1980's Toshiba IK-1850 Camera Teaches Today's Camcorders A Thing Or Two
My video career has been a ragtag one, especially when I think back to the motley assortment of gear I've used over the years. In high school in the 80's I saved up all my summer job money to get a video camera. I couldn't afford an all-in-one camcorder, since it wasn't until the late 80's that camcorders dipped below $1000, so I bought an old two-piece outfit. The kit consisted of a (sort of) portable VCR, attached to a camera via a big umbilical wire.
Later when I was in film school, we were still using two-piece “portapak” pro setups. It was an interesting arrangement, sort of like getting stereo components. You could mix and match your recorder unit and the camera you wanted. I started off with a very entry level camera, and moved up to something with more oomph later. This Toshiba IK-1850 would have been a nice unit back then, and there are a few lessons here even for modern camcorders.
I don't know exactly what year this is from, but I'd guess early 80's. Auto-focus was a new feature, and from the size of the AF module on the lens, this camera was probably pretty early to the party. Astonishingly the Toshiba has a removable lens, a rare feature on consumer cameras then... and still almost unheard of now.
The viewfinder is a mini black and white CRT (easier to find focus versus a color LCD), and can be mounted on either side of the camera. There are on-camera adjustment knobs for color balance, iris, focus - no endless on-screen menus to page through! Also handy is the handle – today's cameras are so small, sometimes it's hard to know where to put my big paw.
I've learned to live without the above features when using a modern camera, but if there are any of you out there who happen to make camcorders for a living, here are the features from 20 years ago that never should have disappeared. Present on the Toshiba is a tripod mounting screw (two of them actually!) and a manual zoom lens. Some late model camcorders lack tripod mounting facilities (ghastly!), and substitute digital magnification for a real optical zoom. Digital jiggery pokery is okay, but there's a lot to be said for getting the picture right in the first place.
The Toshiba has manual focus and a real focus ring that you can grab onto. I played around with a recent model camera and the only way to get manual focus was to open a menu, and twiddle controls on the touchscreen. Ignoring my fear of bashing in the screen with my thumb... how am I supposed to focus on something when the on-screen controls and my fingers are covering the screen?
Even more important, this Toshiba has a mic input jack. Bliss. You don't need to be a pro to want to use a microphone that cost more than the ten cent one originally built into the camera. Remember that the best place for the camera is seldom the best place for the microphone. Wouldn't all those video bloggers out there benefit from a nice tack-on mic? Don't manufacturers see this as an opportunity to sell people more stuff?
Of course we've moved on from the 200 line (if we're lucky) imaging tubes inside the IK-1850, and this Toshiba isn't going to fit in anyone's pocket. Can we at least agree that it's unfortunate that we've lost lots of functions over the years that many people would probably like back? Let's not stifle people's creativity just to save five bucks in parts.