History Of Digital Photography

The 30 Years of Digital Photography History

Photography has come a very long way since the early days when photographers used glass plates to take pictures. But the history of digital photography on its own is even more incredible. In little more than 30 years, digital technology has snatched away what film cameras had to offer, opening up a world of opportunities for growing numbers of professionals and hobbyists alike. The history of digital photography showcases technology at its best and shows that history (in the form of past events and developments) isn't about cobwebs and grey hair. The history of digital photography is a fascinating story that many people alive today have lived through and watched first hand.

The funny thing is that the “early days” of photography didn't happen that long ago either. And the technology in general hasn't changed that much, since the process of photography has always relied on how light falls onto a light-sensitive surface. First the surface was glass plates, and that was in the 1840s, not even two centuries ago. These plates were followed by the development of black and white film, and then colour film in the 1930s. Then came the revolutionary sensor that now allows us to capture digital images instead of recording images on film that has to be processed so that prints can be made.

Film photography for the masses probably dates back to the 1880s when Kodak, a company that has been in the photographic industry since those early days, launched its famous Box Brownie. Then followed the Instamatic camera, that used a cartridge, making the photographic system even more automatic and accessible to the masses. Cameras continued to get smaller and smaller – except for those developed for the professional market, some of which were quite large, depending on the size or format of the images it would take. Studio cameras, for example, were usually quite bulky.

But back to things digital.

The digital camera owes its invention to a charge-coupled device (the CCD) that was invented by George Smith and Willard Boyle, two Americans working for Bell Labs. The two men were honoured with a top engineering award for invention, and are now recognised as the fathers of the digital image. Oddly enough, they weren't trying to develop a new type of camera as such, they were looking at some kind of semi-conductor memory for computers as well as a way to develop a solid-state camera that could be used in cell phones.

Having invented the CCD, Smith and Boyle went on to build the world's first digital video camera in the 1970s. 

When the first digital cameras appeared on the market in the 1980s, images were recorded on a floppy disk. The very first was produced by the Sony Corporation and it was called the Mavica, a magnetic video camera that electronically recorded still images in the form of magnetic impulses. This legendary camera produced a 720 000-pixel image. But basically it was a video camera that was simply capable of freezing video frames. On the down side, it was big and bulky and did not produce very good photographs.

Kodak invented the world's first megapixel sensor and released its first seven digital camera products in 1987. The company also released the first camera aimed at professionals, a Nikon F-3 that was equipped with a Kodak 1,3 megapixel sensor. That was in 1991, not that long ago. 

Digital cameras have progressively become smaller and more efficient, offering more megapixels and greater memory capacity for less and less money. Today amateur photographers and professionals alike use digital cameras of varying quality, illustrating the fast and furious developments that have happened in the history of digital photography.

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