how do camcorders work

How Do Camcorders Work?

As time moves forward and technology advances, camcorders have become smaller and more powerful than ever. It is mind blowing how much progress has been made since the video camera was invented. Whether you are a professional filmmaker or a complete beginner there is a camcorder to suite your needs. I've always had an itch to know how and why things are the way they are. And if you are anything like me, and love film then you may be asking yourself how do camcorders work?

Brief History

In 1980 an American inventor by the name of Jerome Lemelson , who had invented more than 500 video recording devices pitched the patent for the camcorder to the United States Patent office. It took a few years but his idea finally gained traction and took off, changing the film industry forever. 

The first camcorders produced used cassette tapes to capture video, which were used mainly for television. It has been a short but very innovative history that has gotten us to where we are today.

Jerome Lemelson


In both analog and digital camcorders there are three main components. A camera component, VCR component, and the viewfinder. Digital camcorders have all of these three components with the addition of one that takes the information from analog and converts it into bytes (ones and zeros).

The Camera Component

The camera component takes the information it is "seeing" and transforms it into an electrical signal. A charged coupled device otherwise known as the CCD conveys electrical charge within the camera which can also be manipulated to convert the charge into a digital value. The lens bends the light it is receiving to make images of the objects on to film or to be stored in digital form. The aperture (as seen below) is also an important component of the camera, it has the ability to open and close to allow more or less light into the lens. The zoom and focus are also parts of the camera component and they are controlled by small motors that work hand in hand with both the lens and the aperture.


Charged-Coupled Device

The CCD is responsible for converting for measuring the amount of light being passed thorough the lens. It has about 400,000 photo sites that measure the amount of photons on specific areas of the CCD, which are than converted into an electrical charge. The more light that hits these sensors translate into a greater electric charge. And likewise, the less light that hits these sensors the lower the electric charge will be.

Measuring the intensities of which the light hits these photo sites generates a black an white image. To transform this black and white image into color, the camcorder must also detect the the wavelength of the light. From the wavelength, the camera is able to determine which color is being captured. Camcorders use the three main colors red, green, and blue (RGB) to create all of the other colors on the visible spectrum. Most cameras get by with one CCD that has specific color filters on the photo sites which measure the RGB color spectrum.

Beam Splitter

In high-end camcorders a beam splitter may be used with three CCD's. Each CCD is responsible for only one of the three main colors. Instead of only having one CCD responsible for all of the light, these cameras use one for each main color. The beam splitters job is to redirect incoming light to the appropriate CCD. An image is produced by each of the CCD's and they are then combined together to  create a crisp and high definition colored video. 

beam splitter

The VCR Component

The Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) in a camcorder is very similar to the one found in televisions but is much smaller. It uses magnetic patterns to convert audio and video signals onto the video tapes. Camcorders record video not photos, therefore they piece together many photos into a moving image instead. These are called frames, and are usually measured in frames per second (FPS). Most camcorders take about 60 photos per second and combine them to create a smooth video. 

Newer digital camcorders do not use a VCR component. Instead they rely on the analog information being received and convert it into bytes of data. Which is much more efficient and allows digital cameras to be much smaller than their analog counterpart. New digital camcorders can even record in 4K! The data saved by digital cameras can be easily transferred and copied on to just about any device you desire, making it an easy favorite for most consumers.

The Viewfinder

Viewfinders on newer camcorders are usually in the form of an LCD screen that displays the image being captured. In older analog camcorders, the viewfinder was often a small black and white screen that you would look through. The main purpose of the viewfinder is to allow the user to see the field of few (FOV) of which is being recorded, and to also aid with zooming in and focusing the image. 



Camcorders have come a long way in a very short period of time. They are now smaller, cheaper, and more powerful than ever! We wouldn't be here today if it weren't for Jerome Lemelson and his brilliant idea. There is a lot going on under the "hood" and I hope that this article has helped you learn about how camcorders work. The future seems very bright for recording devices, and I'am very excited to see what it has in store for us! If you have any questions feel free to ask me. I am always trying to update our website with as much new content as possible, so be sure to check out our blog page!

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