Do you know how photo cameras were born? And how did they become digital?
Today everyone can have a digital camera, be it a simple model or built into the cell phone. We will learn a little about the history of the digital camera in this article.
The beginning Photographic Camera
The photograph itself is not an invention, but the union of several discoveries and inventions. The first of these was the darkroom, in which its discovery is attributed to the philosopher Aristotle (384-332 BC). It allowed to see solar eclipses without damaging the eyes, through a small hole in the chamber.
The hole allowed the passage of light and the formation of images inside it, and the sharpness of the image formed depended on the size of the hole: the smaller the hole, the sharper the image. The side effect was the darkening of the image formed, as a smaller hole allows less light to pass through.
New ideas were being added to the darkroom, such as the lens (to allow large holes to produce sharp photos) and the diaphragm (to vary the size of the hole used in conjunction with the lens). The improvement of the darkroom allowed any image to be perfectly reflected on paper, and this idea was widely used by artists, but to fix the images on paper, the help of chemistry was necessary.
Yes, we have pictures!
Mainly by accident, chemists were discovering how some silver compounds react to light, but Thomas Wedgwood was the first to use silver nitrate together with the darkroom to fix images on leather.
The first photo was actually taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, using a tin plate with white bitumen and leaving it for eight hours in a dark room facing the backyard of his house. The process was called ‘heliography’ because it used sunlight.
Another chemist, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, improved his heliography, replacing chemical compounds and discovering that the development time would be reduced to minutes using mercury vapor and sodium thiosulfate. English scientist William Henry Fox-Talbot used the Daguerre process to refine his own experiments with the darkroom – creating the terms ‘photography’, ‘negative’ and ‘positive’.
Frederick Scott Archer’s discoveries were fundamental to the popularization of photography, as none of them were patented. He basically created the photo development process and the predecessor of the photographic film, allowing for images that are much sharper than those made so far.
All the chemistry involved in the life of a photographer began to be simplified with the creation of dry plates with a kind of gelatin that already brought the necessary chemical compounds for a photograph. With the creation of celluloid, by Alexander Parkes in 1861, the last visible problems in dry plates (fragility and weight) were solved.
George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, used the idea to create a cellulose nitrate film (the celluloid used at the time) that was placed on a camera.
With each photo, the film was rolled up on a spool, and at the end of the process, the film was sent to the factory, where it was developed. The operation of the equipment (Kodak n.1, launched in 1888) is the exact description of how a traditional photo camera works. And the slogan “You press the button and we do the rest” shows that the photograph could now be taken by anyone, without knowledge of chemistry.
The beginnings of digital photography
The concept of digital photography appeared alongside the cold war and the space race. After all, how could photos of space and of the rival country be taken thousands of kilometers high if the film could not be brought to Earth to be developed?
The first attempt to create a digital camera was only in 1975, by Steven Sasson, from Kodak. Using the brand new CDD image detection chip, developed by Fairchild Semiconductor in 1973, the prototype weighed over 3 kilos, recorded images in black and white, had a resolution of 0.01 megapixels (10,000 pixels) and needed 23 seconds to capture An image. Obviously, the device was just a prototype.
The first portable electronic camera (like today’s devices) appeared in 1981. Sony Mavica cannot be considered a ‘digital camera’, as it did not capture still images, but recorded videos (like camcorders) and saved only a few frames (which, in fact, they are photos). The image quality can be considered equal to that of televisions at the time.
The commercialization of digital cameras started only in 1986, with the Canon RC-701. The absurd price of the time (about US $ 20 thousand) and the low quality of the images generated, compared to traditional cameras, restricted the target audience of the products.
Several models of electronic cameras were launched in the following years, but two are noteworthy: the Canon RC-250 Xapshot, whose complete kit costing $ 1,500 was the first with an affordable price for the average consumer. The Nikon QV-1000C, with sales of only a few hundred units, was aimed at professionals, and was the first electronic camera whose image quality was the same as traditional cameras.
The arrival of true digital cameras
Probably the first truly digital camera, recording images as recognized files on the computer, was the Fuji DS-1P in 1988, with 16 MB of internal memory. However, there are no records of commercialization of this model.
Soon, the first commercially launched digital camera was the Dycam Model 1, in 1990, with the ability to connect to a PC or Mac to transmit the photos.
In 1991, Kodak launched the DCS-100, which cost $ 13,000. It was the first professional digital camera to use the SLR system, which uses mirrors and a single lens to ensure that what the photographer is actually seeing will be photographed. Using the body of a Nikon camera, it had a resolution of 1.3 MP.
In the following years, several models of digital cameras were launched, bringing innovations easily seen today, such as the Fuji DS-200F in 1993 (first with built-in flash memory), the Apple Quick Take 100 in 1994 (first color digital camera with price less than $ 1000), Nikon Zoom 7000 QD in 1994 (first with image stabilization function), Casio QV-10 in 1995 (first camera with liquid crystal display) and Ricoh RDC-1 in 1995 (first that allows you to record photos and videos).
Megapixels for everyone!
All digital cameras shown so far have low image resolution. The resolution is based on the CCD (or CMOS) sensor used in the equipment to convert the photons (basic unit of light) into an image. Basically, the sensor is made up of millions of ‘targets’ that count the amount of photons received – this means that the greater the amount of ‘targets’, the higher the resolution of the photo, as more photons were perceived.
Other factors also directly affect resolution, such as the quality of the lenses used and the physical size of the sensor itself.
The most common resolutions for digital cameras are:
- 0.01 MP (320 x 240 pixel resolution)
- 0.3 MP (640 x 480 pixel resolution)
- 1.3 MP (1280 x 1024 pixels resolution) – ideal resolution for photos up to 10 x 15 cms
- 2.0 MP (1600 x 1200 pixel resolution) – ideal resolution for photos up to 13 x 18 cms
- 3.0 MP (2048 x 1536 pixel resolution) – ideal resolution for photos up to 15 x 21 cms
- 4.0 MP (2272 x 1704 pixel resolution) – ideal resolution for photos up to 20 x 25 cms
- 5.0 MP (2560 x 1920 pixel resolution) – ideal resolution for photos up to 24 x 30 cms
- 6.0 MP (2816 x 2112 pixel resolution) – ideal resolution for photos up to 28 x 35 cms
- 7.0 MP (3072 x 2304 pixel resolution)
- 8.0 MP (3264 x 2448 pixel resolution)
As of 1997, domestic digital cameras began to show resolutions higher than 1.0 MP, and professional cameras evolved at a fast pace. Example: the 1999 Nikon D1 had a 2.74 MP resolution, cost less than $ 6,000 and was the first of its kind made by just one manufacturer.
The period between 2001 and 2003 can be considered as the real time of popularization of digital cameras: in 2001 the first cell phone with built-in digital camera (Sharp J-SH04) appeared in Japan. In 2003, the first professional quality digital camera aimed at consumers was launched: the Canon EOS 300D, with a resolution of 6.0 MP and costing US $ 900.
Today, we realize that most home cameras have even higher resolution than users’ needs, mobile phones with cameras have resolution comparable to digital ‘cradle’ cameras (like the Nokia N96) and even cameras with professional features for home consumers challenge camcorders (like the new Nikon D90, with 12.2 MP and the ability to record videos on HDTV).