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History

The Early 1970s: The ENG Era is Born

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Picture credit: Image courtesy of Ikegami.

It was in May 1962, when CBS used the first Ikegami black and white portable video camera to document the historic launching of the first manned space flight, the Aurora 7.  However, it would be ten years later, in 1972, when Ikegami introduced the first color hand-held camera – the HL-33 – for broadcast use.

The HL stood for "Handy Looky," a name that Ikegami still uses today for some of its camcorder models.  However, portable video cameras from the early 1970s might not be considered so portable by today's standards.  These cameras didn't even have the camera's electronics inside them, much less a VCR.  That would take another decade.

The first delivery of Ikegami's HL-33, which used one-inch Plumbicon tubes, went to CBS. It signaled the birth of ENG, a new term coined to mean Electronic News Gathering.

During the short period before 1976, when the RCA TK-76, the first one-piece camera was introduced, cameramen working in portable video looked like space pioneers, wearing heavy backpacks.  Many injured their backs carrying the heavy equipment.

It wasn't just the Japanese leading the way with portable video.  For example, a small California company, called CEI, made a vidicon camera using three one-inch tubes and relay optics rather than a splitter block.   It was called the BBC-2 and marketed by Ampex. One owner called this camera "badly short of development at the factory" and prone "to suddenly bursting into oscillation when it got hot."  CEI was later sold to Panavision.

Such cameras often worked with "portable" Quad VTR's that were often much heavier than the camera gear itself.  It took a three-man crew to carry these packages and equipment failure was routine.

Fortunately, this phase of the ENG era only lasted a few years.  Single-piece cameras and separate recorders would come next, followed by combined camcorders.  It would be another 30 years before camcorders reached the size the size they are today.