The First Digital Camera, and How it Changed Personal Photography

December 04, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

It is 1975, and the Vietnam war is ending. The year end close of the Dow Jones Industrial Average is 858. Gasoline costs 44 cents a gallon, and new cars average out at just over $4250.00. If you were in the market for an average house you could expect to spend $39,300.00 for it and your average salary to pay for all this would be $14,100.00. In pop culture, Bruce Springsteen releases his "Born to Run" album, and the movie "Jaws" was keeping everyone out of the ocean.

Meanwhile, in Rochester, NY the photographic powerhouse Eastman Kodak was conducting research on the first digital camera. An engineer Steven Sasson was given the task. He produced a camera that didn't use any film to capture images. A CCD would take on that task. It took just 23 seconds to record the digital image. Storage was accomplished by using a cassette tape to capture the image. Viewing the image required removing the cassette tape from the camera and placing in a custom made playback device, which would display it on a conventional television. The 8 pound camera recorded a 0.01 megapixel black and white image. It took until 1991 for Kodak to release the SLR DCS-100, which retailed for $13,000.00.

These days almost everyone walks around with a cell phone that can make very decent snapshots, and some can produce good 8 X 10's. Our world has become very public, and very photographed. When I was shooting film, I used four types. Black and white 2 1/4 roll, 4 X 5 sheet film, 35mm color slide, and 35mm color negative film. The two types of black and white film were processed in my darkroom, the color film was sent out. In order to stay organized, I set up a simple file system by date. Given just a bit of time, I could find anything I shot. It was all there in hard copy that I could touch with my hands. I most likely would never print most of what I shot, but it all existed as a shooting record. The world of digital consumer photography, (non professional), produces more potential images than ever. It is common to see several friends and family members all recording an event simultaneously independent of each other. It is not unusual for hundreds of captures to be produced at a single event. I often wonder what happens to all those images. Some of them are posted to online sites like facebook, flickr, snapfish, shutterfly, and others. Their final use, runs the gamut from sharing with friends and family, to making photo books. My best guess is that more than half of the images produced stay in digital capture form and never get printed. They are stored on CD's, DVD’s, memory cards, hard drives, and online backup sites. Some of them get deleted either on purpose, by accident, or because of drive failures. Another potential issue is file format. In ten years will that digital capture open with future software? Will the capture rest in storage and remain corruption free and open on a future date?

If you are an image conscious person with an eye on the future, then I would suggest making prints of your most important images. Mind you, I mean just the most important images. The ones that you would be upset to loose. Archival inks and papers are available to purchase online if you want to print your own photographs. Professional labs make very nice photographs these days, and you can order archival papers if you want. I would order two copies of each, and dark store one in archival storage envelopes and boxes. This insures that the images that are most important to you, the ones of major life events, are available in the future. While not common, it is not all that unusual for me to be asked to restore a photograph of a loved one, and that photograph is the only one in existence. Think in terms of leaving a family record for future generations. Put another way most of us enjoy looking at one hundred year old historical photographs. Be proactive and create a small archive of essential family history, with labels. The size will be determined by how involved you wish to get. It could be as simple as a dozen of the most important images safely stored in archival envelopes, and place in archival boxes. These supplies are available online and can be easily found through Google or other search engines.

At the present time we live in a culture that is saturated with still and moving images. At times it can almost be sensory overload, attempting to digest everything that comes at us. Our social lives are photographed more than ever, and this can lead to image fatigue. There is a temptation to devalue our personal photographs, to take them for granted so to speak. Mixed into all those photos are a small percentage of images that should be preserved. A record of the family tree for example, weddings, births, and life accomplishments are some examples that come to mind. I am not one to make New Years Resolutions, however January is waiting just off stage left to make an entrance, and it seems like a good time to start a project such as this.


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