History of digital cameras: From ’70s prototypes to iPhone and Galaxy’s everyday wonders

The camera in your pocket is pretty amazing. Today’s smartphone cameras feel like they’re a million miles away from earlier photography tech, but digital cameras had to start somewhere.

Back in the 20th century when cameras needed film, digital camera technology began as a sat-nav for astronauts. Since then, Kodak, Apple and many others have played important roles in developing today’s pocket-sized marvels. Let’s dive into digital camera history to mark the milestone devices and the groundbreaking tech.

The beginnings

The history of the digital camera started in 1961 with Eugene F. Lally of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. When he wasn’t working on artificial gravity, he was thinking about how astronauts could figure out their position in space by using a mosaic photosensor to take pictures of the planets and stars.

Lally actually figured out how to solve red eye in photos, but unfortunately his theory of digital photography was still way ahead of the existing technology. It was the same story 10 years later when Texas Instruments employee Willis Adcock came up with a proposal for a filmless camera (US patent 4,057,830). It wasn’t until 15 years later that the digital camera became a reality.

The first digital camera

The first prototype digital camera, developed by Kodak’s Steven Sasson.

Richard Trenholm/CNET

The first actual digital still camera was developed by Eastman Kodak engineer Steven Sasson in 1975. He built a prototype (US patent 4,131,919) from a movie camera lens, a handful of Motorola parts, 16 batteries and some newly invented Fairchild CCD electronic sensors.

The resulting camera,…