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History of Digital Photography

This brief history of digital photography begins by looking at the first 30 years of our digital photography time-line.

Like many modern technologies digital photography can trace its beginnings back to “Space Race” when the United States and the Soviet Union were in competition for supremacy in outer space and were racing to be the first county to put a man on the moon.

This time period from 1957-1975 saw an unparalleled advancement in technology, including the beginning development of digital cameras and digital photography.

These early years of digital technology development saw tremendous advancements in technology and marked the beginning of the relatively short history of digital photography.

In this part of our history of digital photography time line we will highlight some of these early milestones in digital photography history.

Digital Photography Timeline Part 2--The 1990's

Digital Photography Timeline Part 3--2000 and Beyond 

Key dates in the history of digital photography from 1960 to 1989:

  • 1961: Eugene F. Lally of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory began working on a way to use a mosaic photo sensor to capture digital images.

  • 1969: Was particularly important in the history of digital photography because George Smith and Willard Boyle of Bell Laboratories developed the CCD (charge-coupled-device) and demonstrated it on October 17, 1969. This CCD image sensor is the heart the digital camera development because it is the solid-state device that converts light into electric signals. This major breakthrough in 1969 provided the key piece of technology to begin the digital photography revolution. CCD image sensors are still widely used today. While today’s CCD image sensors often have 12-14 megapixels the first one in 1969 was only 100 x 100 pixels. From 1969 to 1978 CCD technology continued to be developed and in 1978 Bell Laboratories successfully created an image sensor with 500 x 500 pixel array.

  • 1970: George Smith and Willard Boyle of Bell Laboratories built the first solid-state video camera.

  • 1972: A Texas Instrument employee, Willis Adcock patented a film-less camera however the technology was still not available to make it a viable concept.

  • 1973: Fairchild Imaging produced the first commercial CCD imager. This 10,000 pixel sensor (100 x 100 pixels) would become the foundation for the rapidly developing world of digital imaging.

  • Kodaks First Digital Camera1975: Eastman Kodak engineer Steven Sasson patented a prototype digital camera using the recently invented Fairchild CCD image sensor and a lens from a Kodak movie camera. This camera was about the size of a large toaster and weighed almost nine pounds. The black and white digital image was stored on a cassette tape and in order to view the images the Kodak engineers had to develop a special screen. It was able to capture a .01 megapixel image (10,000 pixels) and took 23 seconds to record an image to the tape.

  • 1975: Bell Laboratories demonstrated the first CCD video camera with enough resolution to use for broadcast television. The CCD technology first developed by Bell Labs is found in all kinds of digital imaging devices today, including High-Definition television and video cameras. Other common technology that use CCD imagers are: web cameras, medical scopes, fax machines, copy machines, image scanners, digital cameras and bar code readers.

  • Bayer Filter Array1975: Another milestone in the history of digital photography was when Bryce Bayer invented the Bayer Color Filter Array that enabled a single CCD or CMOS image sensor to capture color images. Without this filter capturing color images would require three separate sensors attached to a color beam splitter which would be both large and expensive. Bayer Color Filter Arrays are used in almost every digital camera made today.

  • 1977: Konica introduces the point-and-shoot Konica C35 AF the first mass-produced camera with autofocus.

  • 1978: Leica demonstrates the first SLR with fully operational autofocus at the Photokina photography show.

  • 1981: The first true working digital camera was built by the University of Calgary Canada ASI Science Team. Their All-Sky camera was designed to photograph auroras and used one of the 100 x 100 pixel Fairchild CCD image sensors.

  • 1981: Sony Electronics introduced the Mavica (Magnetic Video Camera), a video camera which recorded images on a floppy disk. This early electronic camera had a resolution of 720,000 pixels (.72 megapixels) and was able to store up to 50 images on a single 2.0” video floppy disk. Described as having beginning “a new era in photography” the Sony Mavica was a single lens reflex camera with three interchangeable lenses capable of capturing images to the floppy disk and displaying them back on a TV. While an important milestone in the history of digital photography this was essentially a video camera that took still images and not a true digital camera. Nevertheless the development of this camera is a very important event along the digital photography timeline.

  • 1981: The Pentax ME-F becomes the first autofocus 35mm SLR. It uses in body focus sensor coupled with a motorized lens.

  • 1985: Fuji makes the ES-1 a SVC (still video camera) with a 640 x480 pixel CCD imager. This camera was an SLR with a 50-150mm manual zoom.minolta 7000

  • 1985: Minolta releases the Minolta Maxxum 7000 the first 35mm This camera as well as all Minolota AF SLR's to follow incorporated both the autofocus sensor and the drive motor in the camera body.

  • 1986: Canon began manufacturing and distributing digital cameras with the release of the RC-701 a SVC (still video camera) that had four interchangeable lenses and sold for about $3,000.

  • 1986: Kodak introduced a 1.4 megapixel sensor making it the first megapixel sensor small enough to fit in a handheld camera. This sensor was used in the Videk Megaplus camera designed for scientific and industrial use. These cameras sold between $10,000 and $40,000 and were essentially the first camera with enough resolution to produce a 5x7 photo quality print.

  • 1988: Fuji developed the DS-1P which is considered to be the first fully digital consumer camera to be sold. This camera recorded images digitally on a 16MB internal memory card and had 16mm F/5.6 lens with shutter speeds from 1/60/ to 1/200 of a second.Nikon_D90Nikon_D90

  • Sony MVC C11988: Sony introduces the MVC-C1 the first consumer model of their MAVICA line of electronic still video cameras. This MAVICA was described as “a still video camera that records pictures magnetically without the use of film.” Like other MAVICA models this was not a true digital camera but was a very important step in the evolution of digital cameras.

  • 1988: Digital Darkroom was released becoming the first image editing software for the Macintosh computer. 1988 saw another key event in the history of digital photography when the first JPEG and MPEG standards were set. These standards set in place a universal format which allowed images (JPEG) and video (MPEG) to be stored in a compressed format.

Digital Photography Timeline Part 2--The 1990's

Digital Photography Timeline Part 3--2000 and Beyond

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