This time of year, when new digital cameras are being released left and right, is a great opportunity to look back on those pioneering shooters that led the charge from photochemical to digital supremacy. PopPhoto has a great rundown of the 30 most important digital cameras of all time. Here are our 10 favorites.
Courtesy of the George Eastman House
Kodak engineer Steven Sasson started with "a white piece of paper" when, at age 25, he got the assignment to come up with an application for CCDs. He decided on a camera with no moving parts, recording in a digital format. Sasson and his team spent a year cobbling together this 8-pound device, built around a new Fairchild Semiconductor 100x100-pixel sensor. It took the first digital image, in black and white, in December 1975.
(The George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY, provided this photo and other photos of cameras in its collection.)
Using a 1.3-megapixel Kodak CCD with a color-filter array invented by Bryce Bayer, the first commercial digital SLR was a Nikon F3 body whose film chamber and winder were gutted to make room for the sensor and electronics. The photographer needed to schlep a separate storage unit, worn on a shoulder strap and connected via cable.
Generally believed to be the first consumer (that is, under $1,000) camera to take color images on a single sensor, the QuickTake, designed by Kodak and manufactured by Chinon in Japan, captured at VGA resolution. It represented the first foray by Apple into photography, and you know where that went.
Cue the chimp. The Casio QV-10 ushered in the present era of instant photo gratification with a 1.8-inch color LCD that could play back images and function as a viewfinder. Before it, optical viewfinders were the only way to compose pictures; LCDs were text-only control panels.
Courtesy of the George Eastman House
The MAgnetic VIdeo CAmera line debuted as analog still video in 1981, and went truly digital with the FD5 and its 10x-zoom-equipped twin, the FD7. These got millions of consumers into the habit of popping their digital memory out of their camera and into a computer drive—a floppy-disk drive, in this case. Mavicas once accounted for 40 percent of U.S. digital camera sales.
The first DSLR body designed from scratch by a single manufacturer, the 2.7-megapixel D1 made the digital camera a serious challenger to professional film SLRs. It dropped the price of a digital SLR by more than half (it was originally sold at just under $5,000), and offered the image quality, build, and performance required by photojournalists. It, and DSLRs from Fujifilm and Canon, also helped end the reign of Kodak in professional DSLRs.
By integrating the optics and sensor into a single tiny module, Casio leapt forward in the ultracompact design race with the 0.4-inch-thick EX-S1 "wearable card camera." The S1 and its MP3-playing twin, the M1, helped transform the digital camera from an exotic gadget into an everyday camera—and fashion accessory.
Popular Photography practically stopped the presses when this 6MP DSLR was announced on the Internet. Editors scurried to redo the cover to trumpet the first DSLR priced below $1,000 ($999.99, street, with kit lens). The Reb flew off the shelves and proved the tipping point for countless serious amateur photographers to switch from film to digital.
Sure, manufacturers like Nokia and Sony Ericsson had long been producing camera phones with better optics and more features when the iPhone launched, but Apple made camera-phone imaging the mainstream medium it is today by combining a simple camera interface, intuitive downloading and sharing tools, and, in 2008, a highly accessible platform for third-party photo apps.
2008 Canon EOS 5D Mark II
It wasn't the first video DSLR to hit the market (the Nikon D90 beat it by a few months), but it was the far bigger step in breaking down the barrier between still and motion. With its full HD 1920x1080p capture at 30 fps and stereo mic input, it was embraced by pro videographers, and used to shoot such TV shows as House and movies as the Iron Man series.
Please visit Pop Photo for the complete list. It's got some terrific oldies on there, from the first image image stabilization cam, to the first flash memory cam!