Digital cameras have become commonplace in recent years as rapidly evolving technology makes them more compact, capable of higher quality images and easier to use. Their roots lie in spy satellites and space probes that mapped the surface of the moon in the 1960s and 1970s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that they became available for consumers. If you have ever been interested in the history of the digital camera, here it is.
Where it all began
The first digital images were created in 1951 when live video images were captured by a video tape recorder with the information converted into electrical impulses and saved onto magnetic tape. In 1956, video tape recorder technology was perfected and put mainly into use by television stations. While it is not the digital we know today, it is the forbearer of modern digital images.
Spying and the moon
In the 1960s, NASA was using probes to map the surface of the moon in preparation of man’s first lunar landing and found it much faster to send the information they gathered back to Earth using digital signals. NASA was then able to use computers to convert that electronic information into images. Governments also made use of this technology in their spy satellites with the information they gathered used in the same way as the images of the moon.
The first film-less cameras
Texas Instruments has the honour of patenting the first electronic film-less camera in 1972. But it was in 1981 when the first commercial electronic still camera was developed, which came in the form of Sony’s Mavica model. It used mini discs to record images and they could be played on a television monitor or sent to a colour printer using a video reader. The Mavica, while triggering the digital camera revolution, cannot be considered a true digital camera because it was actually a video camera that took freeze frames.
Megapixels and sensors
Kodak set the pace in the mid-1970s when it came to the development of image sensors that had the ability to convert light into digital images. But it wasn’t until 1986 that Kodak invented the first megapixel sensor, which was capable of capturing images that could produce 5×7 inch prints. Kodak continued to be pioneers in digital imagery with the development of the Photo CD system in 1990, followed the next year by the release of the first digital cameras aimed at photojournalists. It boasted a 1.3 megapixel sensor that was mated to a Nikon F-3 body.
Cameras for consumers
In 1994 the Apple Quicktake 100 became the first digital camera available for consumers, followed by the Kodak DC40 in 1995 and the Casio QV-11 (it even had an LCD screen) later in the year. Sony’s Cybershot sent digital photography to a new level in 1996 and it was in conjunction with other technology, such as imaging software for home computers and colour inkjet printers, that ensured it was only going to get bigger. No one in the early days of digital cameras could have predicted that it would virtually wipe out film cameras, but that’s exactly what happened because of its increasing ability to capture high quality images, an almost infinite amount of storage options and the opportunities to share images that it represented. Even today’s most basic point-and-shoot cameras are capable of doing everything from taking close-up photos of flowers to fun shots at a party, ensuring film is now a part of history.