) and tapes were $20 and more. Time saw the size and price continue to come down but to my eye, the quality didn’t improve much.

VHS-C video camera, circa 1992.

In 1992 we decided to take a vacation to Yellowstone Park. We stopped in Cincinnati and purchased a Panasonic Mini-VCR that used mini-VHS tapes. The price was over $600 and the tapes weren’t cheap. I put our son Mike in charge and between Cincinnati and the Mississippi he spent most of the road time playing and learning how to use the device. Much of the footage wasn’t worth saving so when we reached Suoix Falls, SD we rewound the tape and started taping over what had been shot.

VHS-C was a mini-cassette that required a larger adapter to playback in a player.

By the time we reached Yellowstone in Wyoming, we had footage of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, the baron flatness of southern SD, Wall Drugstore, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, the Devil’s Tower, the emptiness of Eastern Wyoming, the canyons leading into Cody, Wyoming, and the Eastern entrance into Yellowstone complete with a live buffalo eating the grass in the ranger’s front yard.

The Yellowstone bison herd photo we don’t have! Had to clip this from the net.

While I think that was all on just one tape we began our three-day driving tour of Yellowstone.  The road had brought us to the lower falls of the Yellowstone River and suddenly the tape ran out. Mike went to the car and brought back a new tape and what you are about to see is all the video we have of our whole trip out west.

Of the three or four tapes we had purchased one turned out to be defective. So, when we came back through Cincinnati I stopped off at Circuit city and turned the defective tape in for a new one. Several days later our daughters came over to see the video and to our horror, the tape we turned in was the one that almost the entire visit to Yellowstone on it. I called the store but it was too late. All returned tapes had been sent to the landfill.

That was 1992 and since then all the mini-VHS tapes we shot using that camera have been hidden away someplace. While recently cleaning out a large chest of drawers I came across three mini tapes and sent them to a company to be converted to DVDs. The result was finding some really important family footage, some really great footage from ham radion gatherings in Savannah and Atlanta, a visit to Ameriflora ’92, and this very short video of the lower falls. Whatever we once had stored away remains lost.

But that story isn’t what this story is about. This story is about how much we once paid for a machine that made such poor videos, as compared to how good the video quality is with the camera that is built into even lower-end smartphones. In today’s technology, $200 will get you a phone, a text machine, a gaming system, a personal jukebox of music, your own movie theater, a pretty sophisticated computer, and maybe the best damned still and movie camera you’ve ever owned.

I’m going to post our short film of the falls along with a modern version taken with someone’s cellphone camera and you be the judge. And keep in mind, today’s cameras don’t require film and can be sent out to the world for sharing without having to purchase a bubble wrap bag and a bunch of postal stamps.


1992 STATE of the ART VIDEO


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