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Who Invented the World's First Digital Camera?

written by: Steve Graham•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

A Kodak engineer borrowed some technology from NASA and Bing Crosby to make the first digital camera in 1975. But it was decades before a digital camera was on the market.

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    Kodak was there first...

    Enthusiastic Apple geeks (i.e., almost all Mac users) might tell you Apple sold the first mass-market digital camera. They are technically correct, but Steve Jobs certainly didn't make the first digital camera. Kodak engineer Steve Sasson is typically credited with inventing the first digital camera, albeit with the help of Bing Crosby and astronauts.

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    When Was the First Digital Camera Made?

    The history of the digital camera...

    The first digital camera came 20 years after the first attempt at digital video. In the late 1950s, TV shows were recorded with new video tape recorders, invented at a Crosby-funded lab. The VTR converted images to electric impulses and recorded them onto magnetic tape (the professional precursor to the home videocassette recorder). The Jet Propulsion Laboratory stepped closer to the first digital camera in the 1960s with space-bound sensors that captured and sent crude photos and navigation information to astronauts and mission control.

    A Texas Instruments engineer applied for a digital camera patent in 1972 and filed some basic plans, but no physical model has been found. Three years later, Sasson showed the Kodak team a film-free camera that took 23 seconds to record and save black-and-white still images to a cassette tape, which was then inserted in a VCR-size machine for display on a TV screen. At a hefty eight pounds and a 0.01 megapixel resolution, the camera was a far cry from current models. However it was good enough for the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame to induct him in 2007 as the inventor of the first digital camera.

    Sasson was an engineer, not a salesman, so he didn't impress the world's top film sales company with his "film-less photography" system. Three decades on, the company website proudly hosts a good, geeky Sasson essay and photos here. "It is funny now to look back on this project and realize that we were not really thinking of this as the world's first digital camera," Sasson said. "We were looking at it as a distant possibility."

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    The Cost of the First Digital Camera

    By 1991, Kodak had refined Sasson's idea into the first professional digital camera. The DCS-100 launched the SLR line at a $13,000 price point. In 1994 came the Apple QuickTake 100. It could take eight quick pictures on a card, cost $750 and only interfaced with Macs. It was guickly eclipsed by newer, cheaper models from Kodak, Casio and others. However, as this 1994 QuickTake review said, "If it catches on, it will be the forerunner of a line of products which could change the way families take, manage and print their social pictures."

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    Additional Resources

    If you'd like to learn more about the origins of the camera and how photography was born, please read The History of Photography.