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When Were Video Cameras Invented? (Video Camera History Explored)

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video camera on wooden table

Cameras and video are all around us and something that we often take for granted. They’re a part of our smartphones. We take them to the beach and on hiking trails. It’s almost as if we’re inseparable from them. While the concept of video cameras isn’t new, the technology that makes them even more powerful continues to evolve. You may wonder when video cameras were invented. The first evidence dates back thousands of years ago, although many people consider them to be first invented in the 1800s.

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The Early History of Moving Pictures

Animation predates videos of any kind. The first evidence of it goes back over 5,200 years in Iran. Archaeologists uncovered a bowl with sequential renderings of a goat jumping up to eat some leaves. This is not unlike drawing stick figures on the pages of a notebook and flipping through them to watch them move.

Fast forward 5,000 years to China and Europe, where the first examples of the zoetrope appear. Merriam-Webster defines the zoetrope as “an optical toy in which figures on the inside of a revolving cylinder are viewed through slits in its circumference and appear like a single animated figure.” Various examples and refinements of these appeared throughout the 1800s, laying the foundation for film.

One of the most dramatic innovations came from nature photographer Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. Legend has it that Muybridge bet a friend that all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground as the animal ran. A carefully constructed series of still shots shown with his newly minted zoopraxiscope proved him correct.


The zoopraxiscope differed from the earlier zoetrope because it projected images instead of the viewer sitting in front of the device to see the action. The fame that Muybridge earned from touring with his zoopraxiscope caught the attention of other like-minded individuals.

French inventor Louis Le Prince didn’t use the cylinder that Thomas Edison wanted for one of his similar devices. Instead, he built a single-lens camera to project the film, giving him proper credit as the creator of the first movie camera in 1888. Unfortunately, Le Prince never enjoyed the acclaim his invention would inevitably reap. Then, he mysteriously disappeared before he could debut his 16-lens movie camera.

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From Camera to Film

The invention of the camera is integral to our story. People have been tinkering with the concept since the beginning of the 19th century. French inventor Nicephore Niepce created the first-known photograph in 1825. The trick was to capture a series of shots with a standalone device that was fully functional. That takes us back to Edison and his employee, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson.

Dickson built upon the early work of Muybridge and Le Prince to devise a 40-frame movie camera that his team called the Kinetograph, which was later marketed as the Kinetoscope. With the hurdles involved in capturing and projecting the film, it wasn’t long before the movie camera went commercial.

Photo Credit: Everett Collection, Shutterstock

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From Film to Video

One of the next milestones in the history of video cameras came in 1889 with British inventor William Friese-Greene and his leap toward celluloid film. It’s worth noting that several individuals were working on the development and refinement of the movie camera at this time. Technology evolved rapidly during this period of innovation. The next step involved making the camera portable and easy to use.

Polish inventor Kazimierz Prószyński made that move possible with his development of the first handheld device he called the Aeroscope. His invention was so successful that British combat cameramen took it to the trenches during World War I. Although innovations of other inventors surpassed the Aeroscope, it saw active use during important historical events.

The cinematography in Hollywood took a different path that eventually led to film in color. The first one was the British 1908 production called A Visit to the Seaside. The first American color film was the 1917 production of The Gulf Between. Later, films using Technicolor technology gave viewers a new film experience with examples, such as the 1937 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, and, of course, the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.


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Ditching Film for Video

The film had its issues, namely, preservation. The materials are vulnerable to breakage, bleaching, and deterioration. The concerns became more evident when people started realizing what they were losing in the process: our heritage and culture. It prompted UNESCO to declare them to release recommendations to safeguard this irreplaceable loss to society.

The move to digital was a natural segue. It wasn’t as drawn out of a transition this time since the film had laid the groundwork. Kodak and Sony were major players in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first products were expensive and certainly out of the range of the average user. The inventors Gareth Lloyd and Steven Sasson of Eastman Kodak Company filed the first patent for the electronic still camera in 1975. The development of video had remained the provenance of NASA and the military until Sony introduced the first video cameras for consumer use in 1981 with the HVC-F1 model. The DCR-VX1000, launched in 1991, was the company’s first digital video camera. The rest is history.

woman using video camera
Image Credit: Piqsels

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Final Thoughts

When you consider how slowly the concept of animation to film evolved, it makes the rise of video cameras even more impressive. Today’s innovators continue to push the bounds of these technologies for even more high-quality images. It’s humbling to think that it all started with a goat, a horse, and a seaside trip.

Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

About the Author Chris Dinesen Rogers

Chris has been writing since 2009 on a variety of topics. Her motto with all of her writing is “science-based writing nurtured by education and critical thinking.” Chris specializes in science topics and has a special love for health and environmental topics, and animals of all shapes and sizes.