My First Video Camera


Long before I was a pro audio specialist, I was a hopeless video nerd. After my sophomore year of high school, the band I was in broke up when our drummer moved away to attend college out of state. Making music just wasn't the same without that specific drummer's rhythms, so I turned my creative ambitions to video production, and became obsessed with buying the RCA Pro Edit VHS camcorder.

However, the camera was really expensive, and I was a broke high school student. I landed a job at the t-shirt store in the local mall, and started saving my pennies. The job paid $3.35 an hour, so no matter how carefully I held onto my paychecks, it was still going to be a very long time before I could afford the monstrous, shoulder-mounted VHS camera of my dreams. In order to scratch the itch I had for producing videos, I found an internship at a local cable access TV station.

The internship proved to be a good idea, because it paved the way for me to get accepted into my public high school's ultra elite TV production class in 11th grade. All of the most popular cheerleaders and athletes were in the TV production class, along with three of our school's biggest dorks (myself included). Our class produced the weekly news program that would be aired throughout the school on Fridays. The popular kids did the on-camera work, and we three nerds pushed the buttons and pulled the wires.

While it was great to be in the TV production class at school, and working in video production after school at the TV station, I still wasn't satisfied. Owning the RCA Pro Edit camcorder was the only way I could achieve complete creative freedom. In my spare hours I would pore over the pages of video production magazines, looking at all of the gear I could squander my savings on, but I'd ultimately hold out for the illustrious RCA Pro Edit.

Somehow, I managed to keep the dream alive long enough to be within striking range of being able to afford the camcorder. Just as I had saved up enough money to purchase it, something completely unexpected happened that turned my tiny world on its head: Out of nowhere, Panasonic released the PV-535D VHS camcorder, which had other-worldly capabilities that completely blew my mind. It had one feature that still deeply impresses me to this day. It was the world's first camcorder with a second camera!

Standing taller than a stack of 100 iPhones, the Panasonic PV-535D was essentially a portable television production facility that lived on your shoulder. It enabled a single camera operator to switch between two cameras that could be pointing in any direction. If you didn't want to just bluntly change between the two camera views, you could use a really slick-looking dissolve, or choose from two fun wipes (side wipe and center wipe, which was very similar to Homer Simpson's favorite tool, star wipe).

This mega-camcorder also had a chroma-key effect, with which I fully indulged myself every time I used it. If you set up a green or blue background, you could position one camera on a subject standing in front of the background, and point the other camera at what you wanted to appear behind the subject. Chroma key is the effect that's used on the news when weathermen give their forecasts. After I got the PV-535D, I was making loads of homemade weather reports. Unfortunately, with the lack of YouTube at the time (or the Internet for that matter), the only people I could share these videos with was my family and my cat.

There was also a mode called Image Mix, which combined the views from both of the cameras. You could have both camera views dissolved together for an arty effect, or have a box in a corner or the center of the screen be the view of the second camera. Suffice it to say, I completely abused all of the effects in the PV-535D, and had a really great time. I loved it so much that I held onto it all these years. It's still in my arsenal, and to Panasonic's great credit, it still works.

It was incredibly strange to have dreamed about owning a specific model of a camera for so long, and then in the eleventh hour to suddenly switch gears and buy a different one. It's also remarkable that here I am twenty years later, and I'm pretty much the same gear-obsessed creative production nerd that I was back then. It still takes me a really long time to save up to buy the gear of my dreams, and new models still pop up at the last minute to make me second-guess my decisions. There's something strangely comforting about that.

We'd love to hear your story about the first time you purchased a video camera. Tell us about your experiences in the Comments section of this post!

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G''day I have the older video cameras i need a battery where do i purchase them from i'ts a bit like the RCA pic on this page thanks you.

Hi Edith -

Let us know the make/model number of your camera/ or battery and we may be able to help you locate a compatible battery.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:

The Panasonic PV535 has started my video production career back in 1990s. Was using the school's AG-170. But never liked the colors. Kind of bad in low light. My high school media person was quite nice and she loaned it to me for privileged use. I spend weeks shooting all sort of scenes. Now in 2012, I have the HPX3100 and a variety of 2/3" HD lenses. I was a junior back then. It was a breakthrough camera. Shot all sort of high school stuff. I was obsessed. Looking back the footage 20 years later, it bought back great memories.  If only I have the Panasonic HPX3100 back in 1990, things would never be the same. Nevertheless, the VHS camera capture footage as best as it could. I still have hundred of tapes and they all will play. Digigized all of it already. But 20 years later, the VHS original tapes still play like it was back in 1990. Amazing. Still have the cam in the storage. 

When I get all wrapped up in my pursuit for newer and more capable equipment, I find that I sometimes lose sight of the intended purpose of the gear. The end game should always be to produce quality content. If your ideas and execution are fine tuned, then it won't matter if you shot your stuff on a VHS camcorder from the 1980's or on the latest and greatest system.

Try not to spend as much time thinking about building your toolbox. Devote most of your time to what you're going to build with the tools that you already have at your disposal. The final product is the end all be all. What you use to produce it is practically irrelevant. There's always going to be a better piece of equipment coming out shortly. Making the decision to buy a piece of gear should be based on your need to use it. Even if a better camera will be available in a few months, that shouldn't be more important than the work you need to do in those months.

my story is most likly going to be the same as yours only a more modren camcorder, you see I really want a panasonic AG-HPX500 2/3" Shoulder Mounted P2 1080p Camcorder only seeing as I can't even get a summer job till next summer by the time I can afford it panasonic will probaly upgraded it to a camcorder with a color viewfinder and, hopefully, 5 P2 card slots for a total of up to 320 gigabytes vs. 256 gigiabytes in the AG-HPX500 because at the best quality seting in AVC-INTRA 100 the video takes up a gigabyte per minute of record time. Right now the amount of money I need to save for the camcorder and 8 64 Gigabyte P2 cards, a autofocus lenses, a tripod, and other stuff like that is almost $41,000.

I recently purchased my first video camera, and I had my mind fixed on getting a Canon Xh-A1.  However, at the last minute I got a 7D.  I changed my mind at the last minute because I decided to take some photography classes and with the power to shoot photo and video, this camera was an ideal choice.  Now that I am learning about photography, perhaps a 5DMII would have been just a tad bit better camera for me. 

With the electronics industry constantly progressing it can quickly become pretty expensive to afford, which makes it difficult for me to keep up with new, inovative products.  For instance, if I would have bought the AH-A1, then I would be wanting the new XF300 Canon recently introduced the to thier lineup.  Also, I got the EF 24-70 lens three months ago and now I here that Canon will be introducing the same lens but with image stabilization.  This would really help be with my video and photo needs, but now I'm stuck like chuck with an expensive and soon to be outdated lens.  Oh well, I guess I'll just keep saving my pennies.

This is the coolest camcorder I've ever seen.