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History of Digital Cameras

Priya Johnson Mar 2, 2019
Digital cameras, though considered as latest technological products, have around 50 years of history behind them. Interestingly, even the government has a role in the development and evolution of this useful piece of technology...
A digital camera, also known as a digicam, is a camera that takes still photographs and/or videos digitally, wherein images and videos are recorded with the help of an electronic image sensor.
Since the past decade or so, digital cameras have gained a lot of popularity across the globe. Although most of us associate these easy-to-use cameras to recently emerged technological products, they are not as new as we believe!

Early History

History of the digital camera can be traced back to the 1950s; a time that is popularly known as 'baby boomers' and 'space race'. Prior to the 1950s, most television was live or was a broadcast movie. However, in 1951, the first video tape recorder (VTR) was created by Bing Crosby laboratories, which recorded TV programs.
The VTR captured live images from television cameras and saved the information from them onto magnetic tapes, by converting the information into electrical impulses (digital or coded signals). This VTR played an important role in the development of digital cameras.  By 1956, VTR technology was improvised, and extensively used in the television industry.
The launch of Sputnik by Russia in 1957, is also connected to the advent of digital cameras. Sputnik's launch triggered the United States to start competing in every field possible.
The US created the Corona Project (1959-1972), which launched many spy satellites to spy on enemies. These spy satellites used digital technology to beam photographs back to Earth, and since the images were important for the country's security, their quality had to be good.
NASA, the US space program, carried forward research from the Corona project and came up with a solid-state computer chip, the CCD (charge-coupled-device), in 1969. CCDs converted light into electrical signals, however, images were only 100 x 100 pixels, and not precise. In 1972, Texas Instruments was the first to have a film-less electronic camera patented.
In 1978, NASA came up with a 500 x 500 pixel camera, which they soon improved to 800 x 800 pixels. These developments gave birth to improved picture quality, at a comparatively lesser price. Thus, the government did play an important role in the development of digital imaging.

First Commercial Electronic Camera

Digital photography took another leap in 1981, when Sony introduced their first still video camera, the Mavica (Magnetic Video Camera). It was the first commercial electronic camera to be introduced. Sony's 0.3 megapixel Mavica, was not a digital camera, instead was a 'still analog version' of video cameras of that time.
Analog images were stored on two-inch floppy disks, and could be played back on a video monitor or a television. Storing images on floppy disks was a remarkable achievement, as it meant the number of photographs that could be stored was extremely high, compared to industry standards of that time.
One floppy could store 25 images and if the floppy got used up, another one could be inserted. However, Mavica was only appropriate to view photographs on the camera screen, as printouts were of poor quality.
Also, the resolution of Mavica was not good enough to provide good quality pictures. Thus, even though Sony was the first to come up with something remarkable, their camera was limited in various ways.
In 1987, Kodak scientists came up with the world's first megapixel sensor; the Professional Digital Camera System (DCS). DCS enabled photojournalists to take electronic pictures via a Nikon F-3 camera, with a 1.3 megapixel sensor. In the same year, Sony, considered to be the leader in electronics, introduced the ProMavica MVC-5000 with a 720,000-pixel image.
In 1990, the world's first completely consumer digital still camera was introduced by Dycam, under the brand name Dycam 1 or Logitech Fotoman. This camera produced black and white images, and could be downloaded to the personal computer through a cable.
32 compressed images on 1MB of built in RAM was the capacity of the camera which had a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. Meanwhile, Kodak managed to improvise their DCS camera model and came up with the DCS 200 around the same time.
This newer version had a resolution of 1.54 mega pixels, four times the resolution of still video cameras prevalent at that time. The camera also comprised an inbuilt hard drive which recorded the images.

Entry of Digital Cameras for Consumer Use

All cameras introduced were meant for professional photographers, who worked with the print and media industry. It was only Apple, the creator of the Macintosh computer in 1994, who brought digital cameras into the lives of consumers for their use.
They introduced a color digital camera comprising a 640 x 480 pixel CCD and fixed focus 50mm lens under the brand name Quick Take 100. The birth of this camera caused digital photography to take another major leap.
However, even though this camera managed to set the tone for the future, it had its drawbacks. It was slightly awkward and had the capacity to store only 8 images in its internal memory. The picture quality was also mediocre.
Apple wasn't the only one manufacturing and marketing digital cameras. Another leading player in the camera industry, Olympus, was also working on the same technology. Olympus came up with the world's first digital camera with built-in transmission capabilities called the Deltis VC-1100 in the same year as Apple.
This camera enabled users to upload digital photos over cellular and analog phone lines, to another camera or computer, via a modem. With a resolution of 768 x 576 pixels, this camera could store images on memory cards (removable).
However, like all the previously developed cameras, this one also had its drawbacks. Transferring images through this was very time-consuming as each picture took 1-6 minutes to transfer.

Rising Competition

The competition in the digital camera industry was on the rise. Players realized that this arena was one with ample amounts of potential, and wanted to come up with a gadget comprising the latest technology. The race to be number one and gain market share resulted in the easy to use, good quality cameras available today.
In 1995, a digital camera, called RDC-1 was introduced by Ricoh. This camera was the first digital camera to take moving images with sound recording as well as still images. However, since this camera wasn't a video camera, it was capable of capturing movies only 10 seconds long.
Hitachi wasn't going to be left behind, and introduced the world's first digital camera to output moving pictures to a computer in the MPEG format, called MP-EG1 in 1997. Around the same time, Sony also came up with its incredible Cybershot DSC-MD1.
Sony's Cybershot used laser technology in order to record images in JPEG format on small plastic discs. 1998 saw Fuji, another major player in the photography industry, launched a camera that stored images on SmartMedia memory cards. It was called the In-Printer Camera and featured the printing facility of credit card-sized images straight from the camera.
The introduction of memory cards and flash cards took the development of the digital camera industry even further. Today, digital cameras have outdone film cameras.
The constant improvisations over the years resulted into sleeker, better picture quality, and cheaper cameras. In fact, companies like Fisher Price and Vtech came up with digital cameras specially for children.
Manufacturers are constantly working on improving their products. Digital camera history has evolved from cameras being made just for professionals―in terms of price and ease of use―to something that even the average individual can afford and use easily.
By shaking hands with evolving technology, manufacturers are forever on the look for something that gives them an edge over competitors. Thanks to this competition, consumers today can enjoy the lovely world of colorful pictures at a moderate cost.