MAKING YOUR OWN VIDEOTAPES Equipment for creating a family TV album grows lighter and more sophisticated as prices come down.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Practicing for a five-day cheerleading competition in Dallas, 14-year-old Karen Immerman and five of her friends ran through routines in Karen's front yard. To help the girls perfect their performance, Karen's father, Arthur, 44, a salesman for Puritan Sportswear's Dallas territory, brought out his 7.5- pound General Electric camcorder -- a one-piece video camera and cassette recorder that tapes sights and sounds simultaneously. Immerman balanced the $1,575 camcorder on his right shoulder, pressed a button, and zoomed in until the lens framed the picture he wanted. Automatic controls set the focus and exposure. All he had to do was hit the record button as the girls went into their act. The practice over, Immerman put the tape in a videocassette recorder and the girls reviewed the drill on the screen of the family TV, amid self- congratulation, groans over mistakes, and vows to improve. Days later when 1,200 cheerleaders charged onto Southern Methodist University's campus in Dallas, Karen's team was among them -- in uniform this time -- and won several , National Cheerleaders Association ribbons. Immerman was again there to capture the spectacle for the family video album. Over 1.5 million Americans now own a camcorder or video camera. Unlike the camcorder, the video camera is part of a two-piece system; the camera is connected by cable to a separate unit, weighing as much as 15 pounds, that records images and sound on tape. Tape is replacing film among home-movie makers, who have a vast range of new electronic gadgets to choose from, including camcorders weighing under five pounds. New models appear all the time, and prices are being discounted. Buyers must choose from among three largely incompatible video recording and playing systems. Two of the systems -- Beta, introduced by Sony in 1975, and VHS (video home system), first offered in 1976 by JVC, half-owned by Matsushita -- use half-inch tape. The third and newest system, developed by Matsushita and first brought to market by Eastman Kodak last year, uses 8-mm tape and technology that makes possible smaller, lighter equipment. So far prerecorded movies are available only for Beta and VHS systems, but some experts believe that 8-mm tape will take the lead. FEARING that buying too early might lock him into outmoded technology, William H. Poole, 44, president of Thrifty Rent-A-Car in Atlanta, waited until Sony's much-touted 8-mm camcorder, the Video 8, came on the market in July. The Video 8 weighs scarcely five pounds and incorporates sophisticated design features, such as a solid-state light-sensing device and an adapter for playing back tapes on any TV screen. The list price is $1,695, but Poole bought a package that included carrying case, batteries, and tape, paying $1,900. Says Poole: ''I figured the system might be around 20 years from now so my 3-year-old daughter will be able to enjoy the tapes we are making of her.'' Will video cameras and camcorders join movie cameras on dusty closet shelves? Not likely. While the initial investment in a video camera or camcorder is higher -- a top-of-the-line movie camera and projector can be had for about $500 at discount stores -- tape is much cheaper than film. A three- minute roll of Super 8 movie film costs $10, including development; a two- hour cassette of half-inch tape costs about $7, and a 90-minute 8-mm cassette is $15. Unlike film, tape can be erased and reused. Best of all, tape offers instant gratification on the TV screen -- no long wait for development, no complicated process of setting up a projector. For the first-time user who wants candid video shots at home or on vacation, a relatively low-cost camcorder such as Kodak's 5.5-pound, 8-mm Kodavision is one possibility. This summer the price of some Kodavision camcorder packages dropped as much as $1,000 in certain discount stores to as little as $695, including a manufacturer's $100 rebate. When the tape is used for reviewing an athlete's or cheerleader's performance, clarity and detail can be important. That requires a camera with a larger telephoto lens, such as the one on the GE camcorder that Arthur Immerman uses or its Panasonic twin, both VHS systems made by Matsushita. To monitor his water-skiing tricks, done to split-second timing in competition, Thomas F. O'Donnell, 52, treasurer of Resorts International, and his Miami skiing partner take a 5.5-pound Panasonic camera and separate recorder out in their boat. The video equipment cost about $2,100 last year. Trade-offs must often be made, especially price and portability vs. certain automatic features and playing time. For his August honeymoon on the Orient Express train from London to Venice, Hal Kolker, 35, president of Spectator Corp., a San Diego marketing company, bought a Zenith Video Movie camcorder for $1,450 and accessories that cost $300. Roughly the size of a man's shoe box, his VHS Zenith camcorder weighs just 4.6 pounds with battery and has automatic focus. But it records only 20 minutes per tape. With an adapter and a second VCR, however, these short tapes can be copied onto a long-playing cassette. VHS camcorders that take full-length cassettes generally weigh more. Mark Kaufman, 35, president of 3 Strikes Custom Design, a Manhattan company that markets promotional sports clothing, started taping his redheaded, 2 1/2-year- old twin daughters the day they were born. His first video camera was a Magnavox with separate recorder. His wife, Marilyn, 36, found the two-piece, 14-pound system heavy and cumbersome, and Kaufman bought a 7.5-pound Panasonic VHS camcorder for $1,400. ''I work 100 hours a week, and when I come home I want to see movies of my kids,'' he says. But his wife didn't find the camcorder much easier to use than the old system. So, for $700, Kaufman bought a lighter recorder that makes the Magnavox system weigh just ten pounds. He's now getting almost as many tapes of his daughters as he'd like. Children sometimes prove more imaginative than their parents behind the camera. James A. Turner, 31, a senior vice president of Visage, a Natick, Massachusetts, company that designs training systems integrating personal computers with laser videodisks, lets his 7-year-old son, Brent, use his $750 JVC video camera. Brent and a crew of friends record their own version of the evening news, inventing sportscasts and acting out disasters, complete with on-the-scene interviews. Watch out, Steven Spielberg.