Back in the autumn of 1995 I was doing my annual stint as press officer for the International Motor Cycle Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. Every day we produced a quick-and-dirty newspaper for exhibitors to keep them abreast of attendance figures and other noteworthy happenings. These four-page fliers were a pretty drab affair, using stock images to add a bit of interest.
Then came a letter from Casio. Would we be interested in borrowing a digital camera? At the time I knew next to nothing about the emerging digital revolution. As ever, though, I was keen to try something new. The camera in question was the QV-10. When it arrived it was a rather podgy little thing with a swivelling lens, about the size of a Leica M3, with a tiny 1.8in colour display and—wait for it—a 250 kilopixel sensor. It recorded 96 images of 320×240 pixels. Wow! At least it was Wow! in 1995.
This little device enabled the show’s press staff to snap events and visiting celebrities during the day and have the pictures printed in the exhibitor’s newspaper for the following morning. It was unheard of speed and the little Casio became something of a talking point at the Show. In fact, Casio’s press office had played a blinder because many of the executives, in particular exhibitors’ PR staff, realised for the first time the potential of digital photography and rushed out to spend the £500 or so this little camera cost.
1995 represented the mid point in the history of digital photography. The technology was invented in 1975 by Steven Sasson while working at Eastman Kodak. It weighed eight pounds and recorded 100 kilo pixel images to cassette tape. Although Steven realised the potential of digital imagine, Kodak chose to bury its corporate head in the sand. After all, this new technology could challenge the lucrative film business.
It took 20 years before the first commercial digital cameras such as the Casio QV-10 appeared on the market. Since then another 20 years have gone by and digital photography has taken over the world. In the mid-90s, with cellphone technology and email in its infancy and the World Wide Web still a five-year-old toddler, it was impossible for us to envisage the developments which we now take for granted. Not least among them is the dominance of slim smartphones with cameras of a quality that could only be dreamed of even five years ago.
From 0.25MP to an average 24MP in twenty years, digital photography is the new norm. Strangely, though, after being on life support for several years, film photography is making a comeback. Digital photography is often seen as too easy, over-complicated and soulless while the traditional simplicity of film is gaining new converts. We only have to look at Leica’s new screenless M-D with its lack of buttons, dials and superfluous adjustments to realise that some of us hark back to a simpler and, in some ways, more rewarding age.