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Lights, camera, no action: why we shouldn’t mourn the death of the camcorder | Technology

Sad news for amateur film-makers; according to John Lewis, camcorders are practically a “non-existent” market, with sales down 33% this year. If they keep tumbling like this, it’s likely that they will soon join other anachronistic items that the department store chain stopped selling this year, such as clutch bags and fish kettles.

But wait, people are still buying camcorders? In an age when the majority of people permanently carry around a smaller, sharper, better video recorder in their pockets, people are still committed to owning a separate device? Apparently so. Admittedly, many of the camcorders available on the John Lewis website include functionality not readily available on a phone – almost half are GoPros, which are basically camcorders you can strap to your head, while another has a built-in projector – but really? Camcorders in 2019? Isn’t that a bit of a pain?

Of course it is, because camcorders have always been a pain. They were a pain when they first became commercially available; hulking great VHS monsters, such as the Panasonic M10, heaved out of the car boot on special occasions to record nothing but grainy self-consciousness. They were a pain when they recorded on to DVDs with limited storage and atrocious image quality. Even in its final, pre-iPhone push, in the days of the tiny, one-handed digital Flip camera, the camcorder was a pain. Show me anyone who owned a Flip and ask them to describe the process of transferring video on to any larger screen, and I guarantee that you will be met with long-buried howls of frustration.

Woman using a digital movie camera

Wouldn’t a phone be better and more convenient? Photograph: Colin Utz Photography/Alamy

Surely phones are better, right? You don’t have to change tapes or faff around with lens covers. You don’t have to give yourself a hernia lugging them around. You can record candid moments conspicuously, without making the subject feel as if they are a stiff-backed and unsmiling Victorian in a photography studio. And you can watch your clips back on the device that recorded them, without gathering everyone into the living room to watch an arty 20-minute pan of a flowerbed.

But, at the same time, perhaps the death of the camcorder really is something to mourn. The ease with which we can video events now means that the act of videoing something is no longer special.

I remember vividly the moment that I first saw camcorder footage of myself, partly because it made me so self-conscious that I wanted the ground to swallow me up. But there are hours and hours of footage of my kids on my phone. It’s already completely normal for them to watch themselves, which can make me slightly uneasy. Maybe the clunky, bulky camcorders of old weren’t so bad after all.

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