The first color television camera: description, photos, video clips
thanks for the contributions to this page - several TK-41 operators from "the good old days" submitted photos from their personal scrapbooks

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The TK-40 and its modified successor, the TK-41, were the first television cameras able to broadcast live color images. Beginning with the "Colgate Comedy Hour" on 11/22/53 these camera were in wide use at TV network and affiliate studios, as well as independent TV production facilities through the 1960's.

From the RCA TK-40A service manual printed in 1954, here's a description of RCA's first color camera:

The RCA Color Camera (MI-40500) is a live pick-up camera used to separate a color image into its primary red, blue, and green component images and convert them to signals required for the RCA color television system. (Webmaster note: the RCA color system became known as the NTSC system. Introduced in 1953, it is the system still in use in the U.S.A. It will become obsolete as digital broadcasting completely replaces NTSC transmissions in 2007).

The color camera contains a light splitting system, three image orthicon tubes, horizontal and vertical deflection circuits, target blanking circuit, high voltage circuit, image orthicon protection circuit, and three video preamplifier circuits, one for each of the three color channels.

The power and signal voltages are conveyed to and from the camera by means of three standard 24 conductor camera cables. The cables are attached through connectors located under and to the rear of the camera housing base plate.

Filament voltages are supplied from two transformers housed in the camera. Each transformer is adequately fused.

Control handles project from the rear of the camera. These handles are used for the control of panning and tilting motions of the camera. The handle on the right is also used for focusing the camera optical system.

A hinged hood ahead of the viewfinder on the top of the camera housing offers accessibility to parts of the optical system. The camera filament transformers, elapsed time indicator, and the viewfinder power and signal terminal connections are also accessible beneath this hood.

The side door panels of the camera housing swing outward making all components readily accessible for servicing.

Two sets of communication and program sound jacks are mounted on a strip installed below the back (operating) panel of the camera. They provide a means of setting up communications between the camera operator, dolly operator, camera control operator, and the program director, etc.

The utility outlets and a fuse are mounted on the under side of the back end of the camera. They provide facilities for an independent source of ac that may be used for test equipment when the camera voltages are turned off.

Two tally lights are mounted on the front face of the camera. These lights serve to indicate to the actors when the camera is in actual use. In addition, there is one tally on top of the viewfinder for directors and one on the kinescope bezel plate for the operator. The latter are operative, however, only when used in conjunction with a camera switching unit. These lights are normally off until a tally relay is activated by a control voltage (24 volts dc).

The individual image orthicon tubes and the area within the camera housing are air cooled. All external areas of the camera and viewfinder which are subject to absorption of radiant heat energy have an an aluminum finish to further aid in maintaining optimum temperature conditions within the camera.

On the front of the camera there is a rotatable lens turret. This turret accomodates four objective lenses of different focal lengths. Normally Ektar lenses having focal lengths of 50, 90, and 135mm are used. The fourth position may be used to mount a telephoto lens. If any of the four positions is not used, a blank cover should be inserted in the lens port. The turret is attached to a shaft that protrudes through a stationary drum. The drum serves as a light trap as well as a support for the lens turret shaft. The field lenses are mounted on a "spider" support housed witin the drum. The objective lenses and the associated field lenses rotate integrally when the lens selector shaft is turned. This lens selection is achieved by means of a handle type manual control on the back panel of the camera.

Length: camera-44", viewfinder 34-1/8", Width: camera-21", viewfinder 13-15/16", Height: camera-14-1/2", viewfinder-11-1/8", Weight: camera-250 lbs. (less objective lenses, panning and focus handles), viewfinder-45 lbs.

(Webmaster note: racks of control equipment were located in a remote control room where color and brightness adjustments were constantly monitored and adjusted by a Video Control operator).

See a video clip from NBC's "Wide Wide World" showing TK-41's at KMTV-TV - Omaha, Nebraska - September 1957

(Quicktime Player version 6 or later required)

See a video clip from NBC's "Wide Wide World" showing TK-41's at NBC's Color City Studios in Burbank, California - September 1957

"Matinee Theatre"

(Quicktime Player version 6 or later required)

See a video of early color TV clips edited to the soundtrack of a circa 1951-52 RCA color TV demo to the FCC

"FCC demo"

(Quicktime Player version 6 or later required)

Behind the scenes at "Matinee Theater" - NBC Color City Studio 4 - Burbank, CA

Dale Walsh flying a TK-41C on a crane for ABC-Hollywood in the 1960's

Dale Walsh shooting for ABC Sports on Venice Beach, late 1960's.
Dale looks pretty comfy on that crane don't you think?

Judy Garland makes her television debut from Television City in Hollywood September 23rd in a rare live CBS color show, "Ford Star Jubilee," doing the same review she did in the New York Palace Theatre and the London Palladium. She insisted on a live audience.

TK-41 during 1960's Hallmark Hall of Fame production at NBC studios in New York. Note the kludged viewfinder hood. It is quite common to see the stock RCA-supplied viewfinder snout either removed or replaced by a different hood more to the liking of the camera operator.

Jan Kasoff at NBC's Brooklyn, New York studios, 1960's. Note the cardboard viewfinder hood attached with masking tape. Obviously, NBC operators weren't fond of RCA's stock viewfinder snout! Also, supplemental fill lights are attached to the front of the camera. Lights similar to these are still in use today to add sparkle to the eyes and fill in facial wrinkles.

Dean Martin at NBC Color City
circa late 1960's

Burbank, California

On the set of "The Dean Martin Show"
Studio 4 - NBC Color City, 1965

Burbank, California

(photo taken by Bruce Bonnett)

Let's Make a Deal with Monty Hall

NBC Color City - Burbank, California

TK-41 formerly in service at WGN-TV on display at the Museum of Broadcast Communication, Chicago, Illinois

TK-41 on the set of "Major Astro," an afternoon children's program at NBC affiliate KARD-TV, Wichita, Kansas. My snapshot was taken in 1964.

"The Tonight Show" 1963 (with substitute host Joey Bishop and guest Andy Williams)

"The Andy Williams Show" in 1963 at NBC Color City - Burbank, California

TK-40A cameras colorcasting at WTMJ-TV, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

"Bozo the Clown" at WHDH-TV, Boston

TK-41's colorcasting the Tournament of Roses Parade - Pasadena, California - January 1, 1958
There are at least four TK-41's in this photo. The cameras on the upper platform have NBC chimes logos on them, however the two TK-41's on street level do not have NBC logos - these are probably KTLA, Channel 5's cameras - KTLA began colorcasting the Rose Parade in 1955.

Another photo from the Rose Parade - January 1, 1958
This is probably a KTLA, Channel 5 camera

click to see more photos of RCA TK-40/41 Color television cameras in action
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