How Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975

'Portable' device used cassette recorder as memory card

A Kodak engineer credited with inventing the digital camera has revealed how bewildered company executives couldn’t understand why anyone would ever want to look at images on a TV screen when he first proposed the idea of a ‘filmless camera’ to them in 1975.

The hefty device was the brainchild of Kodak engineer Steve Sasson and his team from the Kodak Apparatus Division Research Laboratory. According to Sasson the finished article resembled “a rather odd-looking collection of digital circuits that we desperately tried to convince ourselves was a portable camera.”

Both hands required...

Although Sasson’s account of how his invention came into being was originally written late last year, it’s only now that the usual suspects from the online tech and gadget worlds are picking up on his revelations, helped no doubt by the rather striking pictures of the original camera that accompany it.

This so-called ‘portable’ digital device apparently borrowed its lens from a Super 8 movie camera, while a portable digital cassette recorder served as the equivalent of a modern-day memory card.

Rudimentary processor...

The device also sported a highly temperamental new type of CCD imaging area array, and an analogue-to-digital converter that was effectively “stolen from a digital voltmeter application”. To operate on the go, the device required no fewer than 16 nickel cadmium batteries.

According to Sasson, the camera used the CCD to capture a digital image and then stored this on the attached digital tape cassette recorder. The transfer process reportedly took 23 seconds to complete.  

World’s first digital photo frame?

Once the image had been stored the cassette could be removed and transferred to a custom playback device – itself the size of a small suitcase – incorporating a custom frame store able to interpolate the 100 captured lines to 400 lines, thereby generating a standard NTSC video signal which was then sent to a TV set.

To call all of this ‘portable’ was indeed a creatively generous use of the term, however there’s no denying that Sasson and his team were well ahead of their time.

Indeed, when company executives at the ill-fated presentation asked Sasson how long it would be before his invention had a consumer potential, the inventor applied Moores Law and said 15-20 years.