The History of Home Movies:

In the 100+ years or so that home movies have been around, we have seen them evolve from use by only the extremely wealthy to anyone with a digital camera or mobile device. If we look at the major milestones in film and video development over the years, it’s easy to see how we got to where we are today. The next 100 years should be equally fascinating!


Since the first introduction of moving images in the late 19th century, we have been fascinated with its powerful entertainment and storytelling capabilities. Capturing the essence of people moving around, talking, and gesturing is the highest power of documentation. It surpasses the letters, diaries and still photography that previously had been the primary method of recording and communicating.

In a sense, the consumer-accessible film that became available in the early 1900s represents the 20th century version of what we now call user-generated content. From the moment that manufacturers like Eastman Kodak Company provided consumers the ability to take home movies on their own, the industry began a wonderful and complex evolution that has brought us to the YouTube video generation of today.

Now, anyone can be his or her own historian and upload moving images to the World Wide Web. But how did we get here?

Evolution from 16mm Film to Digital Video

The introduction of motion picture cameras and projectors in the 1880s created enthusiastic audiences for this new medium, and prompted wealthy individuals with the financial resources to go out and purchase a home movie camera of their own.

Early efforts at producing cameras and projectors for consumers were quite expensive, however, and to make matters more challenging, the early film was manufactured out of a nitrate, a highly flammable and dangerous material. Many of the early silent films have been lost due to their nitrate composition.

One of the more successful formats to subsequently emerge in the 1920s was 16mm film by Eastman Kodak. (The mm increment refers to the actual width of the film strip). Recognizing its significance, several manufacturers started producing cameras based on this format. Unlike the nitrate film of earlier years, the newer film was manufactured on a celluloid base, for greater safety. The cost for a typical family, however, was still somewhat prohibitive. Only the rich and privileged had the means to buy the equipment necessary. This fact galvanized the market into experimenting with less costly film formats for mass manufacturing.

This led to the introduction of 8mm film in the early 1930s. At half the width of 16mm, 8mm film was less expensive and easier to use. The 1930s saw other key developments as well, including the ability of sound and new color film for consumer use, including the famous Kodachrome film.

For the next few decades, both 8mm and 16mm film formats were used to make home movies, with average consumers preferring the smaller gauge of the 8mm film, and more professional videographers opting for 16mm. Home movie making continued its gradual increase in popularity until 1965, when a new format called Super 8 was launched. Unlike the previous formats, which required manual loading, it was housed in a cartridge system. Super 8 film was easier to use and less expensive, and helped expand home movie technology to the many individuals and families who could not afford the 8mm and 16mm formats. As a result, more and more people started to take home movies to record their family milestones.

One of the elements that facilitated the next major evolution in home movies was television. In the 1970s and 1980s, TV stations switched from film to videotape, which was easier to work with, more affordable, and could be viewed immediately – no more hassles of shipping off the film to a lab for processing. This made the evening news more “real time” than ever before.

While film was still the best media format for color and vibrancy, the ease of use and affordability of videotape could not be denied. VHS (Vertical Helican Scan) and Betamax had emerged in the 1970s as two competing formats, with VHS format eventually winning out. Consumer-grade videotape was available as VHS, VHSc (a compact version), and 8mm tape. The advantage of VHS-C and 8mm tape was that they enabled an even smaller videocamera to be used, instead of the bulky systems that were so heavy and cumbersome. Further refinements in technology also allowed for longer and longer recording times on the tapes, increasing from 30 minutes to several hours.

Consumers had quickly caught on to the advantages that the TV stations were already enjoying, and during the 1970s to early 1990s video camcorders and their accompanying VCR (video cassette recorder) systems exploded exponentially in popularity. An entire generation of young families was able to capture their children on video for the first time, using affordable camcorders and cassettes that were much easier to switch out than their predecessors.

This proliferation and increase in familiarity with home movie making paved the way for the digital revolution. Now that a majority of individuals had used camcorders, or at least viewed home movies made by other amateur videographers, the transition to digital was fairly intuitive. The first mini digital video cassettes in the 1990s prompted the manufacture of even smaller camcorders, providing the ultimate in lightness and portability. These MiniDV cassettes also offered extended longevity and many other advantages including digital image clarity and lower cost.

In the last few years, the most significant milestone has been the development of videocameras that record right to a DVD disk or to the camera’s built-in hard drive, thus eliminating yet another step in the process of transferring the footage directly to digital formats.

The power of digital video and the increasing sophistication of the Internet fortuitously converged in the early 21st century to create the phenomenon known as social media. Once video is in digital form, anyone can upload the content to the World Wide Web and make it accessible to hundreds of thousands of viewers. Consequently, user-generated content in the home movie world has moved from one-to-a few to one-to-many to one-to-millions. No more clunky projectors, clumsy camcorder hookups with a myriad of cables linking to TVs, or dealing with fragile physical media such as videotape.

The Future of Home Movies

Today, hundreds of moments are captured daily on digital video – there probably has never before been a generation that has been so completely documented in its every activity and movement.

Yet, boxes and boxes of unconverted old home movie film reels and videotapes remain trapped in families’ basements and closets everywhere. These formats, ranging from 8mm to VHS tape, pre-date the digital revolution.

Fortunately, there are new organizations and services that have formed with the goal of preserving these old formats and publicizing the urgent need to get these physical media into the longevity of the digital world as soon as possible. Organizations such as Home Movie Day ( ) hold worldwide celebrations to commemorate amateur filmmaking, and provide a venue where families can screen their old home movies to catch a glimpse of their heritage.

In the last 100+ years, moving images have become increasingly more affordable, convenient, and accessible through a variety of devices, whether it’s television, computers, cellphones, or other mobile devices. More than ever, we have the ability to record and view personal slices of life to add to the professional footage captured as part of broadcast news segments, documentaries, and Hollywood films. It will be interesting to see what the future brings as video user-generated content matures. If history is any example, the trend toward lighter, faster, easier, less expensive and more widely shared home movies will continue.

About iMemories

iMemories is a leader in the dynamic Web 2.0-generation of Internet services. The company transforms old-media memories into crystal-clear digital files that consumers can enjoy and share—whenever and wherever they like.

In iMemories’ 8,500-square foot fiber-optic studio, production professionals use state-of-the-art technology and techniques to convert old home-movie films, videotapes, photographs and slides into organized archives and full-length digital productions. Memories that were deteriorating in the dark are preserved forever on optical disc—and easy to edit, organize, store and share worldwide through iMemories’ private, secure online user experience.

Share online video with family and friends. Home Movies on DVD.America’s #1 trusted brand for transferring home movies to DVD.

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This article is provided as an educational guide for iMemories customers. Use of or reliance upon the information set forth in this article shall be at the reader’s own risk, and shall not establish any contractual or other legal relationship between the author and the users of this information.


Background information for this article was obtained from the following sources:



  • chacha
    February 15, 2012 - 2:10 am | Permalink

    where can I find a url to the Home Movies episode History??
    I looked on youtube, and they only had 1 video and it didn’t work. everytime I find the video theres no url. help?

    oh yeah, history is the episode with "Starboy and The Captain of Outer Space"

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    February 15, 2012 - 7:12 am | Permalink

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