Ultra Rare Closeup…The RCA A500 Iconoscope Camera
This magnificent color photo was taken in NBC Studio 3H in the early 1940s. (Be sure and see the Comment Section of this post for more pix and video.) More on the cameras in this studio in a moment, but first…let’s take a good look at this. Starting at the front bottom we see dual green tally lights which were the “camera ready” lights and a few inches above them are smaller ruby red lights which are the “camera on” lights, meaning the camera with the red tallies was on the air. Between the red tallies is the camera’s number and this is 1 of only 3 A500s ever made. I wonder what happened to them?
For the first time, we can see that the interchangeable lens rack is held in place by two thumb screws in the lower left and upper right corners with several guide pins to help in quick changes, and changes were made while on the air. The only zoom available was to move the camera in and out on it’s pedestal or dolly, but there were close up, wide angle and other lens pairs available that the utility man could quickly change out during a broadcast.
The top lens feeds the ground glass optical viewfinder and the bottom lens feeds the Iconoscope tube (more on this in the comments section below). The dual lens frame is attached to the focus mechanism and focus is controlled by the pan handle you see the cameraman holding. The pan handle on the other side was just for stability and had no demand function.
Just under the lenses, you can see the hinge and along the side of the camera a line with rivets above and below it. This camera opens from the back and the top flips up much like the cabs of the old style transfer trucks and the line we see is where the top and bottom come together. I think the round object to the left of the bottom lens is a peep hole that you can look in to see the image on the face of the Iconoscope tube, and you could see it clearly while the camera was in operation.
As I mentioned above, there were only three of these A500 cameras ever made and used, and they were all in Studio 3H. On the outside, these cameras are identical to their predecessors for which we have no name. The cameras used before this were painted a dark color and may have been the first pieces of equipment RCA painted with their now famous umber gray. It is quite possible that these silver cameras are in fact the same camera bodies with different insides.
Resolutions for electronic television changed several times before they got to the 525 lines that these cameras used. I think the first 3H cameras (the dark colored ones) started with 220 lines and went to 440 lines. I think the camera overhaul and chais color switch came with the move from 440 to 525. The A500 name may be a shorthanded designation.
As for the history of the cameras in NBC’s 3H, they went directly from this camera to the RCA TK30s in the summer of 1946. Although the RCA Orthicon cameras debuted June 8, 1939, they were never used in 3H. Below in comments, I am posting photos from the July 1, 1945 broadcast of “Copperhead” which shows the A500s in use in 3H. Also posted below is a shot of the upside down viewfinder set up which must have driven operators crazy because left was right and up was down. This photo was so great that I wanted you to see it in all it’s glory so that’s why the other photos are in comments. Enjoy and share!