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First Video Ever Made

By Dillon Wallace

In the grand scheme of time, film hasn’t been around for that long. It’s not even 150 years old, but in its illustrious rise to prominence over the last century, all of its breakthroughs have been very well documented. After all, it is film and its whole reason for existence is to record things.

And key among those breakthroughs is the very first video recording and the questions that surround it. How was it made? Who made it? What was the video of? 
So, let’s peel back the mystery and break down the oldest surviving film in existence and see what we can find out.


How was it made?

In order to fully understand what it was, it’s important to take a step back and explain how it was. At the time of its creation back in the late 1800s, the camera was in its infancy and a handful of persistent inventors were trying to figure out the technology behind it. And French inventor, Louis Le Prince, wanted to stake his claim on some of the earliest technology – the single-lens camera. As a result, Le Prince recorded his video breakthrough using his single-lens camera and Eastman Kodak’s paper-based photographic film.  Just like that, the camera was rolling. Lights. Camera. Action.


What was it?

The first video recording (or more accurately, the oldest surviving  film in existence) was the Roundhay Garden Scene. The silent short that’s only about 2 seconds in length was filmed at the Whitely Family house in Oakwood Grange Road, Roundhay (a suburb of Leeds, Yorkshire) Great Britain in 1888. The clip shows four people gleefully walking/dancing in a circle. The actors are Adolphine Le Prince (Louis’ son), Mrs. Sarah Whitley (Louis’ mother-in-law), Joseph Whitley (Louis father-in-law) and Ms. Harriet Hartley (a Le Prince family friend). It’s a charming little clip that gives the viewer a glimpse into the time period, including a peek at the era attire. There’s no story behind why they’re walking/dancing in a circle, but it was 1888 and life was a much simpler time.


The mystery behind the history

The Roundhay Garden Scene is a cheerful clip that shows the beaming excitement of what the new camera technology was capable of achieving – a glimpse into ordinary life. Not just capturing a still image, but a moving picture! Which is a pity, because the aftermath of the film is marred in unpleasantries for Louis Le Prince’s family.


Only ten days after filming the silent short, Sarah Whitely died at the age of 72. Louis’ son, Adolphe, was discovered shot dead two years later, after he testified about his father’s camera inventions in court against fellow inventor Thomas Edison. And Louis himself mysteriously disappeared just before unveiling his new technology to the mass public. Of course, none of the above is attached to the video … or is it? However you see it, there’s definitely a ghostly past shadowing the creation of the first video.


A century of camera innovation

Since 1888, video capture technology has grown from grimy, black and white silent short clips to three-plus hour, ultra high definition blockbusters. It’s simply amazing to see what new film technology (especially digital technology) has done for the film industry in the blip of its existence. Even gimmicks like 3D glasses and movies continue to ebb and flow into popularity. From analog to 3D to digital to the unknown, it makes you wonder what the next major film breakthrough or trend will be.


And speaking of digital technology … if you’ve got some old reels of film or videotapes lying around the house, we can help convert them from analog to digital. It’s the perfect way to preserve your past. Just like the Roundhay Garden Scene has been preserved in film history. Hopefully your family has a better outcome than that of Le Prince’s kin.

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