During the 1970s, JVC introduced their own line of consumer colour video cameras (see how snazzy things look in this 1978 German ad?) which contained not one but two tubes – one for the three main colours (red / green / blue), and a second for luminance (the brightness) – and for collectors the problem isn’t finding these cameras, but whether the tubes are still able to capture bright, balanced colour images with proper focus.
When they’re in good shape, you get results as demonstrated at Toy’s Vintage Video, whose PAL variant of JVC’s GC-3300AU captured far more stable (normal) images; when the tubes and / or internal circuits are kind of worn, you get something that resembles the first telecast of Venus from a Soviet Venera probe.
Well, not really, but my camera’s has been through the wringer and maybe without new tubes, it’ll never deliver more than faintly coloured Venusian images, or something akin to faded 16mm prints made from old 2-strip Technicolor prints of pre-Code movies where once in while you can go ‘Oh yeah, that’s a dinner plate with beets, rice, and meatloaf in washed-out colour.’
The 3300AU was a consumer-grade camera with a uniquely cumbersome set-up: the camera had a B&W viewfinder and a cable with 16 pins designed to accept power and send out video signals, but rather that stick the colour balance controls for Red and Blue on the camera – as was standard on most cameras – JVC stuck them on a breakout box.
Basically, the setup goes like this: everything captured by the camera – audio and video – is sent by cable into a large power supply unit which also contains dials for Red and Blue colour adjustments, a dial for the luminance, plus a knob for colour balance with presets for indoor & outdoor lighting, and a manual setting which relied on tweaking those aforementioned red / blue / luminance knobs.
You could argue JVC’s 2-tube system and a fatter cable with 16 pins predates S-VHS, which also sent chrominance & luminance via separate pins for a cleaner picture, but the setup for the 3300AU is not really portable because of the extra cables and connections – the camera goes into the breakout box and then gets sent into a video recorder instead of a direct connection into a video recorder that would power the camera and receive the video signal.
(It is possible JVC maybe have manufactured an industrial VCR that accepted the multi-pin connection for industrial use. Most cameras took the older Sony 10-pin plug, but even JVC made a variant for their JVC CV-0001, which required a 12-pin connection at the rear of the camera, and a 10-pin connection to a VCR or breakout box; lose this cable, and you’ll need to know the pin-out scheme to create an adapter so the damn thing is usable.)
I’ll keep things brief at this stage because this blog isn’t about technical details, but rather what the wonky, worn out 3300AU offered that other (healthy) cameras didn’t. In a nutshell, if you switch the camera to manual colour balance, adjust the knobs, aim the camera at textures with the intent of acquiring aberrant images, you get Venusian or Martian images.
The colour knobs may saturate reds & blues with some slight green edges, but the luminance makes images deeply saturated / make bright spots flare-out, and because the camera’s tubes are vidicons – prone to ghosting, after-images, and weird contrasts when the aperture’s opened a little wider – you can create something surreal.
That footage formed the basis of a small test project, and when parts were recorded to VHS (for extra smear) and MiniDV (for deeper colours) and imported into Adobe Premiere and specific colours were punched out, with certain filters applied, I created what resembles an ultrasound of a pulsing slab of blue marble (hence the pretentious title).
Add a 2.0 sound mix with directional weirdness, and you get the following:
The variations of weird images that can be extracted and processed from this messed-up 3300AU is almost endless, and the camera, in its natural fubared state, does some great things with high-contrast geometric shapes:
For those wanting a few more images of the 3300AU, feel free to check out my small gallery on Flickr.
Coming in the next blog will be examples of options when you’ve got a vintage camera that requires an external horizontal sync pulse in order for a stable B&W image to be recorded to DVD or digital tape.
I’ll have a montage of the untreated and later sync’d video footage from a Sony AVC-3250, and something more novel – a JVC SX-2500 being successfully fed the needed sync pulse for recordable image - so you’ve an idea of the gear that’s one can still acquire online.
Both cameras were marketed as affordable and ‘portable’ industrial units with broadcast quality images, and the reason this upcoming blog might be of interest to you is the fact similar Sony cameras were used by Andrew Bujalski in Computer Chess – a feature-length film shot using 35 year old B&W vidicon cameras, recorded digitally, and post-produced with modern gear.
Until then – Cheers,
Mark R. Hasan, Editor
Big Head Amusements