For many of us, skateboarding was introduced to us through a visual medium, whether popping in a VHS skate video, stumbling upon the X-Games on TV or playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The act of skateboarding as a visual and performance art needs to be seen to be understood. If it is not how we fall in love with skateboarding, it is certainly how we nurture our love for it.
A Brief History of Skate Video Cameras
Unique to the industry, skateboarding for most of its existence has been intimately documented by fellow skaters within the community. Since the ‘70s, skateboarders who might have lacked the gnarly factor to pursue a skate career or brand owners and former pros like Stacey Peralta heading up their own companies, found creative fulfillment and contribution by picking up a camera and filming their friends. What began as a simple way of capturing the stoke or creating a promotional video for their brand, has since evolved into a full fledged career opportunity and creative outlet embedded in the skateboarder experience.
Those first skateboarders who passed around the camera like a marathon baton never imagined how the industry and the way skateboarders digest skate media would have evolved to where it is today. From what began from shoulder bearing cameras, to Hi8’s and mini DVs, has since evolved into incredible High Definition 6k cameras, with social media clips uploaded by the minute and bite size snackable skate content eclipsing full length videos that used to dominate the skate media landscape. Beyond filming, skate editors who used to struggle editing by a frankenstein cauldron of VHS players and blank tapes, now battle with memory storage and soaring camera and editing equipment costs. Nonetheless, while skate filmer methods and the media outlets they operate have evolved, the evolution of skate media has always been preceded by the evolution of skate video cameras.
And now, from what began from manually loaded film cameras, to shoulder held cameras and VHS tapes, has evolved into skate videos on YouTube, Instagram and Red Bull TV. While the landing spots for content and skateboarding video cameras have evolved, the videographers themselves have never wavered in their dedication. For decades, videographers in skateboarding have peered through the viewfinder to bring skateboarding to its people. It’s time to return the favor and highlight those cameras integral to the history of skateboarding.
Super 8 and 16mm Cameras
Prior to the ‘80s, skateboarding was predominantly filmed on Super 8 and 16mm cameras. These handheld cameras more often than not were devoid of a microphone and even if capable of sound, often required an external microphone via a 6-8ft cord. As a videographer, you have to be willing to be “hands on,” but no cameras are more hands on than Super 8 and 16mm cameras; especially the 16mm which requires a videographer to manually load, meter and develop film. With these processes comes room for failure and skateboarding may never know how much footage was lost because of this. When we think back to DogTown, early Natas footage and the early contest footage of the 1970s, we’re watching Super 8 and 16mm. Even so, these cameras have stuck around and actually can be seen in most skate videos in little clips and aesthetic punches.
The natural film grain of the 16mm and Super 8 camera have ensured this early predecessor has stuck around in skateboarding. That being said, with cameras often being unreliable and film cartridge and processing costs being something akin to $70 for two minutes of footage, the Super 8 and 16mm are mainly used for filming intro slates or an artistic 5-10 second clip. You can see a ton of fantastic super 8 and 16mm cutaways in skate videos by guys like Jon Miner, Aaron Meza, and Ty Evans. Many of today’s top videographers credit Super 8 and 16mm cameras as the horses they rode to understanding exposure, composition, and the dedication and attention to detail it takes to become a successful videographer in skateboarding. Nonetheless, the early ‘80s brought VHS and Hi8 camcorders into the fold; eclipsing the Super 8 and 16mm forever.
Panasonic Super-VHS & Sony Hi8
Some might not even know what a Hi8 tape is but hopefully we all know a VHS tape. Either way, it’s important we remember how skateboarders would lug around boombox like shoulder cameras to film skating just to dedicate insurmountable hours to editing videos by way of frankenstein VHS hubs. All of skateboarding truly owes these pioneers a great deal for paving the way with their dedication. By setting a high standard, VHS and Hi8 camcorders propelled skate videographers to launch the evolution of skate video cameras into a new era. An era defined by mobility, rawness, street operating, and a true to culture capturing of skating at a time when its popularity was adrift. With increased mobility, popular culture’s blind eye to skating, street skateboarding exploded all of the US and into the World; with more and more skate crews, companies and brands gearing up and documenting the streets. Paired with novel ways to edit tapes, it was the VHS and Hi8 era that began the illustrious style and aesthetic skate videos are known for.
As an upgrade from cameras like the Super 8 or 16mm which captured the early DogTown footage on costly film, the VHS and Hi8 camcorder’s greatest contribution to skateboarding was arguably the fact skaters could now edit videos to music. This birthed a new creative avenue in skating, both on a corporate and amteur artistic level. Skaters started to imagine their skating to songs and a new motivation was ingrained into the skateboarder experience. This profound change is what led to some of the first full length skate videos like World Industries “Trilogy,” to be filmed on a VHS camcorder. Subsequently, skateboarding videos were now incomplete without music and so propelled editors to raise their game once again and propel the art of editing. While some of the earliest sponsor me tapes were shot on Hi8, which afforded the same opportunity, the editing process was extremely problematic.
The first domino that fell for the Hi8 being eclipsed by the VHS began with the Hi8’s demand on filmmakers to mail in their original tapes; subsequently leading them to get damaged or lost for eternity. To this day, there are countless hours of lost footage from pioneering street skaters that never saw the light of day. While blank VHS tapes made editing easier and reduced the threat of lost footage, it was never a simple task like the click and drag functions of contemporary editing. In rare cases today, Hi8 and VHS camcorders are making a comeback; with their 500 pixel grain blend of unique colors schemes and intangible raw aesthetic. However ultimately the problems of shooting and editing on these analog shoulder monsters led to their digital extinction. Still, it wasn’t until 1995 when mini DVs and importing from firewire cables solved these problems and evolved skate video cameras into their next phase of evolution.
Sony DCR VX1000 & MK1 Fisheye Lens
If you know skateboarding, you know the reverence the community holds for the VX1000. What you might not know is how impactful this camera really was for editing and its accompanying fisheye was for skateboarding’s aesthetic as a whole.
As the first portable professional grade video camera, the Sony DCR VX1000 instantly empowered amateurs to produce television quality filmmaking at a relatively affordable price. Originally used by the US military in Desert Storm and later adapted by the adult entertainment industry and reality tv, the VX1000’s durability, grip handle, ability to pick up a full spectrum of colors and sounds sent an entire generation of skate videographers to war in the streets. The art of skate videography was now booming and contributing to skate media in a way that skateboarders now greatly reminisce. With a new camera as the tip of the spear of skateboarding’s arsenal, it was the MK1 Fisheye by Century Optics that separated skating’s aesthetic as an industry and an artform, as full-length skate videos became the priority of every skate company. The irony is skate videos never really made a company any money but the intangible effect and what their contribution meant for skate history as a whole, were pure forces of culture that forever resonate with skateboarding. Many skaters look to this VX1000 and MK1 era as the birth of this golden era and some have even attempted to pinpoint its exact start.
In a story that has now become legend, skate videographer Dan Wolfe first acquired the fisheye from a catalog in 1999. Later that year at a session at the Santa Monica triple set, photographer Atiba Jefferson and Wolfe were capturing Jeremy Way’s frontside 360 down the triple, when Atiba marvelled at the fisheye’s unique capturing of the trick. Atiba called up Ty Evans, another revered skate videographer right there on the spot, praising the fish eye. Needless to say, Ty loved the look and by the end of 1999 every legit skate filmmaker had the VX1000 and the MK1. It is largely understood, the fisheye aesthetic provided a composition of landscape that revealed obstacles and tricks at the last second, speeding up the skating and making its revealing a reactionary blend of poetry in motion and raw physical action. With the VX1000's incredible ability to pick up sounds, the cacophony of raw street skating and obstacles erupting in your face, crowned the fisheye king for filming lines and gaps. All of these factors and more contributed to the VX1 and MK1 being adapted into every film maker's arsenal, as the quintessential camera in skateboarding’s golden era.
While the VX1000s technical aspects and professional grade standing combined its unique ability to capture sounds and colors with the MK1’s fisheye aesthetic; and thus, created a standard for the outpour of skate content, it was the editing capabilities awarded by mini DV tapes that began this era. Being far easier to edit than the complex systems and fragile nature of VHS and Hi8, a firewire cable was all that was needed to plug into a computer and begin editing. During the golden era of the VX1000, skateboarding saw some of the most influential videos ever created. Monumental videos like “Sorry, Yeah Right!,” “Photosynthesis,” “This Is Skateboarding,” “The DC Video,” “Baker 3,” and “Fully Flared” were all shot exclusively on the VX1000 and have since defined skateboarding history as a whole.
With the quality and accessibility of the VX1000 being ramped up and the MK1 lens defining the skate aesthetic for an entire generation, the VX1 will always be a catalyst to the evolution of skate video cameras. Still used in use today by crews like Love Park’s Brian Panebianco’s Sabotage videos and Ryan Garshell’s GX1000 series, the VX1000, over 25 years since its production remains a staple in the aesthetic and culture of skateboarding. Even with all the contributions of the minDV being undeniable, this original hero of the digital age would ultimately prove to be a trojan horse. As the miniDV proved to be problematic with its constant threat of glitching and rising costs per tape. Ultimately as we saw with VHS being eclipsed by a more favorable miniDV, HD cameras with fixed memory cards and DSLR cameras with SD cards proved a favorable replacement for tapes and DVs.
Panasonic HVX 200
The Panasonic HVX 200 marks yet another turning point in the evolution of skate video cameras. When the onset of high definition cameras were first introduced to skating at the tail end of Fully Flared, skateboarding erupted into a debate of HD versus VX. A debate that largely still exists between contemporary standards of media even when we see HD dominate the 2020 media landscape. It should be understood, over a decade following the debut of HD cameras skateboarders fought against its replacement of standard definition and the VX1000. But ultimately, HD has prevailed over standard definition and the VX1000 for a myriad of reasons.
It is largely believed the adoption of HD began with Ty Evans shooting B-Roll footage for Fully Flared on the Panasonic HVX. After using the HVX, he famously decreed the HD cameras should be what they film their next project “Pretty Sweet” exclusively with. Meaning for the first time since the VX1’s introduction, a skate video would be produced without standard definition VX footage. One of the largest factors of the switch for Ty Evans was the solid state memory card offered by the HVX. Compared to the endless stacks of Mini DVs that rose in cost every year, the solid state memory cards were a one time buy. You just plug in your HD card and import the clips, back them up, erase the card, and you have a fresh card for hours of more footage. Still, this process had its own challenges. For starters footage continued to be in jeopardy by leaving everything up to digital backups versus tapes you can keep forever. It also meant logging a ton of hours importing footage and backing up terabytes of memory on high costing external harddrives.
It’s worth mentioning the Panasonic HVX had a Mini DV counterpart in the Panasonic DVX. The DVX was largely considered a step up from the VX series, especially the later VX2000 and VX2100 that suffered in their color capturing abilities and nighttime filming modes. Today, the Panasonic DVX is one of the more prominent alternatives for people who can’t afford a VX1000 or don’t want to deal with the technical responsibilities of owning one. They retail for $300 roughly now, which is a testament to their opening price of $2,500.
While the HVX and DVX have since dropped in price, the adoption of HD produced a split in skateboarding’s amateur and corporate media. In essence, as the HD cameras raised the bar for production value and technical aspects, it also raised the prices and made it harder to compete as an amatuer to produce high quality skate media. Skateboarders would have to spend $3,000-$5,000 on a rig and proceed to put that expensive camera in front of moving skateboards that with one foul swoop could break their equipment. This dichotomy led local filmers to reach for other means or to vehemently stay dedicated to VX1000 and standard definition. As we will see in our following sections, in many ways the adoption of HD was another domino that caused skate video cameras to splinter; creating new avenues in the evolution of skate video cameras.
A DSLR, short for digital single lens reflex camera became the avenue for low budget skater’s to enter the filmer ranks with an HD setup that didn’t cost them an arm and a leg. Compared to the HVX (upon release) and other HD cameras reaching anywhere from $2,000-$5,000, an HD DSLR could and still can be purchased for as low as $400-$600. While these cameras are generally crop censored and require filmmakers to build a caged rig for handheld capabilities, DSLR cameras have inspired an entire new and younger generation of videographers to start filming by piecing together their own setups. For a skateboarder to fall in love with filming, it’s all about expanding their horizons and the DSLR camera provided a bracket of young people to take their craft to the next step.
While DSLR ‘HD’ might only mean 1080p or 720, the memory card solution versus the costly mini dv tapes and HVX allows skaters to keep up with the uploading demands of skateboarding’s dawning social media age. It also provides a step up from the phone camera, letting people know you’re dedicated to skate videography in a deeper, more meaningful way. While the DSLR never really made it to the professional ranks, in terms of top tier filmers paid by skateboarding’s largest corporations, it has always had its presence in the streets and by local park filmers across the world. This made it a central camera in keeping skateboarding documented by and for skateboarders and an acceptable B and C roll camera for corporate skate media.
The DSLR is also significant in terms of when and where it came out on the timeline of skate video cameras’ evolutionary history. For when DSLR cameras really started to invest in video capability, there were a ton of changes going on in skate videography. It was right around the time when iPhone cameras really started to produce impressive quality and cinema cameras like the RED camera series entered the skate game via The Berrics and Street League. The VX1000 was just starting to be reduced to a cult following while HD finally eclipsed standard definition. For many skaters, these alternatives were not a viable option and the DSLR allowed them to continue following their passion and create skate video content. If anything, this profound contribution in itself warrants the DSLR Camera to be included on this list and represents a unique period in the evolution of skate video cameras.
There is arguably no camera more responsible for changing the landscape and influencing the way skateboarding media is digested than the iPhone camera. While much of the iPhone’s influence comes at the heels of the dawning social media age, the introduction of cell phone cameras to skateboarding pushed skate media to a point of no return. While the internet and monumental outlets like YouTube and The Berrics turned the tables on full length videos to bite sized skate content, it was the iPhone camera that flooded the skateways with infinite amounts of both professional and amatuer skate content.
It’s much more than the technical aspects of the iPhone (although, impressive in its own right) but the fact nearly every skateboarder now was equipped with a pocket size HD camera at their literal fingertips. With every skater having a direct means of filming themselves and others, the iPhone made every skater a potential content producer. For better and for worse, this has meant a great deal of videos being uploaded literally by the minute. While it has connected our community more than ever and led to a lot of skaters being ‘noticed’ or seen, the saturation factor has meant a ton of skating goes in one ear and out the other, so to speak. The philosophical implications of how the iPhone changed skateboarding could go into a 300 page book, but for the sake of this article, to paraphrase its history, we do so by understanding how skate media shifted once the phone camera reality hit.
Everything changed in terms of how skateboarders “witnessed” skating. The average skateboarder now saw arguably more ‘non-professional’ and ‘non-corporate’ skating on the daily than previous decades which demanded the skater purchased a magazine or a full length video. Skateboarding became instant access and in many ways has never been the same since. This includes the accessibility of mainstream culture and non-skate corporations to “see” skating. It’s why today skateboarding’s popularity is at such an all-time high, with influencers and non-skating celebrities posing photos and tiktok videos in cargo pants and thrasher hoodies. While this has also meant an increased opportunity for skaters to go viral and be noticed by brands and companies, the question has yet to be fully answered if whether or not the iPhone camera has been good for skating. Nonetheless, the iPhone camera has contributed to the evolution of skate video cameras and will continue to do so as long as the iPhone itself evolves.
RED Epic-M Dragon DSMC 6K Camera
If you have any interest in filmmaking, videography or photography, you probably already know about RED Cameras like the RED Dragon. These cameras are the top tier cameras in the game and have since brought skateboarding videos on par with full-fledge cinema. If there is a mountain for HD cameras, RED is the peak, with these rigs often starting at a price tag of $20,000. Pioneers of HD like Ty Evans, almost shoot exclusively with RED cameras now in reciprocal partnerships whether for a skate video or a documentary. RED Cameras have raised the bar for professional skate media to previously unimaginable heights and consequently driven a larger divide between skateboarders on the streets and skateboarders producing videos for televisions and larger outlets. Ultimately, skateboarders have resolved this gap by going the other direction and revitalizing skate video cameras from previous eras. Obviously, the VX1000 is a perfect example of this, but even VHS, DSLR, Super 8s and the now affordable Panasonic DVX have kept amateur skateboarders with their own horse in the race. Still, the RED Dragon cameras is in a league of its own.
The RED Dragon bears a 19 megapixel DRAGON Sensor, 6k RAW full frame definition, up to 2000 ISO and a Native 800 ASA sensitivity. At 6k the RED Dragon shoots 1-100fps for vastly improved low light capabilities and a Higher Dynamic Range. The RED Dragon also comes with a 5” touchscreen monitor and an intuitive graphical user interface. If this technically jargon sounds like another language to you, don’t fret. For most people these technical specifications are only understood with the intense passion for videography. It’s what has helped drive the evolution of skate video cameras and the media they produce. At Red Bull, we encourage everyone to follow your passions both behind and in front of the lens. When we combine our passions for skateboarding with the avenues of documentation, our culture is preserved and told through the lens of skateboarders. While these cameras have evolved over the years, the apparatus of skateboarding’s documentation has never changed. Skateboarding is filmed by skateboarders, for skateboarders. It’s just one of the many reasons why skateboarding is such a palpable cultural force in our community. We are so fortunate to hold this concept so dear to our hearts as one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be a skateboarder. Let’s continue to celebrate our videographers and the evolution of skate video cameras.