Special Feature: To celebrate the 200th issue of What Digital Camera we've compiled our list of the most important and influential digital cameras of all time
What Digital Camera is 200 issues old this month. The world’s oldest digital photography magazine was first published in March 1997 (right) and featured among other delights Fujifilm’s first consumer digital camera, the DS-7. Since then things have moved on quite a bit, so we’ve decided to commemorate our anniversary by taking a look at some of the landmark models in the history of digital cameras.
It’s not a comprehensive list – there are lots of firsts we haven’t covered, but it provides a general overview of influential cameras that were commercially available to buy, and we hope to add more over time. Please feel free to post your own suggestions, and memories of some of these cameras, in the comments.
Sony Mavica, 1981
Okay, the Mavica is not a digital camera, it produced analogue still video images, but nevertheless it was the first commercially available camera to produce still images by electronic means rather than film, and the digital cameras we use today are direct descendents from this process. It recorded 570x 490 pixel images on to Video Floppy diskettes, and survived for several generations, the later models using true digital capture, and recording onto floppy discs.
Logitech Fotoman, 1990
The first commercially available digital camera in the UK was not from one of the names you’d expect. The Fotoman, also sold as the Dycam Model 1, only produced 320x240pixel black and white images, had just 1MB of internal memory and a fixed focus lens. And all for the princely sum of £499.
Kodak DCS 100, 1991
The world’s first digital SLR was nothing like the DSLRs of today. The Kodak Professional Digital Camera System (DCS) was a modified Nikon F3 tethered to a separate 200MB hard disc drive that was carried over the shoulder, which was capable of storing up to 156 uncompressed 1.3MP images. It cost around $30,000
Apple Quicktake 100, 1994
Widely regarded as the first proper, mainstream consumer digital camera, the Kodak-made Quicktake 100 was also the first to use USB to connect to a computer. It produced 640×480 pixel images, this time in colour!
Casio QV-10, 1995
The world’s first digital camera to incorporate an LCD screen on the back (1.8″) for image preview and playback the QV-10 could store 96 320×240 pixel images. It featured an innovative swivel lens assembly that became popular for a while.
Nikon D1, 1999
The first fully integrated digital SLR designed from the ground up, rather than a digital bolt-on to a 35mm film SLR. It featured a 2.7MP sensor and 4.5fps shooting – a respectable speed even today.
Canon EOS 300D, 2003
The first digital SLR to cost under £1000 came in rather bizarre silver colour and boasted a 6.3MP sensor, and the now ubiquitous 18-55mm kit lens. Even in its day it wasn’t revolutionary in its specification, but it was in its social impact, bringing digital SLR photography to the masses for the first time.
Canon EOS 5D, 2005
The first consumer DSLR to feature a full frame sensor, The 5D was much smaller and cheaper than any previous full frame camera and for the first time opened up the format to the enthusiast as well as the pro. The 12.8MP 5D was a huge success, though its sales were nothing compared with those of its successor.
Olympus E330, 2006
Although common on compacts the E330 was the first DSLR to feature full colour Live View, enabling images to be previewed on the LCD screen prior to shooting. The 7.5MP E-330 was a flop in most other respects and it would be a while before the benefits of Live View on a DSLR would be widely recognized.
Nikon D3, 2007
Nikon’s first full frame DSLR introduced the concept of less is more in the pixel department. Its 12 million pixels were larger than average, and their superior light collecting power enabled the D3 to produce image quality in low light that had never been achievable before. Pushing the ISO range into six figures for the first time (to ISO 102,400) the D3 also enabled photographers to shoot in conditions that they couldn’t before, which was ably demonstrated in the Wimbledon men’s final of 2008 which went on till 9.15pm – D3 users were the only pros able to keep shooting till the end. See our review HERE.
Apple iPhone, 2007
Although not the first phone to include a camera and by no means the best, the iPhone has nevertheless done more than any other smartphone to spread the concept of using a phone as a replacement for a camera. So much so that various generations of iPhone have been the most popular camera on photo sharing site Flickr for several years. For millions of people their only camera is now their smartphone, and consequently sales of point and shoot compacts are now plummeting towards extinction. The upside is that this trend has forced manufacturers to focus more on premium quality compacts for the discerning user.
Nikon D90, 2008
D90 pipped the Canon 5D Mk.II to become the first DSLR to be able to
shoot video. Although eclipsed in popularity among videographers by the 5D Mk.II the 12.3MP D90 nevertheless has been one of Nikon’s most
successful cameras and remains in the range to this day. See our full review HERE.
Canon EOS 5D Mk.II, 2008
not the first (by about a month) to offer video on a DSLR, the quality
of the video was so good that it was single-handledly responsible for
kick starting the now widespread use of DSLRs in the broadcast film and
TV industry, in which it has become ubiquitous. It has been widely used
to shoot TV shows such as House and even for movies, in addition to its
enormous popularity among landscape photographers. See our full review HERE.
Panasonic Lumix G1, 2008
When Panasonic took the mirror and prism assembly out of a DSLR and replaced them with an electronic viewfinder, the resulting camera, the Lumix G1, became the world’s first Compact System Camera. Not only is this the fastest growing sector within the camera industry it’s one of the fastest growing of any consumer electronics category – it now accounts for almost half of all interchangeable lens cameras sold in Japan, for example while it’s approaching one third in Europe. The main advantage of the CSC is in offering relatively high image quality, and interchangeable lenses, in a small camera, with smaller lenses. But by casting aside the optical assembly from DSLRs the G1 also paved the way for the wide spectrum of interchangeable lens cameras we see today, from every manufacturer, which come with or without viewfinders, and with a variety of sensor sizes from DSLR sized down to compact camera sized.
Nikon D800, 2012
Any lingering arguments over whether the image quality of digital SLRs has yet surpassed 35mm film have been well and truly snuffed out by the arrival of the Nikon D800, with its unprecedented 36 million pixel full frame sensor. The resolution achievable by the D800, if used with care, not only trounces 35mm but is now beginning to knock on the door of medium format. For landscape photographers and those requiring fine detail, the D800, and its even better sibling the D800e (which has no low-pass filter) are as good as it gets right now. See our full review HERE.
Sony RX1, 2012
One of the biggest trends in photography right now is the rise of the premium compact camera with a large sensor that can compete with a DSLR on image quality. As the world’s first full frame compact camera, and simultaneously the world’s smallest full frame camera, the RX1 is the most extreme example of this trend. With a 24.3MP sensor and 35mm f/2 Zeiss lens, it offers the best ratio of image quality to camera size in the world. Okay, it’s influence may not be that great yet but it’s still very new and we predict that it won’t be the only full frame compact for long. See our full review HERE.