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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!