Kodak's First Digital Camera
By James Grahame
Way back in 1975 -- when Kodachrome color slides and Kodak Instamatics were all the rage -- Kodak researcher Steve Sasson built the first digicam, cobbled together from spare parts and bleeding edge digital technology.
The lens was from a used parts bin on Kodak's Super 8 camera assembly line, it used a futuristic CCD image sensor (now commonplace) and took 23 seconds to record a crude 100 line black and white image onto cassette tape.
Sasson explains, "On the side of our portable contraption, we shoehorned in a portable digital cassette instrumentation recorder. Add to that 16 nickel cadmium batteries, a highly temperamental new type of CCD imaging area array, an a/d converter implementation stolen from a digital voltmeter application, several dozen digital and analog circuits all wired together on approximately half a dozen circuit boards, and you have our interpretation of what a portable all electronic still camera might look like."
The device was semi-portable, and a massive VCR-sized microcomputer was used to display the images on a TV screen using a primitive frame store, but I doubt that the Kodak executives saw digital technology as a credible threat to their existing product line.
The Kodak Apparatus Division Research Laboratory team demonstrated the technology to a number of people within Kodak in 1976 as "Film-less Photography." I can't imagine the title went over well, considering Kodak's position as the world's leading producer of photochemical film. Still, 32 years later it turns out to be prophetic as Kodak struggles to reinvent itself as a digital company.
A patent was issued for the technology, but it was decades ahead of its time. Sasson kept the prototype as he moved around the company, but Kodak didn't publicly acknowledge the creation of the world's first digicam until 2001.