The Most Significant Digital Cameras of History

In our last article, we gave you a look at some of the most significant film cameras of history. While reading up on ideas for this article, a friend summed up the state of the photography industry in a simple line: digital cameras are purely clinical, precise instruments compared to film cameras: a mechanical form of art.

Representational image. Reuters.

Representational image. Reuters.

Digital cameras indeed don’t have the charm that film cameras once harboured in their day. But they’re an art form of a different kind: the precision and speed at which digital could deliver was and is still unparalleled. Today, we’ll be looking at some of the journey of digital cameras to this day, with a peek at some of the more noteworthy models out there.

1. Kodak’s first camera prototype

As always, the very first invention of something will never look like its current iteration. That couldn’t be more apparent in the case of Kodak’s first “camera”. It used a 100x100 pixel array to capture light and record it to a tape cassette.

Kodak Ektaprint 100. Kodak.

Kodak Ektaprint 100. Kodak.

If you wanted to see the picture, you had to play it back on a television with a special player (similar to audio cassettes). That first camera was made with spare items the makers found in their labs: the lens was from a cinema camera, the sensor was a CCD sensor and the whole thing ran on 16 batteries. According to PetaPixel, each image took around 23 seconds to process!

2. Nikon D1 

When the D1 was launched in 2000, SLR cameras were not a new thing. Kodak already had a major share in the camera market and they continued to do so until the Nikon D1 came around and shook it. The D1 is one of the first DSLR cameras designed and produced entirely by Nikon from the ground up, which obviously involved a lot of effort. It housed a 3 MP sensor, could shoot at 4.5 fps (which was great for sports shooting.. Back then) and something more unusual: ditching Adobe RGB and sRGB and going for a color space known as NSTC, which wasn’t what most cameras used. However, it changed the industry anyway, being a camera that was far more affordable than what Kodak was selling at the time, and therefore being a game changer in its own league.

Nikon D1. Nikon.

Nikon D1. Nikon.

3. Contax N Digital

The Contax N Digital is a far leap from that first Kodak. It was introduced in 2002, nearly 26 years after the Kodak concept. Twenty-six years was enough for cameras to involve into mainstream consumer products by then, but the N Digital stepped up the game a notch: it was the first Full-Frame DSLR camera in the consumer market. Sporting a 6 MP 35mm equivalent sensor, the full frame sensor meant that people could now take higher quality prints without having to compensate for the crop factor.

Contax N Digital. Contax.

Contax N Digital. Contax.

While SLR and DSLR cameras were already fast becoming a more viable option for consumers, this was the first sensor that housed a full 35mm sized sensor in it. The N Digital was also among the only manufacturers to still use CCD-based sensors (CCD: Charge Coupled Device) when everyone was already moving to CMOS based sensors.

4. Minolta DiMAGE A1

The Minolta A1 changed the world of shaky images forever: it was the first camera to have two-axis image stabilisation. Two-axis meant that the X-axis, or horizontal shake, and Y-axis, or vertical shake, were reduced.

Minolta DiMAGE A1. Konica.

Minolta DiMAGE A1. Konica.

The whole system worked with sensors: motion sensors captured any shake made by the user and transferred it to the CCD where the shake was compensated for. Apart from that, the Minolta A1 is also one the older cameras that used a CCD sensor and also let users switch off image stabilisation if they wanted to (in case they were shooting on a tripod, the IS would just be redundant and waste battery).

5. Canon EOS D30

The EOS D30 is truly the game changer in this roundup for a very small reason: it was the first prosumer DLSR that people could buy without breaking their wallets. Like the Nikon D1, the Canon D30 was Canon’s first home-grown DSLR (as in, designed and built from the ground up by Canon) and catered to a market that wanted a powerful imaging device but couldn’t shell out the big bucks for professional systems.

Canon D30. Canon.

Canon D30. Canon.

Indeed, the D30 and similar devices can be considered the beginning of the prosumer era, and the point where cameras started getting more and more affordable. They don’t hold a candle to today’s systems, even entry level ones, but the D30, in particular, was a king in its own right back in the day, because everyone could buy it.


Published Date: Sep 03, 2017 04:08 pm | Updated Date: Sep 03, 2017 04:08 pm