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RCA's Last Great Studio Camera: the TK-47

ImageIn 1978, RCA introduced the TK-47, a camera that what would become the company's last hurrah in full-size studio cameras.  The ubiquitous camera became a television industry workhorse until the era of CCDs made it obsolete.

The TK-47 series became so popular, in fact, that it won an Emmy award for its unique use of computing power in 1981. After years of time-consuming and laborious manual set-up, the TK47 was welcomed by engineers for its automatic set-up including registration and alignment of the beams on the tubes.

Although this made life much easier for those assigned to the tweaking of cameras for maximum color fidelity, the early computers had glitches  The same computing device that made setting up the cameras a simple and quick operation could also fail, rendering the entire chain of cameras of whack.

Even so, RCA's TK-47 series was modified and made to work reliably through the years.  The camera system used three basic components: the camera head, a camera processing unit and remote control.  Twisted pair cabling connected the original camera and processing unit.  RCA boasted (and advertised) that there were no controls at the camera head, "thus freeing the operator to concentrate more on creativity and picture composition."

The TK-47s stayed in service at NBC into the mid 1990s and even longer in some affiliates around the country.  From NBC's Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to Bob Hope's lavish television specials, the TK-47 camera was an industry staple until well after the arrival of CCD sensors in the first video camera in the 1980s.

The RCA TK-47 was largely a creation of Larry Thorpe, who worked for RCA's Broadcast Division from 1966 to 1982 and earlier had helped design the legendary TK-44A camera.  In 1981, Thorpe, as project leader on the TK-47, won the David Sarnoff Award for his innovations in automatic studio color cameras.

Thorpe went on to work at Sony in 1982, where he was closely associated with the design of some of Sony's most popular cameras, ranging from Sony's BVP360 studio camera, the Betacam, and various high-definition models, including the F900 HDCAM product line.  He represented Sony at various world standards bodies and helped the company gain credibility for its revolutionary CCD imager.  In 2004, Thorpe joined Canon, where he currently works on high-definition lens design.