Monday, February 02, 2009

Man shares extensive collection of old tv cameras

DTV transition is just another step in television's evolution. Looking at our modern television studio cameras today, there more like computers than cameras -- true high definition, lightweight, and all robotically controlled.

But it didn't use to be this way. Before the change over to digital television, one man likes to look back at the cameras television stations used to use.

Winder, Georgia resident Bobby Ellerbee has one of the best collections of studio cameras in the country. Like RCA's first color camera -- and would you believe it once belonged to Red Skelton?

"He had his own production company to do all his shows called Red-Eo-Video, that was bought by CBS and rolled into CBS' Television city in Hollywood and they later sold the camera's to NBC," said Ellerbee.

This camera changed television forever -- just like the switch to digital television will. But Ellerbee says this isn't the first switch to high definition.

"In the 30s, they switched from broadcasting in 300 lines of resolution to more than 500 lines of resolution," he said. The oldest camera in Ellerbee's collection is an RCA TK-30, introduced after World War Two. The camera was a major step forward for television.

"This was the first camera to use the image orthocon tube," he said. "Before that, the camera's were gigantic -- had to have an enormous amount of light."

The best part of another camera is its story.

"NBC president Pat Weaver, who started a lot of famous NBC shows like The Tonight Show and The Today Show, was given this camera as a present," he said. "After passing, he left it to his daughter, Sigourney Weaver. It was put up for sale at an estate auction and a good friend of mine was able to purchase it, and he wanted it to have a good home and left it to me."

Ellerbee also has a camera that used to bring one of most famous names in television to our living rooms every night. "This camera was used on the Johnny Carson show," he said. "They were the first to use a plumicon tube made in Europe. And plumicon tubes were known for their pastel colors."

Ellerbee knows these cameras are more important than just their electronics. They've seen history and brought it to our own television sets. "So everything you saw came through one these," he said. "What these things have seen are basically indescribable."

Courtesy: NBC & WXIA-TV


Anonymous said...

Wow - LOVED the story on vintage cameras! Every one of those camera models had it's own distinct picture characteristics. Thsoe monster TK-41s with their all-orthicon pickups looked flat and "electric." The TK-42 had mix of vidicons in the RGB channels and an orthicon for luminance, and they made a kind of odd looking picture as it was difficult to match the pickup characteristics of the vidicons to the orthicon. And they always drifted and needed constant attention. Then the plumbicons came out (TK-44, I think) and that was the most amazing leap in picture quality and color fidelity. It just blew everything else out of the water. I distinctly remember when the Ed Sullivan Show started using plumbicon cameras - the improvement was just astonishing.

And now the chip-based cameras can do rings around everything else!

Thanks for a neat story!


Frank Macek said...

Yeah, some really good stuff.. Glad your enjoyed the story and video.