In 1975, the Internet didn’t exist, smartphones didn’t exist, wafer-thin laptops were a pipedream, and if you were a photographer, you shot film. Thanks to a Kodak employee named Steven Sasson, all this was about to change. By hacking parts of an old Kodak Super 8 movie camera together with a half dozen or so circuit boards and a 2MP monochrome CCD sensor, Sasson created what is recognized as the first working digital camera. Though considered more of a curiosity than an industry game changer early on, photographers began reckoning with the fact that digital cameras were going to be altering the way they went about doing business as photographers.
Fast-forward 20 years to 1995, and digital cameras had begun nipping at the heels of analog photographers. Though technically crude and awfully expensive compared to the digital dynamos we take for granted these days, digital cameras slowly gained the confidence of photographers, and more importantly, among ad agency art buyers, photography editors, and others who purchased and commissioned photographers for editorial, corporate, and advertising projects. Once these folks were on board, there was no turning back.
As with all early technologies, digital imaging was akin to the wild west when it came to file formats, storage formats, cable connections, image transfer protocols, and compatibility between products produced by different manufacturers. Software, firmware, and compatibility issues? Don’t ask.
The following is a roundup of some of the more notable digital cameras that made their debut a quarter of a century ago, in 1995. Some of the brand names will sound familiar (Kodak, Olympus, Minolta, Ricoh, Nikon, Canon), while others may not (Agfa, Casio, Fujix, Logotech, Dycam, Dakota, Sierra Imaging). Epson and Apple were also marketing cameras in 1995, but have since moved on to more profitable enterprises.
In addition to being the first digital camera from Ricoh, Ricoh’s RDC-1 is also the first consumer digital camera to capture stills and video, which is something we take for granted these days. Measuring 5.25 x 2.75 x 0.75" and weighing 9 oz, Ricoh’s RDC-1 was able to record up to 246 (768 x 480-pixel) standard-size stills, 492 stills in economy mode, or four 5-second videos with sound. Other features included a 3x f/2.8 zoom and a 2.5" color LCD.
Olympus Deltis VC-1000 II
A slightly updated version of Olympus’s original Deltis VC-1000 (1993), the Deltis VC-1000 II was a point-and-shoot style camera that featured a ½" 0.41MP CCD (380,000-pixels), a 54-108mm f/4-5.3 (equivalent) zoom lens, an LCD-based electronic viewfinder, and a built-in flash. Shutter speeds ran from 1/8-second to 1/1000-second
Up to 31 J6l-format image files, which could be converted to BMP or TIFF files, were recorded to Type 1 PCMCIA cards. Olympus’s Deltis VC-1000 II weighed 21 oz and measured 6.8 x 4.2 x 2.7". Later models had the ability to transfer data via a dreadfully slow modem connection. Cost of the Deltis VC-1000 ll? $2,200!
The Epson PhotoPC, which was developed by Sanyo and sold under several brand names, was the first color digital camera with a price tag of less than $500.
The PhotoPC featured a 0.3MP (640x480-pixel) CCD and 1MB of internal storage that could store up to 16 photographs (JPEGs only) for up to a year without power. The native ISO was 130. The camera came with a fixed 43mm f/5.6 lens that focused down to 23.6" and featured an optical viewfinder that enabled you to compose your photographs. To view pictures, you had to connect the camera to a PC or otherwise upload the pictures to a computer because the PhotoPC didn’t have an LCD or electronic viewfinder. The Epson PhotoPC measured 6.5 x 1.9 x 3.5" and weighed 10.9 oz.
Minolta RD-175 / Agfa ActionCam
Prior to 1995, SLR-based digital cameras required bulky external storage systems. All that changed with the introduction of the Minolta RD-175, which recorded image files onto an internal PCMCIA hard drive. (The “RD” part of the name stands for “Reflex Digital.”)
Marketed in Europe as the Agfa ActionCam, Minolta’s RD-175 was a hacked Minolta Maxxum 500si Super (a.k.a. the Dynax 500si Super and Alpha 303si Super, in the European and Asian markets). Under the hood were a trio of 4.8 × 6.4mm CCD sensors, which captured images using a 3-way splitter that, together, created 1.75MP image files at ISO 800.
As with all Minolta Maxxum-series cameras, the RD-175 was compatible with Minolta A-mount lenses and retailed for about $13,500.
Fun fact: The Minolta RD-175 was the first digital camera to be used in the creation of a Claymation point-and-click video game (The Neverhood), which was published in 1996 by DreamWorks Interactive for Microsoft Windows.
As the first digital camera to feature a pivoting lens, a 1.8" LCD, and a viewfinder, Casio’s QV-10 was a true groundbreaker. The QV-10 contained a 1/5"(460 x 280-pixel) CCD, a fixed 5.2mm f/2.8 (60mm equivalent lens) with macro focusing, AE with shutter-speeds ranging from 1/8 to 1/4000-second, and 16MB of internal memory.
Other tricks included memory protection against accidental deletions, video output to TVs, printers, and multi-screen viewing for positioning four or nine images together on the screen. In 1995, Casio’s QV-10 cost $1,000.
Chinon ES-3000 / Kodak DC20 & DC25
At first glance, one could mistake the Chinon ES-3000 for a pop-top Polaroid Spectra camera. Chinon’s ES-3000 measured 5.9 x 4.7 x 2.5" and weighed 1.6 lb. It featured a 0.41 ½" CCD sensor (640 x 480), a motorized 3x, 38-114mm f/2.8 equivalent zoom lens with multi-zone focusing, an automatic flash, 1MB of internal storage with an external connector for a Type l/ll PC Card.
Images were recorded as K25 image files, which is a long-abandoned proprietary image file format from Kodak. The shutter speed range of the ES-3000 was 1/16 to 1/500-second, and the camera was powered by four AA batteries that were good for about 100 shots.
The ES-3000 required about 10 seconds to record and process each image and about 45 seconds to transfer the image to your computer via serial cable. Total transfer times for a full PC card? About an hour.
The Chinon ES-3000 was also licensed and sold as the Kodak DC20 along with long-gone brands, including Dycam, Dakota, and Promaster.
The Kodak DC25 was introduced shortly after the DC20. Improvements included an LCD for viewing pictures and a first among digital cameras—a PMCIA slot for CompactFlash cards.
The Agfa StudioCam was a one-pass scan-type camera designed for use in professional photo studios and prepress houses. The StudioCam featured a trilinear color CCD that could be rotated for landscape or portrait positioning, an ISO range of 100-400, and a Nikon Nikkor 35-80mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens.
Exposure times varied from 1/200 to 1/30-second with a 12-second pre-scan time. The StudioCam was able to output 50MB 24-bit files, or 100MB 36-bit image files, which were considered huge back in the day.
Kodak DC40 / Apple QuickTake 150
The Kodak DC40 and Apple QuickTake 150 are one and the same. Both feature a fixed-focus 50mm f/2.5 equivalent lens that maintained focus from 4' to infinity, a 768 x 512 CCD sensor, and 4MB of internal flash memory, which was enough space for up to 16 best quality or 32 standard quality still images. The cameras measured approximately 6 x 5.3 x 2.2", weighed about a pound, and could capture a single frame every 5 seconds without flash, or every 8 seconds with flash. The native ISO for both cameras was 85. The shutter-speed range was a narrow 1/30 to 1/175-second, making these cameras poor choices for indoor and low-light scenarios.
Improved compression ratios enabled the Kodak DC40 to record more images to the storage disc than its Apple counterpart, the QuickTake 100. Apple later upgraded the compression ratios of the QuickTake 100 to match Kodak’s DC40, and relabeled it as the QuickTake 150.
Accessories for these cameras included a close-up lens that decreased the minimum focusing distance to between 10 and 14". Included was a diffuser to reduce the flash output when shooting with the close-up lens. Neither camera had provisions for external memory, nor did they have LCDs for viewing photographs. For extended shooting, an external battery pack containing eight AA batteries was available. The cameras retailed for about $999.
Kodak DCS 460 and EOS DC1
When Kodak ventured into manufacturing DSLRs, it had to come up with cameras that satisfied the needs of professional photographers, who, with few exceptions, were vested in SLR systems from Nikon and Canon. Kodak’s solution was to market DSLRs containing parallel digital technologies using existing Nikon and Canon film cameras.
Kodak’s DCS 400-series cameras originally utilized Nikon N90 film cameras (F90 in Europe), and updated to the newer Nikon N90s bodies (F90s in Europe) when these faster and better-focusing cameras were introduced soon after. The DCS 460 featured a 6.2MP, APS-H format (1.3x) CCD sensor (12-bit). The camera used removable Type III PC storage cards, which were capable of recording 42 images for every 250MB of storage space. Shutter-speeds ran from 1/30 to 1/8000-second, and the native ISO sensitivity levels were 80 for color, and 160 for monochrome and IR imaging.
Kodak’s DCS 460 was able to capture 1 frame every 12 seconds in continuous mode and was able to capture up to 250 images-per-battery charge. Recharge time was about an hour. The price of this state-of-the-art DSLR was $35,600, though when it was finally discontinued after a 5-year run, you could buy a DCS 460 for $2500. A limited run of these cameras was produced as monochrome-only, and they produced incredible black-and-white imagery.
Canon users opted for the Kodak EOS DC1, which was a hacked Canon EOS 1N film camera containing the same imaging sensor as the Nikon-branded DCS 460.
Canon EOS DCS 3
Though the model numbers seemingly run backwards, Canon’s EOS DCS 1 was preceded earlier in the 1995 model year by the Canon EOS DCS 3 and EOS DCS 5.
The EOS DCS 5 was Canon’s first DSLR, and it featured a 13.8 x 9.2mm CCD, which had a 2.6x crop factor. The ISO range was 100 – 400 for color and 200 – 800 for monochrome and IR imaging. Canon’s second DSLR was the EOS DCS 3, which featured a larger, 1.3MP APS-C format sensor (1.5x) and 16MB or RAM. The DCS 3 didn’t have an LCD for on-camera viewing.
Nikon NC2000 and 2000e
Nikon N90 and N90s camera bodies were also the base of the Nikon NC2000 and 2000e, which Nikon produced specifically for the Associated Press. These press cameras featured 1.3MP (16.4 x 20.5mm) CCD imaging sensors that had a 1.6x crop factor and an atypical 5:4 aspect ratio.
Kodak DCS 465 Medium-Format Capture Back
In addition to point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs, 1995 also was the year medium-format capture backs began replacing 120/220 film backs. Kodak’s DCS 465 Medium-format capture back was designed for use on Hasselblad V-series cameras (all 500, 501, and 503-series cameras) via adapter. The camera’s 6MP CCD (3060 x 2036) incorporated a color wheel that rotated between exposures.
Kodak’s DCS 465 recorded images onto PCMCIA hard-disk memory cards via the camera backs PCMCIA-ATA Type III card slot. The ISO was 80 for color and 160 for monochrome, and the DCS 465 was able to capture 18MB 12-bit image files at the rate of 1 shot every 8 seconds, after which the images could be reviewed on the rear LCD. When fully charged, the back’s nickel-hydride battery delivers up to 150 exposures. Cost? $19,995.
Other cameras that made their debut in 1995 included the Canon CE300, which was a small camera module mounted on a PCMCIA connector, which you inserted into your IBM computer, which served as your camera. The CE300 featured a 55mm f/2.8 equivalent lens, a 320 x 240-pixel CCD, shutter speeds of 1/15 to 1/2000-second, and an ISO sensitivity of 100.
Nikon E2/E2S and E3/E3S — Fujix DS-560 and 565
Nikon and FUJIFILM combined forces to produce the Nikon E2/E2S and E3/E3S and Fujix DS-560 & 565 camera systems. Resembling a cross between a Nikon SLR and an inflatable beach ball, these cameras were designed for news reporters, sports photographers, and others who frequently have to shoot under low-lighting conditions.
Features of both systems include a 1.3MP 2/3" CCD, a removable 131MB memory card capable of storing up to 70 image files, and ISO sensitivities upwards of 3200. And it could be yours for about twenty grand.
We’ve come a long way since 1995. Today, the least expensive digital camera we sell at B&H—the Vivitar ViviCam X054—features a 10.1MP CMOS sensor, video capture, a 1.5" LCD, and internal memory for storing up to 100 JPEGS. Did we mention it’s available in a choice of colors? Cost? $19.95. Like I said, we’ve come a long way over the past 25 years.
What was your first digital camera and when did you get it? Did you switch from film or do you only know from digital imaging? Let us know in the Comments field, below.
Has B&H seen any Kodak DCS equipped Canons or Nikons pass through the used department?
These cameras do in fact pass through the B&H Used Dept from time to time, but like all used gear, it's impossible to predict when one of them will be coming through the door.
If you're interested in purchasing one of these cameras to use be advised you might have problems powering them.
Nobody produces replacement batteries for these cameras anymore so unless you can find original unsold new-stock batteries to go along with the camera, you're basically purchasing a shelf decoration.