How Kodak Built a FrankenCamera to Take Digital Photos in 1975S

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.

How Kodak Built a FrankenCamera to Take Digital Photos in 1975S

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?"

How Kodak Built a FrankenCamera to Take Digital Photos in 1975S

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."

To say the least. [Kodak via NY Times]

Thanks to reader Adam Cooper for the photo of Steve Sasson with his camera