The History of Digital Photography

The space race and Cold War were pivotal to the history of digital photography.

The space race in the mid 1960s redefined the way we think of photography. NASA engineers needed a way to take photos of the moon, and the idea of taking film photographs and bringing a probe back to Earth to view them wasn't practical. NASA engineers gave a kick start to digital photography by converting from analog to digital signals to send photos of the moon back to Earth. Combined with the CIA's need for spy satellites to monitor enemy actions, digital photography really began to develop during this era.

CCD Is Born
While a few other devices had made digital photography possible in the mid 1960s, it wasn't until the CCD was invented in 1969 that digital photography truly began. The Charge-Coupled Device that is the heart of modern digital cameras was invented by George Smith and William Boyle in an attempt to create semiconductor memory for computers. Luckily for us, while the CCD wasn't particularly useful as a memory semiconductor, it turned out to be perfect as a sensor for digital cameras.

The first digital camera, 1981's Sony Mavica, wasn't intended to be a digital camera at all. The Sony Mavica was a video camera that captured still video shots on a two-inch floppy disk. Because the Sony Mavica was actually taking freeze-frame video shots instead of true digital photographs, it can't really be considered a digital camera. However, this camera gave home consumers their first taste of digital photography, and it utilized CCD technology. All that remained was for image quality to come up to par with film, something that a video camera simply couldn't handle.

Enter Kodak
Because previous attempts at digital image capture were done with video cameras that were quite bulky and couldn't match film resolution, digital cameras hadn't yet caught on as a consumer product. In 1986 Kodak came out with a piece of technology that brought the potential for consumer digital cameras to the forefront: the megapixel sensor. The 1.4 megapixel sensor was the first image sensor capable of producing a 5x7 inch digital print of roughly photo quality. With the advent of this device and a photo CD system in 1990, consumer digital cameras became truly viable for the first time.

Logitech released their Dycam Model 1, the first consumer digital camera, in 1991. Three years later, the Apple Quick Take 100 camera appeared with the ability to connect to a computer via a serial cable. These two devices helped to build a consumer market for digital photography that today includes digital photo frames, photo printers and new digital SLR cameras with lenses that allow for selective focusing.

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