The Digital Camera; A History

The Digital Camera; A History

The history of the stills camera is relatively well documented and has been traced back over a century or more. The digital variety however has not been as well documented. Hopefully this article will be able to highlight the formative moments in the history of the digital camera and look at how it has shaped the modern world.

The history of the digital camera finds its origins with a man named Eugene F. Lally. Lally was an aircraft technician who worked with jet engines and was involved in the development of an artificial gravitational device. It was his out of hours work however that led to the first concept of a digital camera. Lally, having had experience with mosaic sensors attempted to use them to record images digitally. However at this time the technology to put in action Lally’s concept was not advanced enough so it sat on the back burner until the practicalities of recording digital images were developed.

It was in 1975 that Lally’s work was looked at once more. An engineer at the Eastman Kodak factory named Steven Sasson spent time taking existing Motorola components and then combining them with camera parts from existing Kodak models. Fundamentally, Sasson’s work also incorporated Fairchild CCD sensors, a vitally important element in the recording of digital imagery. Sasson achieved his goal and a camera of sorts was born. It was around the size of a countertop toaster and weighed a hefty four kilograms.

This inaugural piece of technology however was extremely basic. Images were recorded in black and white. There was a shutter lag of around twenty three seconds and a 0.1 megapixel resolution resulting in limited applications for the device. That said, as a genesis model it served its purpose and was revolutionary. Kodak however did not see the potential in such a piece of technology and put their financial resources behind further development of the film camera.

Some may argue this was a mistake; while Kodak ignored digital photography other companies saw the benefits. Up until the early eighties small companies released devices although none were truly popular. The first popular digital recording device was the Sony Mavica, a magnetic video camera. The Mavica was not a stills camera as such but did inspire other companies to manufacture digital devices. The Mavica used floppy disks to record images and had an improved shutter speed of a sixtieth of second. The most important aspect of the device though was its portability.

The eighties and nineties saw further development for the digital camera. Fairchild, using their knowledge of sensors they were able to produce a sensitive digital image recorder. This device was named the All Sky and was predominantly used to photograph auroras. It did however represent a watershed as it recorded the images digitally instead of placing them on a floppy disc. Early devices were expensive and hence had limited intrusion into the mass market. The Dycam Model 1 changed this and was accepted by the public.

In the nineties media cards became extremely poplar improving the capacity of cameras and making them more usable. It was Casio however in 1995 who released the hallmark device, it had a layout still recognisable today with an in built-in LCD screen and viewfinder. Since this Casio many other companies have started to manufacture cameras, from Sony to Vivitar. Today they are almost everywhere and are the most convenient means of recording and displaying images.

Technology expert Thomas Pretty studies the development of the digital camera and how it has now become a device common in everyday life.