“That Was Then!”
CEI Competes For the High End of the 1970’s Video Market
CEI, a small California video company, once made a vidicon camera using three one-inch tubes and relay optics rather than a splitter block. It was called the BBC-2 and was marketed by a very big name in American electronics—Ampex.
However, an early owner of the CEI-made camera called it “badly short of development at the factory” and prone “to suddenly bursting into oscillation when it got hot.” So much for the early days of video, when much American-made gear could be described the same way.
Hanging in there, CEI came back a few years later with the Model 310, an exceptional American-made video camera that challenged the Japanese on its own turf. The 310 made its mark not as an ENG news camera, but as a high-quality two-piece electronic camera for the most sophisticated television productions. It was frequently used for television commercials and series production in the field.
Often compared with Ikegami’s EC-35—the electronic cinematography camera—the colorimetry of the CEI 310 was notable. The camera got the reputation of appearing more “film-like” than the competing Japanese cameras. In the 1970s, though few could explain the difference, this was a very big deal!
However, it was the era of standard definition cameras and a time prior to the arrival of 24-frame progressive technology. Though the term electronic cinematography was gaining some traction, the 310 was definitely limited to television production rather than the big screen.
However, seeing the future, Panavision, the major 35mm motion picture equipment rental company, decided to buy CEI. Fitted with Panavision’s huge stock of cinema lenses, the 310 was turned into Panavision’s first video camera—the Panacam.
To get maximum results from the first rental video cameras, Panavision established a number of authorized rental/production facilities that would supply the Panacam accompanied by a trained technician to insure correct set-up to paint the image for the best possible look.
But due to the limited resolution of the NTSC video standard in the 1970s, electronic cinematography was still premature. It took about thirty years to catch on. However, when the history of the movement is written, CEI will go down as an early, pivotal player.