From analogue to digital
The 1990s and 2000s welcomed various digital media technologies and platforms, including advanced personal computers for home use, the World Wide Web, digital photography cameras, CD-ROMS, DVDs, memory chips, LCD touch screens, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
The first digital camcorders were presented by Sony, Panasonic and Hitachi at the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) Berlin in 1995. While analogue video systems process the signal continuously, digital video systems convert the analogue signal into digital data that maintains a discrete or numerical form of presentation.
Various digital video formats: Digital8, Mini DV, MicroMV.
The Digital Video (DV) system – sometimes referred to as Digital Video Cassette (DVC) – was developed in the early 1990s by a joint cooperation of Sony, Panasonic, Thompson, and Philips, among other manufacturers, with the intention to create a digital video standard.
DV provided higher image resolution than analogue video systems and less vulnerability to dust and other external influences. The most important advantage was that the digital form of information processing allowed users to make copies of video recordings without visible quality loss. This improved the method of copying and sharing personal videos. It also enhanced former analogue video montage practices, whose loss of image and sound quality was perceived as one of the medium's main constraints. By connecting the digital video camera to the personal computer, video amateurs were able to edit their footage digitally.
A Panasonic PV-GS15 camcorder from 2004, which uses MiniDV tapes as recording medium. Source: Internet Archive
Wedding video from 2005, made on DVD.
The first digital consumer video systems, like MiniDV and Digital8, still made use of magnetic tape. Other digital video recording systems made use of optical discs such as DVD camcorders. In the late 1990s, the first camcorders emerged with a memory chip as a storage medium. Hitachi's MPEG Camera, released in 1997, could make a digital video recording of 30 minutes based on a recording capacity of 400MB, the average capacity of a personal computer's hard drive at the time.
The change from tape-based to memory-based carriers went hand-in-hand with ongoing trends of miniaturisation and convergence, which led to the introduction of the mobile phone as an amateur recording medium.
From private to public
The first mobile phone with an integrated digital camera was created by the Swiss inventor Philippe Kahn in 1997, when he tried to connect a regular digital camera, laptop and cell phone to a car speaker wire in order to take a digital picture of his new-born baby and immediately share it with his family and friends over the internet.
The short film 1997: Birth of the Camera Phone, directed by Jonathan Green in 2017, tells the story of Philippe Kahn's invention. Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
About ten years later, in April 2007, Apple released the iPhone, one of the first camera phones with a direct connection to the internet. Taking pictures and sharing them online soon developed into a common 21st-century memory practice. The iPhone 3GS, released in June 2009, was the first iPhone to include a standard video recording feature. Besides the capability to record digital videos in HD quality (720 x 576 pixels), it could also directly upload them to online video platforms like YouTube.
The Apple iPhone 3GS.
With the new mobile possibilities for making digital videos and the emergence of social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, the screening of amateur recordings was no longer limited to the private domain.
The World Wide Web has made it possible to share self-made videos with a potentially global audience. Amateurs and family members could watch and even record videos together without the necessity of being physically in the same space, like the family living room or cine-club. This blurring of boundaries between the private and the public has become an important characteristic of amateur and home moviemaking in the digital age.
So, next time you share a video you captured on your smartphone with your family and friends, think of how far we've come from Lumière's first home movie Le Repas de Bébé more than 100 years ago!
Portrait of Lotte, 0 to 20 years. A time-lapse video by Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester documenting the growing up process of his daughter.
Digital video documenting a remote dinner with friends during the Corona pandemic in 2020 by Valentine Kuypers. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision