The History of Digital Cameras – A Short but Bright Picture

Digital technology – the wave of the future. Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever thought about how much your life has been affected by digital technology, and how much it’ll increase its affect as time goes on? Most people these days have a digital cellphone. Many people have digital cameras. Some people have a combination of both – the new cellphones that take digital pictures. Digital TV is very popular these days. Everywhere you go, you’ll come across something digital. But this technology doesn’t go back that far, as you’ll see in this history of digital cameras.

Early photography was far from perfect

The first idea of creating an image on a wall by passing light through a small hole was created in Ancient Greece. The actual word photography came from the Latin “to write or draw with light”. But, of course, their images were no better than drawings. In fact, drawings were probably clearer.

It wasn’t until 1827 that the first true photograph was developed. It was a French inventor, Joseph Nicephone Niepce, who made this important contribution to the world of photography, but although the finished picture wasn’t bad, it would certainly try your patience waiting for it to develop – it took over 8 hours!

The launching of Sputnik by the Russians in 1957 certainly had its effect on many aspects of our daily lives. It jump-started the United States into scurrying around, trying to do everything they could to compete, on every level they could think of – all the way from educating their young people, to launching their own satellites.

One of the uses of these satellites was to spy on the enemy. The Corona Project was created by the U.S., and ran from 1959-1972. This program launched many spy satellites, which beamed photographs back to Earth, using digital technology. The quality of these photos had to be precise – the country’s security depended on it.

NASA picks up the ball

It was NASA, the U.S. Space Program, that picked up the research from this project. They needed to develop an effective method of sending images back to Earth from their explorer missions as they passed the planets. Up until that time, they’d been using vacuum tubes for cameras, but they were big and heavy, and took a lot of power to run. They needed to find a better solution.

Their answer was the CCD (charge-coupled-device), which was first demonstrated by Bell Laboratories in 1969. The CCD is a solid-state computer chip that converts light into electric signals. The first images created with CCDs were only 100 x 100 pixels – not very clear. So their next goal was to create a better picture, which they successfully did in 1978, with a pixel array of 500 x 500. Soon after, they’d developed 800 x 800 pixels, and the progression was on towards their development in 1982 of 1024 x 1024 pixels. The results were always a better picture, at a more affordable price.

Digital photography moves into the commercial field

In the late 1980s, the value of digital photography had entered the world of commerce, particularly the field of newspaper publishing. Kodak, with its many firsts in the photographic industry, introduced the Professional Digital Camera System (DCS), which allowed photojournalists to take electronic pictures with a Nikon F-3 camera, with a 1.3 megapixel sensor.

At the same time, another leader in the electronics industry, Sony, introduced their professional ProMavica MVC-5000. Mavica was short for “magnetic video cam”, and that’s actually what it was. Not actually a still digital camera, it was a professional level digital camcorder that had the ability to take freeze-frame pictures. But the result was more or less the same.

But the first real consumer digital camera was introduced to the world in 1990. It was the Dycam Model I, and it produced black and white photos at a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. The camera was capable of storing 32 compressed images on 1MB of built-in RAM. The images could be downloaded, using a cable, to a PC or a Mac.

By this time, Kodak had improved on their first professional digital camera, introducing their DCS-200. This was quite a bit advanced from their previous model. It had a built-in hard drive to record the images, and had a resolution of 1.54 megapixels – four times the resolution of still video cameras of the time.

Digital cameras become available to the common consumer

The wonderful world of photography, which enters so many aspects of our lives, was made available to the consumer by Apple, the creator of the Macintosh computer. Their contribution in 1994 was the Quick Take 100, a color digital camera with a 640 x 480 pixel CCD, and a fixed-focus 50mm lens. It could only store 8 images in its internal memory, and those weren’t that good. Besides that, the camera was a bit clumsy, but it certainly set the tone for the future.

While Apple was marketing their first digital camera, Olympus, another leader in the camera industry, was establishing their own place. Also in 1994, they introduced their Deltis VC-1100, the world’s first digital camera with built-in transmission capabilities, allowing users to connect to a modem and upload digital photos over cellular and analog phone lines to another camera or a computer. This camera had a resolution of 768 x 576 pixels, and stored images on removable memory cards. The technology was good, but it left room for improvement. For example, it took 1-6 minutes to transmit 1 picture – sort of like waiting for a dial-up connection to the Internet.

Digital camera technology spreads throughout the computer world

As digital technology progressed, more opportunities opened up for a variety of uses. In 1995, a company in Mountain View, California, Storm Software, introduced the EasyPhoto Reader, which could convert 3 x 5 or 4 x 6 film photos into digital format, so they could be viewed on a computer. Since then, Storm has developed an improved version called the PhotoDrive, which is installed right inside the computer. Some Hewlett-Packard (HP) computers come with it already installed.

And speaking of HP, in 1997 they expanded the potential of digital photography by introducing the PhotoSmart Printer. With this marvelous printer, you could now print photos on glossy paper that looked pretty much like the ones you get when you take your film to get developed at the drugstore. But it, too, had its downside – it was too big, and could only print photos on 8½ x 11 paper. And that was too big for good images. Also, the paper was very expensive.

Epson, a leading printer manufacturer, introduced the first cheap printer that could print film-like photos. But again, the paper was expensive, as were the replaceable ink cartridges.

There was definitely a competition going on in the digital camera industry. Virtually every company was recognizing the trend and hurrying to get in the race, continually looking to be first with each new technology. In 1995 Ricoh introduced their RDC-1, the first digital camera to take moving images with sound recording, as well as still images. But being a still camera and not a real video camera, the movies could only be 10 seconds long.

Then, in 1997, Hitachi got into the act with their MP-EG1, the world’s first digital camera to output moving pictures to a computer in MPEG format. That same year, Sony introduced its Cybershot DSC-MD1, the first still image digital camera that used laser technology to record images on small plastic discs in a JPEG format. The following year, Fuji, another giant in the photographic field, introduced the In-Printer Camera, that stored images on SmartMedia memory cards. They could print credit-card size images right from the camera.

Memory cards – another spin-off. Many data storage companies jumped on the opportunity to create memory cards that could be added to a digital camera to increase the amount of images that could be stored in the camera. These compact flash cards, as they were also known, greatly increased the number of photos that could be taken before the memory was full.

The next natural progression from being able to download photos to a computer, was the ability to download them to the World Wide Web. In 1999, PhotoHighway.com introduced the first Internet Photography site to offer software that allows people to load photos directly from a digital camera to a website. There are many websites now available where you can store and work with your photos, creating albums and emailing images to friends and family.

It’s clear that everyone’s trying to be number one. And the real winner is the consumer. If you go online, you’ll be able to find all kinds of comparisons of any digital camera you can name. There are websites dedicated specifically to ratings and reviews of all the different models. So do your shopping online for the best results.

What’s the digital camera industry up to today?

NASA hasn’t stopped its research into digital photography. They started it, and they’re still setting the pace. They’re now working on replacing the CCD, the part in the digital camera that converts the images to a digital format. Their latest development is the APS (active pixel sensor), which will quickly replace the CCD. It costs about a third less to manufacture and follows the progression of computer technology – smaller is better. The digital cameras made using APS technology will be much smaller and will produce much better images.

And, of course, as it is with most industries today, they come with a myriad of accessories. The newest digital cameras are available in SLR models, meaning you can change digital camera lenses. So that opens up a whole new market for digital camera lenses. And if you’re good enough to change lenses, you’ll probably use filters, too, for that professional touch to your photos. And don’t forget the tripod. And then you’ll need a camera bag to carry all that stuff in.

So the history of digital cameras, although only a couple of decades old, is definitely moving ahead at a tremendous pace. Professionals and amateurs alike are finding the joy that comes from taking great-looking photos. It’s even motivating some amateurs to buy photography books and magazines that teach them how to use these amazing new digital cameras.

So no matter which one you are, professional or amateur, there’s a digital camera right for you. And you can drastically cut down your shopping time if you do your research online. Check it out – you’ll get the picture!

Choose only the best digital camera for your photography whether as a hobby or for professional shots.

About The Author

Gareth Marples is a successful freelance copywriter providing valuable tips and advice for consumers purchasing digital cameras. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

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