Digital Cameras: It Was 20 Years Ago Friday…

Digital cameras certainly have come a long way in twenty years.

According to Mashable, the Apple QuickTake 100 was introduced to the world at the Tokyo MacWorld Expo on February 17, 1994. It sold for $749 dollars, and held 16 pictures at 320×240 24-bit pixel resolution, or eight pictures at 640×480 pixel resolution, with no memory expansion. This was the first foray into the digital camera market for Apple, who were experimenting with many different devices, like the Newton PDA. This also marked Steve Job’s first tenure with Apple.

Though the QuickTake 100 was named and sold by Apple, there was something very few people knew about this digital camera at the time: Apple did not invent or make the camera. Credit for that goes to Kodak, where the digital camera started with a search for a way to store digital images. Fearing the new technology would cut into their film profits, Kodak would make the technology available, but it would take some time.

In 1969, two Kodak developers, Dr. George E. Smith and Dr. Willard Boyle, came up with the Charged Coupling Device, or CCD, a sensor which was able to take light and transform that light into pixels, which are the tiny dots of color that create all digital images. The CCD was announced in 1970, and was immediately picked up by other companies like RCA, using the CCD for commercial televisions, Fairchild, who used it for an aerial camera for the U.S. Air Force, and Bell Labs for their Picturephone. Smith and Boyle both the Nobel Prize in 2009 for their work, But the CCD was still far from being ready for the public. Another Kodak developer, Steve Sasson, would take the next step.

Sasson, while working on numerous other Kodak projects, was asked to look into how to best utilize the CCD’s for image capturing. In his spare time, Sasson was able to merge the CCD with a Kodak movie lens and a videocassette recording device. Using an oscillator in place of a computer, Sasson was making progress, but he was nowhere near a mass-producible, or easy-to-use device.

Now in the 80s, Kodak researcher Kenneth Parulski designed a color CCD. Other companies had designed new filmless cameras, but still using an analog format to record images. Sony’s Mavica line, for example, used 2 1/4 inch floppy discs to save images. Fuji released the DS-1P, which used a 16 MB internal digital camera to store images, but never made it to the United States.

Finally, in 1986, Kodak released the DCS 100, or Digital Camera System, the first true digital camera. It fit into a Nikon body and had a 1.3 megapixel CCD. It sold for between $10,000 to $20,000, and came with an 11-pound accessory pack. Kodak eventually shrank the whole package to the QuickTime 100, then let Apple market and sell the unit.

The ironic twist to the whole history of this is, of course, was Kodak’s fear came true. Digital cameras have taken prominence in the camera industry, causing Kodak to file for bankruptcy in 2012. Apple, for its part, has helped usher in the obsolescence of the digital camera, leading the way with built-in cameras in their iPhones. According to the Imaging Resource website, cell phones with built-in cameras are more popular than stand-alone digital cameras.

Thus, the wheels of technology grind on…