During the frigid Rochester winter of 1975, researchers at Kodak pieced together the future a quarter of a century early. Built from scavenged parts, the team had created their first "film-less" camera—an idea far ahead of its time.
Kodak's Steve Sasson recounts the effort with joy. The strange looking device was built with spare parts from a Super 8 camera, an experimental CCD sensor, and a cassette recorder. Yes, a cassette recorder—taking 23 seconds to record a single image composed of only 100 lines of resolution. To view each image, the tape had to be popped into a special reader, where it could be upscaled and viewed on a black and white television set.
No film, no ink. And a lot of discomfort when shown to test audiences. When demoed to those outside of Kodak, Sasson remembers hearing a lot of uneasy questions: "Why would anyone ever want to view his or her pictures on a TV? How would you store these images? What does an electronic photo album look like? When would this type of approach be available to the consumer?"
The prototype stayed with Sasson as a personal prize, but not before being patented and receiving a thorough internal writeup on the bizarre device's potential. It what did Kodak conclude?
"The camera described in this report represents a first attempt demonstrating a photographic system which may, with improvements in technology, substantially impact the way pictures will be taken in the future."
Thanks to reader Adam Cooper for the photo of Steve Sasson with his camera