The world’s first camera that could shoot MPEG-4 back in 1999 was basically a vlogging camera

When you pick any random point in history, if you could go back and talk to the people of the day, they’d feel that they were at the very pinnacle of technology in just about every respect. The latest breakthroughs in technology were just about as good as they were ever going to get, save for some incremental updates. Well, when it comes to camera tech, we couldn’t really be any further from the truth.

In this video, Gravis (otherwise known as Cathode Ray Dude), takes us back to the very end of the 20th century (now don’t you feel old?) with some bleeding-edge tech from Sharp – The first video camera capable of shooting in what was then a pretty new format, MPEG-4. When compared to cameras of today, it’s absolutely laughable. But in its day, it filled a very real need. The ability to send short video clips across the Internet.

The Sharp VN-EZ1 was released in June or August 1999, depending on where you lived. And as Gravis points out in the video, Sharp still has the product page up on their website. It’s pretty dated by today’s standards, and certainly wasn’t designed for an HD-ready audience. It has a UI that looks better suited to the often 640×480 VGA resolution monitors of the day, but it tells us everything we need to know about the camera, its specs, and there are even a few sample video clips!

The main target for this camera was essentially a merger of two audiences. It was those people who fell into the crowds of both camcorder owners as well as savvy Internet users who wanted to share their adventures. Basically, it was the first vlogging camera, in a way. Why was such a camera needed? Well, back then, pretty much the only way you could share files, short of having your own website, was through email – which had insanely small attachment size limits due to most of the world being on dialup. MPEG-4 allowed you to shoot some short clips while keeping the file sizes pretty small.

Of course, those small MPEG-4 video files meant that this was pretty much its only real purpose in life. It certainly wasn’t anything you’d want to shoot any kind of serious video with and I would say footage from this camera was probably shown on broadcast TV or in a movie… oh, about zero times. It was a camera of convenience that solved a need of the time that no longer really exists.

With the video technology we have available to us today, not just the cameras but the ease with which we can share them through platforms like YouTube or Facebook, the Sharp VN-EZ1 and the reasons why you’d want to buy one are extremely primitive. But back then, being able to shoot a video and easily send it to somebody across the Internet through email was pretty mind-boggling.

It will be interesting to see which of today’s technologies, particularly when it comes to cameras, are looked back on 20 years from now with a similar perspective to that which we view cameras like the Sharp VN-EZ1 today.

Did you have one of these back in the day?

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