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March 21, 2018

Meet Steve Sasson, inventor of the digital camera


Who knew?

Excerpts from Monica Hesse's Washington Post front page Style section story about this pretty much under the radar innovator follow.


In 1975, as a young engineer who had no interest in photography but had taken a job with Kodak because he heard Rochester was nice, he invented the digital camera [above and below].

"Nobody really knew what we were working on in that lab," Sasson says. "It's not that we were trying to be secretive, it's just that nobody cared. 'Why would anyone want to look at images on a screen? What's the point of an electronic photo album?'"

On a recent morning, Sasson... showed off his 35-year-old creation. It's about the size of a toaster. It could be used to perform biceps curls, but holds only about .01 megapixel. "Sixteen NiCad batteries," Sasson says, pointing to the nickel cadmium batteries through a mess of exposed wires and nubby tabs called potentiometers.... Sasson compares himself to a guy who invented a really good pen, which wouldn't necessarily make that guy a good writer. All of this is to say that the guy who invented the digital camera doesn't really know anything about photography.


The camera was an afterthought, a "filler project" Sasson [above, holding the camera] was asked to look into when not working on his main assignment of building a lens-cleaning machine. Its first image was an impromptu snapshot of a lab technician from down the hall. When it appeared on the television screen a minute later, the white office walls showed up, and so did the technician's black hair. Her face, her clothes and everything else were a muted swamp of gray. The technician looked at the historic photograph of herself on the screen and shrugged. "Needs work," she told him.


Below, a page from the 1978 patent.


Below, the playback device and a TV.



I find it interesting that at the same time Sasson was creating his device in Kodak's Elmgrove Plant in Rochester, New York, Jobs and Wozniak were putting the finishing touches on their Apple I.

One of the 200 Apple I computers built between July 1976 and August 1977, complete in its original packaging, brought $213,000 at a Christie's auction — in 2010.

You could look it up.

Wrote Ben Rooney in the Wall Street Journal, "The lot included a letter from 'Steven Jobs' and the return address on the packaging was his parents' house."

Steve Wozniak was present at the auction; speaking afterwards he said, "I gave them away for free. It was really just an attempt to help people move the world forward."

March 21, 2018 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


A lot of the engineers that worked on that project are still here in Rochester. My dad belonged to a local Torch club and one of the engineers did an hour or so long presentation on the development of the digital camera, I'm not sure if it was Steve. It was very interesting, I really liked the satellites that spat out film that was collected by jets as they descended. There is still a big satellite program here, but it is no longer Kodak. They sold the company to ITT which became Excellis and is now owned by Harris.

Kodak invented OLED too! Now LG has the patents and I have one of the tvs.

Posted by: Greg | Mar 22, 2018 1:52:32 PM

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