Looking back at 35 years of the digital camera

A visual tour of notable highlights and firsts from digital camera history, going all the way back to 1975.

The history of digital cameras

Thirty-five years ago—in December 1975—an engineer named Steven Sasson snapped a photo with the world's first fully digital camera at a Kodak lab. It took 23 seconds to record a 100-by-100-pixel image to cassette tape. Not until the early 1990s, however, did digital photo technology take off, launching an attack that would conquer the consumer camera industry in less than a decade. In the slides ahead, let's examine some highlights of digital camera history.

The first digital camera

Kodak Digital Camera (1975)

Resolution: 100 by 100 pixels (0.01 megapixels).

You're looking at the world's first digital camera. It recorded crude images to cassette tape, images that could then be viewed on a special display device hooked to a TV set.


Commercially available

1. Fujix DS-1P (1989). Resolution: 0.4MP

2. Dycam Model 1 (1990). Resolution: 376 by 240 pixels (0.09MP), 256 levels of gray.

The Fujix DS-1P was the world's first commercial digital camera. It wrote digital files to solid-state memory cards, but was available only in Japan for a brief time. The Dycam was the first digital camera sold in the United States.

Photos: Fujix & Dycam

Kodak and Nikon go digital

1. Kodak Digital Camera System (1991). Resolution: 1320 by 1035 pixels (1.3MP).

2. Kodak DCS200 (1992). Resolution: 1524 by 1012 pixels (1.5MP).

Starting in 1991, Kodak produced camera systems that paired Nikon bodies with Kodak digital sensors in place of film. The original DCS cost $20,000 and required a tethered hard-disk system.

Photo: Kodak

Cameras in color

1. Apple QuickTake 100 (1994). Resolution: 640 by 480 pixels (0.3MP).

2. Kodak DC40 (1995). Resolution: 756 by 504 pixels (0.38MP).

These two early digital cameras, both developed by Kodak, were based on the same underlying technology. They captured images in 24-bit color.

Photos: Ingo Kwiat & Apple

Arrival of the LCD

1. Casio QV-10 (1995). Resolution: 320 by 240 pixels (0.07MP).

2. Kodak DC25 (1996). Resolution: 493 x 373 pixels (0.18MP).

The Casio QV-10 was the first consumer digital camera to include a built-in LCD screen. The Kodak DC25 was the first to use Compact Flash media for storage.

Photos: Casio & Kodak

Creative new developments

1. Olympus Deltis VC-1100 (1994). Resolution: 768 by 576 pixels (0.44MP).

2. Nikon Coolpix 100 (1996). Resolution: 512 by 480 (0.24MP).

3. Ricoh RDC1 (1995). Resolution: 768 by 576 (0.44MP).

The Olympus Deltis VC-1100 incorporated a modem for transmission of photos over regular phone lines. The Nikon Coolpix plugged into a laptop's PC Card slot to transfer pictures. The Ricoh RDC1 was the first digital still camera to record video.

Photos: Jarle Aasland, Ricoh, Olympus

Exploring storage options

1. Sony Digital Mavica FD5 (1997). Resolution: 640 by 480 pixels (0.3MP).

2. Sony Mavica CD1000 (2000). Resolution: 1600 by 1200 pixels (1.92MP).

The FD5 was the first digital camera to write to 3.5-inch floppy disks for photo storage. In a later first, the Mavica CD1000 wrote to miniature CD-R discs.

Photos: Sony

The late 90s

1. Kodak DC260 (1998). Resolution: 1536 by 1024 (1.57MP).

2. Sony Cybershot D700 (1998). Resolution: 1344 by 1024 (1.37MP).

3. Olympus D-620L (1999). Resolution: 1280 by 1024 (1.31MP).

These three cameras were typical of mid-upper-range consumer digital models in the late 1990s.

Photos: DigitalKamera, Sony, Olympus

You know, for kids

1. Barbie Photo Designer Digital Camera (1998). Resolution: 160 by 120 pixels (0.02MP).

2. WWF Slam Cam (1999). Resolution: 160 by 120 (0.02MP).

These were two of the first toy digital cameras on the market. They could store only six photos, but retailed for under $100.

Photos: Mattel

Debut of the digital SLR

1. Nikon D1 (1999). Resolution: 2000 by 1312 pixels (2.62MP).

2. Canon EOS D30 (2000). Resolution: 2160 by 1440 (3.11MP).

These two models were the first fully integrated digital single-lens reflex cameras (SLRs). Both were notable for using lenses from their equivalent systems in the 35mm film world.

Cameras get compact

1. Canon PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH (2000). Resolution: 1600 by 1200 pixels (1.92MP).

2. Casio Exilim EX-S1 (2002). Resolution: 1280 by 960 pixels (1.22MP).

The Canon S100 pushed digital pocket cameras toward smaller sizes and higher resolutions. The Exilim continued that trend with its tiny, almost credit-card dimensions.

Photos: Canon, Casio

Full frame firsts

1. Contax N Digital (2002). Resolution: 3040 by 2008 pixels (6.1MP).

2. Canon EOS-1Ds (2002). Resolution: 4064 by 2704 pixels (10.99MP).

The Contax N Digital was the first camera to include a CCD sensor the size of a full 35mm frame. The EOS-1Ds was Canon's first full-frame camera.

Photos: Canon, Casio

The digital camera evolves

1. Canon EOS Digital Rebel D300 (2003). Resolution: 3072 by 2048 pixels (6.29MP).

2. Olympus E-1 (2003). Resolution: 2560 by 1920 pixels (4.91MP).

3. Epson R-D1 (2004). Resolution: 3008 by 2000 pixels (6.01MP).

The Canon D300 was the first digital SLR under $1000. The Olympus E-1 was the first camera to use the Four-Thirds SLR system. Epson's R-D1 was the first digital rangefinder camera.

Photos: Canon, Olympus, Epson

A top of the line DSLR

1. Nikon D3X (2008). Resolution: 6048 by 4032 pixels (24.38MP).

The D3X is currently Nikon's top-of-the-line digital SLR, and it's targeted squarely at professional photographers. Canon's highest-resolution DSLR is the EOS-1Ds Mark III.

Photos: Nikon

3D Cameras

1. Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3 (2010). Resolution: 3648 by 2736 (9.98 MP).

2. Sony Cyber-DSC-TX7 (2010). Resolution: 3648 by 2736 (9.98 MP).

Fujifilm's Real 3D W3 is the first consumer digital camera that can shoot 3D photographs (and video). Sony's DSC-TX7 is a full-featured pocket point-and-shoot with intelligent panorama features.

Photos: Fujifilm, Sony

High-end prices dropping

Pentax 645D (2010). Resolution: 7264 by 5440 pixels (39.51MP).

The 645D is the first medium-format DSLR to sell for under $10,000, potentially opening up the exotic world of high-end, superhigh-resolution photography to a whole new audience. We've come a long way from the 100-by-100-pixel images of 35 years ago.

Photos: Pentax