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digital camera historyThe digital camera What is Digital Photography? [Technology Explained] What is Digital Photography? [Technology Explained] Read More has taken more than 35 years of technological advancement to reach its current stage of development. The journey from original concept to the all-singing devices we have access to today has been long, and still new technologies in photography Lytro Light Field Camera: Snap Happy Or Photo Gimmick? Lytro Light Field Camera: Snap Happy Or Photo Gimmick? Described by an employee as "the first major change in photography since photography was invented", the Lytro light-field camera is certainly a revolutionary device. The camera shakes things up by replacing much of the heavy... Read More emerge. I’m already excited about what the next 35 years might bring.

In 1975 the first digital camera came to be after an engineer for Eastman Kodak was tasked with creating what was then dubbed an “electronic camera”. The ensuing breakthrough laid the building blocks for digital photography as we know it today. We now live in an era where it sometimes feels like cameras are slapped onto devices as afterthoughts, so it’s important to look back and appreciate the path to our modern “snap and forget” habits.

The First Digital Camera Used Cassette & Was Slow & Heavy

The world’s very first digital camera was built in 1975 by Eastman Kodak employee Steven Sasson who was asked to build an electronic camera using a charge coupled device (CCD). Such a device has become an important component in digital imaging How Does A Digital Camera Work? [Technology Explained] How Does A Digital Camera Work? [Technology Explained] Read More and it was the CCD which allowed Sasson to record a 100×100 (.01 MP) black and white image using his invention.

digital camera history

Using the CCD to capture the image, Sasson’s electronic camera then wrote them to cassette. This rather analog process took 23 seconds to complete. The device he had created was indeed just what the brief had stated – an electronic camera which weighed 8lbs (3.6KG) and was the size of a toaster. Because the device used a solid chip rather than tape or film like conventional cameras, Sasson had created the world’s first digital camera. You can view the patent the device was awarded here.

“Still Video Cameras” Were An Important Stepping Stone Towards The First Truly Digital Cameras

Before cameras were really digital, the “still video camera” emerged with the unveiling of the Sony Mavica in Tokyo in August 1981. These types of cameras are considered predecessors to the standard digital camera, and the original Mavica (which stood for magnetic video camera) came in SLR format, with interchangeable bayonet lenses.

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the first digital camera

Complete with a CCD capable of recording 570×490 resolution images, then considered broadcast quality, the Mavica was not digital as it produced an analog NTSC signal. The camera stored footage on magnetic floppy disks called “Mavipacks”, which the industry later renamed Video Floppies. The nature of a still video camera meant that the device recorded several still frames to disc which when played back in succession created a moving image.

The World’s First Digital Camera Was (Apparently) The Fujix DS-1P

In 1988 Fujix, a company best known for film, introduced the world’s first digital consumer camera – the DS-1P. According to the limited resources available that document the invention (Fuji’s Japanese website for one), it came with a 400 kilopixel CCD sensor and stored images as files on removable solid state memory cards 10 Things To Know About Digital Camera Memory Cards 10 Things To Know About Digital Camera Memory Cards Read More . The whole process was digital – from the capturing of the image, to storing it, to later retrieving it using a computer.

the first digital camera

The DS-1P wasn’t around for long, however. In fact, it was only ever released in Japan and there’s much speculation over how many units were actually shipped in the short period it surfaced on the market – some even say it never shipped. It certainly never made it to the United States or Europe, and it’s undoubtedly one of the rarest cameras around today.

The Dycam Model 1 Was The First Digital Camera You Could Actually Buy

In 1990 Dycam released the first proper consumer camera, and by proper I mean it was the first digital camera that I can find with multiple sources confirming that you could indeed buy one. The Model 1 – also known as the Logitech Fotoman – captured 8bit greyscale images of 320×480 resolution. There was no LCD screen mounted on the back, instead a traditional optical viewfinder was used and snapped away using the button on the front.

the first digital camera

The camera had a list price of $995, which is roughly double that in 2012 currency. For your money you could store 32 pictures in TIFF or PICT format on the internal memory, and you had to extract your photos using specialised software that came on good old floppy disks. You can read more about the Dycam Model 1 over at Ben Warde’s Camera Curiosities blog.

Nikon’s D1 Was a Game Changer

The Nikon D1 was the world’s first digital SLR built entirely by a major player in the camera industry. This was important as it helped keep the cost down and the compatibility with existing camera equipment high. At a time when the digital SLR 3 Online Camera Simulators For Photography Beginners 3 Online Camera Simulators For Photography Beginners Learning the basics of photography makes sense, because it helps not only in photography but also in understanding the type of camera one eventually buys. Thanks to a few camera simulators available on the web... Read More market consisted mostly of Nikon 35mm SLRs with $30,000 Kodak digital backs, Nikon went ahead and designed, perfected then built a camera that was entirely digital from the outset.

digital camera history

The result was the D1, released in 1999 with a CCD sensor capable of capturing 2.74MP images with full compatibility with Nikon’s F-Series lens mount. At a cost of around $5,500, the D1 appealed to professionals, journalists and the serious consumer market. The camera was praised for its high sensitivity, excellent signal to noise ratio and ability to capture 4.5 frames per second for up to a total of 21 frames. The rest is history.

Did you own an early digital camera? Do you still have your old photographs? You can reminisce and add your own stories in the comments, below.

Images: Sony Mavica, Fujix DS-1P, Dycam Model 1, Nikon D1

  1. David Harris
    January 22, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    I worked at Dycam and have been an avid Digital Photographer ever since. It was amazing even then that the Dycam team knew that the cell phone and digital camera would become one and the same... Currently shoot with Canon bodies (5D and 7D)

  2. Absalom theWise
    October 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Digital photography is nice.Lotsa advantages.But digital is to photography what transistours are to electronics.Tubes were far superiour!

  3. kanika hilton
    September 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    this website has helped me with reports, assignments and project in school and thanks to this website i'm doing great in project .

  4. Eric Smith
    August 24, 2012 at 12:53 am

    The Sony DSC-F1 "Cyber-Shot", introduced in 1996, was apparently the first point-and-shoot digital camera with an LCD viewfinder.

  5. Patrick Saunders
    August 23, 2012 at 6:40 am

    For me, the scary ting is that my kids have only ever known digital photography. No more waiting a week for film to be developed (or 24 hours for that matter). I'd say those were the good old days but heck, now are the good old days for photography.

  6. Theo
    August 19, 2012 at 7:28 am

    My first digital photo:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/aceit/3223746969/in/set-72157612913452613

    Taken with a Casio QV-10 Digital Camera. February 1996

    For details on the camera see: http://www.wherry.com/gadgets/qv10/

    • Tim Brookes
      August 19, 2012 at 11:37 pm

      That's awesome, thanks for sharing!

    • Alan Trinder
      August 20, 2012 at 1:12 am

      Brilliant.

  7. Kaashif Haja
    August 19, 2012 at 2:26 am

    The block diagram looks conjested!
    I don't want to look at it again...

  8. riwaterman
    August 18, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I am surprised that there has been no mention of the Apple Quicktake camera. I have one of those and thought it was amazing at the time (early - mid 1990s). The first two models were built by Kodak. The third model was built by Fuji.

    I never heard of the Dycam which was before the Apple Quicktake but I wonder if it was marketed or sold very much.

    I say this since Time Magazine - http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2023689_2023773_2023615,00.html - called the Apple Quicktime camera "the first consumer digital camera and was released in 1994" and is listed in Time's top 100 gadgets.

    • Tim Brookes
      August 19, 2012 at 11:39 pm

      Hmmm I definitely saw reference to it in my research for this article but as far as my sources went the first was the DS-1P with the Dycam/Logitech being the first commercially available camera.

      All are valuable pieces of history and each is probably quite collectable these days!

  9. Keith Ambrose
    August 18, 2012 at 2:56 am

    It's amazing how we look at the digital SLR's we have today and realize the first generation started as 8 lb toasters that took pictures. haha

  10. Alan Trinder
    August 18, 2012 at 1:49 am

    I remember the introduction of digital well, and what it did to traditional camera manufacturers. I worked for Olympus, their first toe in the water was like a bulky compact camera. There was no card storage and the AA batteries didn't last that long. Everything had to change including model lead times as more and more pixels were added. Just think Kodak who perhaps started it all did not manage the transition and went out of business.

    • Tim Brookes
      August 19, 2012 at 11:42 pm

      Yep, thanks to Nikon and its revolution in "all-digital" design with the D1. Things could have been very different had Kodak focused their efforts in the same way Nikon did...

  11. Steve
    August 18, 2012 at 12:26 am

    Looking at the Model 1---Know what I'd like to see?Retro-cell phones.Todays digital technology in the old style phones.The Motorola Classic(The Cube),and my favourite,the bag phone.There was style in bag phones.
    Does anyone recall the Radio Shack CB Phone 23,or Lafayette Radio Com-Phone 23?Gives away your age!

  12. Steve
    August 18, 2012 at 12:21 am

    I still miss my KodaChrome!

  13. Julie
    August 18, 2012 at 12:05 am

    My first digital camera was a Logitech Pocket Digital which I bought from a family member for $30. It was the size of a credit card and I opened it lengthwise to expose the lens and viewfinder. When its internal memory was full, I used an included cable to hook it to my computer and download the photos. It didn't have preview screen and it was only 1.5 MP, but it was a good workhorse of a camera and I took between 200-300 photos with it before it stopped holding a charge.

  14. Jon Alexander
    August 17, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Great article about a fascinating branch of tech development. The 2nd-to-last paragraph seems to have something missing from its text, after the first open parenthesis.

  15. Efi Dreyshner
    August 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    LOL. My grandfather have a few fics from th Fujix DS-1P :)

  16. Matheus Pratta
    August 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Interesting, this "Model 1" camera somehow looks like a old cellphone...

  17. Mark Sofman
    August 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    I still have a 30+ year old Canon AT-1 and lenses but no longer use it with advent of digital. I've long wished the major film SLR makers such as Canon made digital retrofits for their film cameras.

  18. Bengt-Arne Vedin
    August 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I believe that you have missed out Hasselblad's early foray which cost the then-CEO his job /Bengt-Arne Vedin

  19. Bengt-Arne Vedin
    August 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I believe that you have missed out Hasselblad's early foray which cost the then-CEO his job
    /Bengt-Arne Vedin

  20. Michael Ginsburg
    August 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    My first digital camera was the Kodak DC4800 and it was great. Kodak took their knowledge of photography and produced a camera that made images just like a film based one. It had an eye level finder and felt almost like my Leica M4. Too bad they didn't anticipate the fast changing digital world and ride the crest of the wave.

  21. susendeep dutta
    August 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Good article and very different that I used to see in MUO.Kodak,the company I used to associate with trend setter in camera industry is now struggling for survival.I hope that it'll grow up and bring new technologies like Nokia's 41 MP camera in smartphone.

  22. Todd Troutt
    August 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Interesting article. Makes me think of our first digital camera - a Casio of some sort (can't remember the model number). It was the late 90's and we were just starting to sell on Ebay. I'm somewhat behind the curve now. We have a 4 year old Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 and I just sold my 5 year old Nikon D80.

  23. Barry Brown
    August 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Very interesting article. I actually won one of the first Kodak digital cameras (a whopping 1 megapixel one) at a Graphic Design conference somewhere around 1997. I was thrilled - until I took the first picture and saw how incredibly grainy it was. I ended up trading it for a 4GB hard drive (worth $750 back then) and a CD writer (that was worth somewhere around $250).

    That camera was worth $1000 then. Too bad it's not like one of the $1000 cameras today!

  24. GrrGrrr
    August 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    nice article & compilation.

    I wonder what happened to Fujix & Dycam...RIP may be..

  25. StefanyBaez
    August 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Damn! $995 for a camera back then was WAY too much!

    • Tim Brookes
      August 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm

      For a camera of those specifications yes, it probably was to be honest. But then again the D1 was worth every penny at $5000 compared to everything else at the time!

  26. Timothy Liem
    August 17, 2012 at 6:50 am

    interesting article. I never knew that digital camera had a long journey before find the way to bigger resolutions.

  27. Ashwin Ramesh
    August 17, 2012 at 6:23 am

    Really nice article!

  28. Paul Parkinson
    August 17, 2012 at 6:08 am

    My first digital camera was the Fujufilm MX1700 back in 2000. It had (has, I still have it and it works) a dizzying resolution of 1.5megapixels... it takes SmartMedia cards (floppy versions of SD cards) for which I have 8Mb and 32Mb capacity. Yep, 32*M*b...

    It cost about £400 in 2000 which is, I guess, about £600 today. We've come a long way baby. Oh yes.

    • Tim Brookes
      August 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      I don't remember where but I do remember seeing a camera that took SmartMedia not so long ago. It too worked, though the resolution was very low by today's standards (and it took meaty AA batteries).

      I still have my first digicam which was a cheap no-name 3MP thing I bought off eBay. By some miracle I still have most (if not all) of the pictures I took on it. Fixed focus, terribly small in-built memory, no flash... but it works!

  29. Randy Luczak
    August 17, 2012 at 3:03 am

    Thanks for your article and your research.

    It's so gratifying to see how the price per megapixel has trickled down to an affordable level for ALL of us, and the necessary steps that were taken to bring us to where we find ourselves now.

    I'm old enough to remember the early steps that were taken.

    Every once-in-a-while it's good to be reminded how far we have come!

    • Tim Brookes
      August 17, 2012 at 4:49 am

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article, Randy!

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