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History of the Digital Camera

The digital camera has provided us with the first real revolution in photography since the advent of the Box Brownie. Although there were some innovations wet film photography remained fairly unchanged until the digital sensor was invented and applied to the camera. In essence the digital camera is a camera that utilises digital storage methods to save images rather than storing them on film or plates. Standard non digital cameras have now been overtaken in the market by their digital counterparts and as a result the amateur photography industry is booming.

The sensor that is now used to take photographs in digital cameras was proposed and designed a long time before it was every applied to photography. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory laid out a specification for a mosaic photosensor that would be used to measure the altitude of spacecraft in 1961. Philips also developed and designed a flat screen target that could be used to receive and store an optical image and this was patented in 1970. It was not until 1975 that all of the concepts and designs came to fuse together and the first digital camera was created by Steve Sasson, a Kodak engineer. It utilised solid state CCD image sensor chips and recorded its images to a cassette tape. By the standards of today it was not very impressive with a resolution of just 0.01 megapixels and a 23 second processing time between images.

Obviously this first digital camera was never intended for production and was an exercise in technical expertise, nevertheless it demonstrated the basic principles that would become the bread and butter of digital photography. The first real handheld digital cameras first began to appear in the 80's, devices such as the Sony Mavica video camera demonstrated how miniturisation had made much more possible than what would have been considered in the previous decade. Many of the first "digital" cameras were in fact analog electronic cameras that simply recorded analog signals to a digital medium.

Early adopters of digital camera technology were the media, the poor quality of original images did not matter so much due to the low resolution of newspapers. Gradually the technology improved and as costs dropped more and more cameras became available to the consumer. One of the first to be fitted with a memory card rather than floppy discs or tapes for storage was the Fuji DS-1P in 1988, followed by the Dycam Model 1 in 1990. To many this was the first true digital camera that we would recognise today. It used a CCD image sensor, saved the images digitally and could be connected to a PC so that images could be viewed and edited. The first affordable digital SLR camera was released in 1999, the Nikon D1 took the world by storm. It featured 2.74 megapixels and utilised existing F-mount lenses.