Room 10 exhibit 3
DATE: 1984

[2005: £?]


The GR-C1 probably qualifies as a design classic, perhaps even an icon of the 1980's.
Immortalised in Back To The Future, it is the original, definitive camcorder. It was also the first camcorder I ever used, and I fell in love with video as soon as I picked it up. As Doc says, "A portable TV studio. Remarkable!"

Doc and Marty with his JVC
A still from Back To The Future (1985)
The similarity with the GZ-S5 "dockable separates" cradle is marked. The VHS-C recorder takes up the main part of the camera, though it is remarkably small, even compared to the portable VHS-C decks of the year before.
The GR-C1 offers that most powerful feature of video: instant playback. The viewfinder is electronic, a tiny black-and-white television screen (a real TV tube too -- miniature LCD screens were a long way in the future), and is used not only for seeing what you were shooting, but also for watching your recordings. To this end, the GR-C1 is a fully-functional VHS-C deck, with playback, freeze-frame, forward and reverse shuttle search controls. There is also a digital counter with memory stop. One other neat feature is so-called "rehearsal" mode -- the camera behaves exactly as if it's recording, except that it doesn't actually move the tape.
The camera controls are also pretty comprehensive: indoor/outdoor filter, auto & manual white balance, exposure ("iris") control and a separate, electronic "sensitivity" switch for low light shooting. Well, low light by 1984 standards -- the GR-C1 was still a tube-based camera, and the incredible sensitivity of today's CCD camcorders, which can seemingly shoot clear pictures in the light from a glow-worm's fart, was still a distant dream.

The zoom lens includes a macro setting, for extreme close-ups, but focus is manual -- auto focus came in a year or so later.
A strange system of white stripes in the viewfinder is used to tell the operator what's happening. A long bar means it's paused, ready to record, and it goes short and starts flashing when recording starts. The line goes up and down to represent the light level, and another bar at the side of the screen is used to indicate low battery, high sensitivity and white balance settings! All this is very difficult to interpret, but presumably a proper on-screen display was too expensive or difficult -- although a separate, optional character generator was available, allowing you to superimpose titles while you shoot.

The GR-C1 is much more like modern camcorders in its styling than the Betamovie. There is no separate "cine camera" style swing-down handle, just a moulded curve which fits the hand. As in the BMC-100, this held the battery pack -- large by today's standards. The camera is big and heavy enough to need to be carried on the shoulder, and there is a pull-out bracket to help this. The most unusual styling feature is the bright red colour -- I can't think of another model which isn't black, grey or silver!