Pro video blog…Produced by Philip Johnston DoP/Editor

The JVC KY 1900 was an industrial camera in fact it was one of the few cameras to be produced with a plastic orange body making it very distinctive, JVC brought this camera out during 1982.

The KY-1900 had three saticon tubes which resolved around 400 lines of resolution in their day, price was around the £4700 mark.

Weighing less than 8 pounds, this super-compact three-tube camera is designed without compromising quality.

  • Three newly designed Saticon tubes
  • High performance dichroic multi-layer mirror optical system
  • Die cast aluminum frame
  • 52dB signal-to-noise ratio
  • 9dB gain available for really low light situations
  • Optional 6:1, 10:1 or 14:1 servo zoom lens
  • Automatic iris control with weighting detection circuit
  • Automatic Beam Control, knee compression and white clip circuits for highlight processing
  • Auto white balance with 8-bit memory
  • Built-in genlock and color bar generator

The 1980s saw the introduction of the Saticon tube industrial camera like the KY1900 but they suffered from “light scaring” in other words if you were filming in a steel factory you dare not point the camera at arc welding or you stood a high chance of permanently “brurning” a hole in the tube, this was known as “burn in”. Another anomaly with tube cameras was their propensity to “stick” while panning, once again it was a simple case of overloading the tube with pin points of light and you would get a smearing affect.

Early cameras were very basic indeed with most of your controls at the front, IRIS, WHITE BALANCE and VTR on and off switch, there was nothing else other than a gain switch 0 or 9Dbs and registration.

On the side of the KY1900 you have 4 yellow pots…Blue-Vertical, Blue-Horizontal, Red-Vertical, Red-Horizontal, by tweaking each pot pointing the lens at a registration chart you were able to align the red and the blue against the green gun. What you were doing was changing a magnetic field on each Saticon tube as they were prone to shift with temperature, the earths natural magnetic field and bumping the camera itself.

Manual registration lead cameramen to become paranoid as wo-betide you if you turned out to a shoot and forgot that all important jewellers screwdriver.

Later cameras came with auto registration where you pointed the camera at a chart and pressed a button.

This camera with lead acid battery attached would sit on your shoulder at around 12-14 pounds (5.44Kg-6.35Kg) no wonder we all suffer from back or shoulder problems.

Does it still work ? After 30 years I fed it a 12volt power supply switched it on and waited…no picture…then I blasted my “test dolly” with a 600W LED light and a glimmer of hope but very noisy and the viewfinder still showed no pictures.

Remembering these cameras need some time to heat up I left it for about 30 minutes and would you believe it…pictures.

These pictures were recorded onto a Sony GV-HD700 in DV mode via the composite video input then a still was taken via the PHOTO mode on the HD700.

My hat off to the Japanese video engineering department at JVC for producing a camera that can even today produce pictures after 30 years, not only that but very accurate pictures especially when looking at the colour rendition chart.

This has been a roller coaster of a ride for me to finally own my all time favourite camera from the past and that distinctive orange body is so sexy and distinctive even after 30 years, todays cameras are somewhat boring in the fashion department but I have it on good authority that black is defiantly the best colour for cameras and tripod legs as reflections are kept to a minimum.

As an aside my late Uncle Dick was partly responsible for the invention of the Vidicon tube made by RCA. America was a major player in video technology back in the 70s and 80s, the Vidicon tube was the core of many broadcast cameras during the late 80s, early 90s and my uncle was a pioneer in its development !


Having been working in the video business since 1988 I have amassed a great amount of knowledge of both the kit and production values over the last 30 years.

25 thoughts on “JVC KY-1900 “Back to the Future” 1984

  1. That was an interesting read. Being a relative newcomer to video production I wasn’t even aware of tubes as a method of image capture!

  2. Film workshop (a channel 4 funded organisation based in Edinburgh) had one back in the Eighties. It was a nightmare to use. I had it on a job once and I couldn’t line up the tubes, so I shot the interview with the registration out. Soon after the Sony M3 came on the market and made life much easier with automatic alignment.

  3. We owned two of these in the early 80s and took them all over the world. We spent as long adjusting them as shooting, but the pictures were the best available in the industrial price bracket. Furthermore, they matched perfectly into our vision mixer both on location and in our studio.

  4. Wow this takes me back. I used one of these when I was a junior medical illustrator filming operations etc. How things have changed… 🙂

  5. It seems a shame you can’t get a decent orange video camera these days. Oh well I’ll just have to suffer with a camera that shoots HD images recorded to on-board recorders.

  6. We had a set of three of these that we used to shoot American High School football. On the first night out the sideline camera and its operator were tackled by a linebacker and running back. The camera work for about 15 more years. The operator switched careers.

  7. We, Studio 21 (now Angelfilms-UK), used two of these flourescent gems in producing our Lakes And Dales films in the early 80s (still on sale!). Nightmare to set up on location, but heavy enough to not need image stab. We recorded to U-Matic, which was way lower quality, but amazing against VHS.
    Stayed in studio rostrum use until 1995.

  8. Just recalled an occasion where a test card got “burned” into the blue tube on one of our KY1900s – we “cured” it by facing the camera against a white card, close-lit by a 500W photoflood – after half a day, the burn was gone – but the tube output had gone down by a few dB … Happy Days !!

  9. First thing I did when I picked mine up in 1985…

    Took the panels off and

  10. EFWT (as mentioned by Martin Parry) found another use for the newer Jellycams. Perhaps David liked their name and acquired a replacement or two (it was a KY2700 I rescued – I think a skip claimed the older one after it was used as a title rostrum camera, or possibly black source, on the Umatic edit suite). I used the KY2700 as the main input source for a large number of animations whilst working on outreach projects up till the mid noughties. Fed through PVR Perception capture cards and recorded on SCSI discs. A good weight on top of a Vinten 20 and the young folk we worked with loved its looks and fantasic orange flight case.

  11. OK – Can’t believe everything you read on the internet… I did wonder why I’d used such an old camera. Had a look at some stills of the sets over the years and the bright orange flight case was still in use but the camera is clearly a dull, grey Sony DXC 3000. Explains the picture quality we managed.

  12. I used one at the Bolan Medical College, Quetta Pakistan, it was a wonderful piece of equipment, and the picture quality was great, it was a bit bulky but a very reliable camera. The CCD cameras are no match to this KY 1900.

  13. I used to hire one in the mid 80’s and video weddings and do 8mm film to video transfer etc. I pulled out the original low band U-Matic tapes of my brother’s wedding from 1987 recently and was so happy I spent the money on the good camera at the time. Most other people were using domestic VHS systems. I loved seeing these pictures of the Orange beast.

  14. I used the big brother to the KY1900 – the KY2000 at Bernstein Productions in 1980 in Hollywood. It was a great camera, as long as we avoided situations with very contrasty lighting, and avoided pointing the camera at a bright light.

    The Saticon tubes had excellent color rendition. Can’t recall if the tubes were 2/3″ or 1″ but they produced a nice, shallow film-like depth of field.

    Of course, there was no aliasing or digital artifacting. The only concern was comet-tailing or ‘burning in’ a tube.

  15. The “Auto-White” button was not the white balance button, rather it turned on a brand new circuit that gave the camera an automatic white balance. And yes, it was very high tech for it’s day. None of the other far more expensive cameras could do that. In my opinion, the KY1900 was one of the most innovative and advanced cameras of it’s era. And ofr half the price of it’s bigger brothers.

  16. I just acquired one of these for $50. at a used bookstore! They had lost the power supply and case, but the camera looks so cool that even if it doesn’t work I think it will make a great prop. But I’m seriously thinking of setting up a retro analog video TV studio just for the fun of it, now that equipment like this is so cheap. I was able to order the remote control console for about $35. online, and I am now searching for the XLR power supply. I will make one if I can’t find one, but I’ll bet they are not that hard to find.

  17. I used this camera a lot to shoot industrials and spots. It lasted about a year and a half with constant use and then the tubes started getting out of registration and lost their sensitivity to light. I ended up replacing it with an HL-79 Ikegami….a much better camera, but, of course, it was, also, a much more expensive camera. The JVC worked quite well during its short life.

  18. I worked with these cameras in NYC back in 79/80, when they were the latest thing. Maybe they got to the UK a little later? Anyway, they were a giant leap forward for many people of the time who were still working with some version of Sony Portapaks.

  19. I just bought a KY-1900E, orange, with charger, video cable, microphone’s support and case, without batteries. It’s hard to find manual and batteries. I’m going to autoconstruct batteries for test it. It’s very beautiful. It’s my 4th 3 ccd pro camera, wow! My compliments for this marvelous site, good work to everyone, Paolo Forconi.

  20. What a find. My old KY-1900 came to mind this evening and I decided to google the model and came up with this great post. I recall that some foolish bank gave me a credit card when I was in film school in NY in 1983 and I charged my KY1900 and ran that card to its limit…about $4,000 as I recall. I think my film school pals looked down on on video… but 35 years later, I’m about the only one still working in production and I owe it all to that KY-1900 and a portable 3/4 Sony 4800 deck that i picked up shortly after. I went with a Sony portable deck as JVC was cultivating the nickname “The Tape Manglers” back then, a take off on its “Tape Handlers” line of 3/4″ decks that was famous for eating tapes. I teach TV Production at a community college and try to explain the all of the challenges we had back then making decent images for video. I loved that camera, but boy did I flip a lot of breakers and blow a lot of fuses when I shot on location and poured light on my subjects.

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