Still video camera

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Still video camera
Prototype Sony Mavica still video camera from 1981. This prototype camera is a black-colored rectangular box with a projecting cylindrical lens.
Prototype Sony Mavica still video camera from 1981.
ApplicationStill photography & photojournalism
ExamplesSony Mavica, Canon Xapshot
MediaVideo floppy (typical)
ResolutionTypically limited to single SDTV (NTSC, PAL, or SECAM) field or frame

A still video camera (SVC) is a type of electronic camera that takes still images and stores them as single frames of video. They peaked in popularity in the late 1980s[citation needed] and can be seen as the predecessor to the digital camera. However, unlike the latter, the image storage in such cameras is based on analog technology, rather than as a digital file.


The most common design has an image sensor and basic processing hardware similar to that of a consumer camcorder designed for analog television using the appropriate regional format (NTSC, PAL, or SECAM). However, instead of storing consecutive interlaced fields on tape to form a moving image, a single field or frame (combined from two fields) is extracted from the output video signal and saved on a rotating magnetic disk, typically a standard Video Floppy. During playback, the disk is spun at the frame rate of the video system with the field or frame being read repeatedly. This produces a conventional analog video signal that can be viewed on a normal television.

The resolution is limited by the device's playback system, which is equivalent to pausing a single field or frame from a video recorder. Since the image is stored as a conventional analog video field or frame, the resolution is limited to the regional SDTV format; in addition, since the images are not stored digitally, transferring the images to a computer requires a video capture card.


Development and prototyping[edit]

Canon began developing a still video system as early as 1977 following a secret presentation from Texas Instruments (TI). Processing the image data from a CCD sensor into a digital file would have required a supercomputer at the time, so a strategic decision was made to use analog recording methods, and Canon recruited Sony and other manufacturers to create a standard format, resulting in the Video Floppy.[1] Other members included JVC, Matsushita (Panasonic), Olympus, Philips, and RCA.[2]

The first still video camera was a prototype Mavica (a portmanteau of magnetic video camera), which was unveiled by Sony chair Akio Morita on August 24, 1981.[3] The prototype Mavica was equipped with an interchangeable lens and was approximately the size and weight of a conventional 35mm SLR camera at 5+18 in × 3+12 in × 2+116 in (130 mm × 89 mm × 52 mm) and 28 oz (790 g). It offered shutter speeds ranging from 160 to 12000 sec; the video floppy (branded "Mavipak" by Sony) was capable of storing up to 50 images.[3]: 130  The Mavica was equipped with a single CCD sensor with a basic resolution of 570×490, but resolution was limited to approximately 350 horizontal lines. This was because it was designed for video playback, which is composed of interlaced video fields of approximately 240–280 horizontal lines; the Mavica's resolution was slightly boosted by recording color information on a separate FM channel, instead of as a subcarrier to the analog signal.[3]: 131  At the time, Sony stated it would be 15 to 24 months before the Mavica would be marketed, at an estimated cost of US$660 (equivalent to $1,970 in 2021) for the camera and an additional US$220 (equivalent to $660 in 2021) for the playback unit.[4]

Film manufacturer responses[edit]

At the time, both Polaroid Corporation and Eastman Kodak were rumored to have developed competing still cameras similarly using image sensors instead of film. Polaroid offered no comment regarding Sony's Mavica,[3]: 131  but previously had published a patent describing a camera that stored images electronically by 1980.[5][6]: 90  Kodak published its position in an internal employee newsletter: "Technical capability does not necessarily mean mass-market capability. For any number of reasons—including costs, convenience, quality, and size among others—electronic systems don't meet the needs and expectations of the amateur still-picture-taker."[3]: 131  Kodak was developing its own CCD sensors and prototype digital file-recording cameras, including both the Lloyd/Sasson 1975 digital camera[7][8] and the 1988 1-megapixel monochrome "Electro-Optic Camera" for a U.S. Government client.[9]

The film companies would go on to release standalone appliances to view, record, and print images stored on video floppies, seeing the technology as a way to replace conventional film processing and slideshows, rather than film cameras. At Photokina '84, Fujifilm displayed its Fujix TV-Photo System, which was a Video Floppy player that could be connected to a user's TV; floppies could be created for a nominal fee when consumers dropped off film at a Fuji processing center in Japan.[10] Kodak showed off its initial still video efforts in 1985, including the Color Video Imager, a color printer designed to take any analog video signal, and the Still Video Player/Recorder, which transferred a single still frame from an analog video source to a video floppy.[11][12][13]: 9  The Color Video Imager displayed the input signal on a cathode-ray tube to expose a sheet of instant film; the Still Video Player/Recorder offered interline interpolation to improve the display of a single field;[14] estimated retail price was US$700 (equivalent to $1,730 in 2021) for the Color Video Imager.[15] Sony would respond with the ProMavica Recorder, announced in May 1986.[16]

Professional cameras[edit]

Early professional SVCs
Canon RC-701 from 1986 (photographed in 2010)
Nikon QV-1000C from 1988 (photographed in 2015)

The Yomiuri Shimbun approached Canon in September 1983, asking for a SVC to use at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics; the resulting system would also require a transmitter, receiver, and printer.[1] Canon's experiment was a success, and Yomiuri photographers would capture images of Japanese athletes from the 1984 Summer Olympics using a prototype Canon SVC (model D701)[1] and transmit them for rapid publication, which would have been impossible with conventional film photographs.[17]: 52–53  TI helped Canon develop the CCD sensor for the prototype D701.[1] The 1984 Summer Olympics proved to be fertile ground for SVC development; Sony developed a similar SVC system for the Asahi Shimbun and Nikon developed the NT-1000 Direct Transmitter for Kyodo News, although both Sony's and Nikon's systems were capable of only transmitting black and white images, while Canon provided color.[1] Nikon released the NT-1000 in 1983 as an alternative solution for photojournalists on location, the first portable machine to scan and transmit conventional film.[18]

At Photokina '84, Copal and Panasonic showed prototype SVCs.[10] Konica's prototype SVC, initially displayed in 1985,[19] and as a more advanced prototype in 1987,[20] carried an estimated price of US$4,000 (equivalent to $9,500 in 2021).[21] Kodak demonstrated a prototype SVC in 1987; coverage focused on the handling of the prototype ("held the way binoculars are held" with top-mounted controls and rear displays) and weight, at 4 lb (1.8 kg).[21][22]

Canon continued to develop the D701 into the RC-701, which was the first SVC to be marketed commercially in 1986, aimed at professional photographers and news agencies;[7][23] three interchangeable dedicated lenses were developed for the RC-701, and FD-mount lenses could be attached via an adapter.[24][25] The RC-701 used a 380,000-pixel CCD made by TI, and was priced at US$2,595 (equivalent to $6,420 in 2021) for the body alone.[26] It was the cornerstone of Canon's pro-oriented Still Video System, which also included a transceiver and printer.[27] The total system cost was approximately US$33,000 (equivalent to $82,000 in 2021).[28] The dye-sublimation printer that was developed for the system would go on to spawn a separate commercial line which Canon branded SELPHY.[1] Sony was second to market with the ProMavica MVC-A7AF of 1987, which offered the ability to record 10 seconds of audio.[21][26] In November 1987, Minolta released two still video backs that could be fitted to its 7000 and 9000 autofocus SLRs,[29] designated SB-70(S) and SB-90(S), respectively.[30] The retail price in 1988 was US$2,915 (equivalent to $6,680 in 2021) each.[31] Nikon countered by announcing its competing QV-1000C professional SVC with supporting system hardware, including two dedicated lenses and a transmitter, in August 1988.[18]

The first photographs in a United States newspaper taken with the Canon Still Video System were published in USA Today on October 19, 1987, covering the 1987 World Series.[32] However, due to their poor resolution, photojournalists generally were hesitant to adopt SVCs.[17]: 52–53  It has been reported that one of the Tianamen Square "tank man" photographs was captured using a Sony ProMavica; according to the cameraman, Johnathan Schaer of Cable News Network, it was instead a still field captured on videotape and sent using the transmitter for the ProMavica.[33]

Consumer market[edit]

Early consumer SVCs
Casio VS-101
Canon RC-250, aka Q-PIC/Ion/Xapshot
Sony MVC-C1 and MAP-T1

By 1988 and 1989, the first SVCs marketed to consumers were announced at Photokina and Consumer Electronics Show (CES), respectively. Casio would be the first to market with its VS-101 in 1988, at an estimated price of US$1,500 (equivalent to $3,440 in 2021).[34] At the 1989 CES, Sony's Mavica MVC-C1 was priced at US$900 (equivalent to $1,970 in 2021), including the required MAP-T1 playback unit, and Canon's RC-250, aka Q-PIC/Ion/Xapshot, was under US$800 (equivalent to $1,750 in 2021); in addition, the 1989 CES exhibited a prototype from Sanyo.[35] Both the Canon and Sony used the "High Band" recording format, which increased the luminance carrier frequency and bandwidth to improve resolution.[29][36] The RC-250's CCD sensor was again developed with TI.[1] Other manufacturers of consumer-level SVCs included Fujifilm, Konica, Kyocera (as Yashica), Olympus, and Panasonic.[29]

However, the increased interest and availability of consumer SVCs was paralleled by the rise of still cameras recording digital files, which was marked by rapid developments including the prototype Fujix DS-1P, announced at Photokina '88 and equipped with a removable memory card developed with Toshiba;[37] the Dycam Model 1 of 1990, also marketed as the Logitech FotoMan as the first consumer digital camera;[7] the 1991 Nikon F3-based Kodak DCS 100 for professionals;[9] and the Casio QV-10 of 1995, which was equipped with a color LCD, allowing users to review and delete still images on the same unit.[38][39] The increased resolution and enhanced capabilities of digital cameras soon eclipsed the features of SVCs; in a 1995 review comparing digital and still video cameras, MacWorld concluded the digital cameras had superior resolution, but cited the large resolution gap between the high-end digital cameras (at 1.5MP) and 35mm film (estimated at 20MP).[40] Most SVCs were discontinued by the mid 1990s.


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