The World’s first digital camera, introduced by the man who invented it

Aug 2, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

The World’s first digital camera, introduced by the man who invented it

Aug 2, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Steven Sasson invented the world’s first digital camera while working at Eastman Kodak in 1975. It weighed around 8 pounds (3.6kg) and shot a mere 0.01MP. It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come since those early days.  We’ve gone from 30 images on a delicate cassette to thousands on something as small as a fingernail.

In this video, Steven shows us around the camera, talks us through its operation, and laments on the difficulties faced during its development. Hearing how far they expected digital to go compared to how far it actually has come is fascinating.

David Freidman, who produced the video, says that the first digital photograph ever made was of a lab technician named Joy, in December 1975. Unfortunately, Steven didn’t save the image.

While Kodak might not have seen the potential in a digital future, Steven did. Of course, there were no cellphones, no internet, most TVs were still black and white and computers were the size of houses. Humanity was simply not yet ready.

Kodak also held about 90% of the film market at the time. Seeing digital as a competitor to their own film products, rather than the future of photography, Kodak chose not to pursue it.

FirstDigitalCamera-1030x1030

Steven, on the other hand, did envision digital’s evolution. He does say, though, that he only ever expected people would need around 2MP. A ridiculously large number back then, but laughably small by today’s standards.

The Kodak digital camera prototype was made from parts of Kodak’s Super 8 movie cameras. It also included about half a dozen custom circuit boards, and used a CCD sensor which shot black & white. Images went from the sensor to the camera’s temporary memory in about 50ms. From there, it took a further 23 seconds to record one image to a digital cassette tape.

2_PrototypeDigitalCameraPlaybackSystemR

The tapes held 30 images. This number was intentionally chosen by Steven so as to be between 24 and 36 exposure films. Tapes could have stored hundreds or even thousands of images, but people simply weren’t used to that many. It seems strange, now, when a wedding photographer can easily come home with a couple of thousand shots.

The thing was a monster, with a weight of around 8lbs (3.6kg). It was portable, though, powered by 16 Ni-Cad batteries. I can’t imagine it was easy to reliably shoot handheld, though.

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When we look at the cameras of today, it’s incredible how far we’ve come in around 40 years. 50MP 35mm format DSLRs, 100MP medium format, and 4K video seem like fantasy.

One can only imagine where we’ll be 40 years from now.

I remember the first digital camera I used. It was a Sony Mavica FD83. With its 1024×768 resolution and built in 3.5″ floppy drive, it felt like the pinnacle of technology at the time. I might have to pick one up just see what I could do with it today.

What was your first digital camera? Let us know in the comments.

[via Internet History Podcast]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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10 responses to “The World’s first digital camera, introduced by the man who invented it”

  1. Wing Wong Avatar
    Wing Wong

    Olympus Camedia D-400(or 420)… 1.2MP and ISO 100 only.

  2. Gwenn Avatar
    Gwenn

    Mine was the Kodak DC25. ??

  3. Clunking Fist Avatar
    Clunking Fist

    Fuji FinePix A201. A 2MP focus-free, point & shoot camera. It was a very fine gift from friends of ours on the occasion of expecting our first child. Absolutely perfect camera for the job, at the time, as there was no shutter delay that plagued the early auto-focus digital cameras. It took great low-res video clips. The only drawbacks were the lack of sound and max 20 second shoot. We still watch the video of our son’s first steps.

  4. Mike Hall Avatar
    Mike Hall

    My first digital camera was a Canon PowerShot A20. I still have it and get it out every once in a while. This is probably my favorite photo ever shot with it, from Mt Pilatus in Switzerland in 2005.

    1. Rick Bennette Avatar
      Rick Bennette

      Looks awesome.

  5. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    When I saw the “digital” in block letters on the cassette, I recognized the company, Digital Electric Corporation, commonly known as DEC. DEC produced a mainframe computer, and is generally known for producing minicomputers.
    Compaq Computers bought DEC and then Hewlett-Packard bought Compaq. Eventually DEC’s line of computers ceased to exist. The first computer I programmed on was a DEC PDP-8; I later developed programs for a DEC PDP-11. I currently have a DEC VaxStation at home.
    For first digital camera, my wife bought an Olympus point and shoot. My first digital camera is a Canon 5D III.

  6. rantinan Avatar
    rantinan

    My first was a Coolpix 640×480 that ran off a 9 volt battery. It would loose all images if it went flat, and it ALSO needed enough charge in the battery to push it;s images down the standard serial interface. Capacity was about 12 shots max, but you needed to keep it down to six if you were any distance away from your computer as a result of the battery requirements. My next, and much more fun was the classic game boy camera, which i got for a few bucks on clearance. A black and white monochrome device designed to output to a couple of postage stamps , this was notable for having a very early selfie mode (physically rotate the camera) and a CCD that was realy sensitive to IR. As a result, as acamera it was pretty freaking useless, but when plugged into a GBAsp or a DS (which have front lighting and back lighting for the screens respectively) it actually made for an entertaining and stupidly cheap night vision device

  7. Ryger Avatar
    Ryger

    Mine was a Ricoh RDC-4200 back in 1998, or 1999… 1.3MP CCD. Terrible battery life. I sold it after about a year, and eventually bought a Canon EOS-1V 35mm film camera around 2001, and the Canon is still going strong.

  8. David Gosnell Avatar
    David Gosnell

    Kodak DC210. 1 megapixel, fixed focus 2x zoom. I chose it because it was one of the first digital cameras to give my Olympus Mju Zoom film compact a run for its money, and it was far from atrocious for its time. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f17c5f0d6a9d99fe7d11f3f9e8cc456d8fa413ce350258006416ddec09ca0a74.jpg

  9. Kate Bishop Avatar
    Kate Bishop

    Just look at that! Humanity made a big step to a new world! It’s hart to imagine that we have something like these now (https://www.bestadvisers.co.uk/dslr-cameras – modern cameras are awersome )!

    A little step for a man a big step for the mankind! That’s true