Digital Images Direct from Reality: A History

by David Welsh

Years ago, Theresa and I gave a talk to a local group of technical writers on image processing. At that time the first digital cameras were beginning to hit the market (electronic still camera appeared in the early 1980s, but they weren't digital). The first "low priced" grayscale digital camera I remember, the Photoman by Logitech had just been announced. The Logitech was short on resolution, image storage space, and didn't do color. As a camera it was "focus free" - in other words, a box camera.

Note: Jon Barrett wrote me in an email comment on the above:

"Well, close.

The Fotoman was designed by Dycam in Chatsworth CA and for sale by that company in 1991. We licensed Logitech to make our design in '92. Few remember, but I do because I started Dycam, and spent months on the deal with Logitech, and have good memories of many people across the table.

But Dycam, not Logitech, sold the first digital camera."

Digital cameras have come along way since then. High end digital cameras have largely replaced conventional cameras for catalogue work, news photography and just about everything else. Will they replace film for your application? (When I wrote that question a few years ago, there was still room for doubt.)

"High end" use to mean $10,000 to $25,000 dollars or more. At that level you could get cameras that are truly competitive with film for all but the most exacting uses. Now those kinds of cameras are below $1000.00. But if you are looking for a price break and can live without a conventional eye level finder, you can get that below $100.00.

Professional level digital cameras have so far been based on conventional camera bodies. The advantages of this approach are that neither the manufacturer nor the customer have to worry about the quality or availability of optics. Companies like Nikon and Canon are well known to photographers and accessories for these camera bodies are available everywhere. The disadvantage in the past has been that the charge coupled devices (CCD) that were used to collect the images were not big enough to fit the 35mm format of these film-based camera bodies. Consequently, in most of these cameras, the photographer could only use the portion of the view finder corresponding to the CCD to compose pictures. The view finders have been adapted for digital in the newer "made for digital" bodies but older lens are still effectively longer than they would be on film versions of the camera. A 35mm wide angle lens will produce results close to what a normal 50mm lens will produce on film. New designs feature larger sensors that produce a close match to the effective focal length in the film version and are now plenty of lens that are matched to smaller sensors. Even the more expensive DSLR cameras are near the price we used to pay for top quality film cameras if you adjust for inflation.

While DSLR cameras are doing very well. Future break-throughs in digital photography will probably continue to depart from film camera design. After all, there are lots of pieces in a conventional film camera that are not needed in a digital camera. You don't need reflex mirrors or ground glass. With a good, big, fast LCD viewer on the back, you have though-the-lens viewing and don't even need an optical viewfinder. (There some reasons why you might still want one, but you don't need it.) There's no mechanical shutter to worry about. No film advance mechanism. High-end consumer cameras sensors are getting so good, however, that lens and focus mechanisms are beginning to matter more.

Years ago when I started this page I said "The ideal digital camera would:

While most of these features are now available in many camera, no camera yet combines them all. But if you take out the "shirt pocket" requirement and the wide shutter speed range, you have many cameras that would qualify. (The features in blue are available in at least some under $1000.00 camera. The features in red...well some of them used to be in red.)

Camera resolution has gone from "VGA", 640 x 480, to 24 plus megapixels. How much is enough? How much is enough is a matter of opinion. A two megapixel camera can produce a fine 5x7 and a satisfactory 8x10. My three megapixel Nikon 990 produces an 8.5 by 11 inch print that's probably as good as my printers can do (which is very good!). My daughter's Cannon G2 Powershot at four megapixels produces the same result out of the same printers, but on a cropped picture it can do little better than the Nikon as you might expect. My 8 megapixel Minolta A2 makes a sharp 19 by 13 print. On the other hand, I have 8.5 by 11 prints of pictures produced by my Kodak 120. You can tell the clarity is not as good as the pictures from the other two cameras, but the pictures are still pleasing if you are not pushing your nose on to the print to "see the resolution." My current camera is a 14 megapixel D3100 Nikon DSLR. It produces a little better picture than 10 megapixel DX40 Nikon that preceded it, but, off hand, it's hard to tell which camera the picture came from.

The Minolta A2, a discontinued and already obsolete camera, has image stabilization ... something none of my film cameras had and something I didn't put in my list of features. There are other features that I didn't foresee that are useful additions to a photographer's tool box. Perhaps the most amazing feature is how well these cameras do "unsupervised"...when they're just set to "auto" and the photographer snaps away.

Your comments and suggested URLs for this page are welcome. Email me at with "Digital Camera Pages" in the subject line.

Go back to digital camera Home Page. For manufacturer’s home pages and other useful links, go to links page. For more on digital imaging, open or download our "Working With Images" PDF file. While it's a little dated now, it still covers the basics well.
(Requires Adobe Acrobat viewer from
Adobe Systems.)

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All rights to the material on this Web site reserved to the authors unless otherwise noted. Some of the pictures of cameras on this page provided by the manufactures and used with their permission.

A Guide to Post Industrial Detroit is Theresa’s first ebook that was composed and written as an ebook (not converted from print). Here’s what she has to say about the book:

This book is a guide to the real Detroit, with its natural assets like the riverfront and its many beautiful buildings, as well as its abandoned neighborhoods and "fabulous ruins."

My interest in Detroit and its history is personal. I came to Detroit in 1963 to attend Wayne State University where I met my future husband, David. In 1967, we were newly-weds living in the heart of the riot area and experienced a city in chaos, with fires burning in all directions from their apartment building. Today, I and my husband are retired and on a mission to return to places where we have lived and worked in Detroit to photograph and observe what has happened to a city whose downward slide seems to have hit bottom.

In the book, I share my observations, stories and photos of my adventures as an urban explorer in a city I and David have known well over 45 years.

The book covers Detroit's past and present, with plenty of facts and stories about neighborhoods, buildings and the changes in the landscape of the city over time. The narrative, which takes you from the Woodward corridor, to the East Side and the West Side, is liberally illustrated with photos (over 190 photos taken by Theresa and David Welsh), plus links to more photos and commentary online.

A guide to Post Industrial Detroit Buy it for the Kindle for only $4.95.

Buy it for the Nook for $4.95

Our first eBook is a collaboration between the writing of David Welsh and drawing by Amy Welsh, his daughter. It's a quick and funny read with a bite, chronicling the biggest oil spill in history as a child might understand it. All of the events it describes are true and all the characters are based on the real people...which is why they are so funny...if you have the right point of view.

There are fifty pages of text and cartoon style illustrations that we are betting will be worth your time and money. One thing is sure, there's nothing else like it.

Buy it for the Kindle from Amazon for only $3.99

Buy it for the Nook from Barnes & Noble for only $3.99

Who is DetRiotGirl? That's our daughter's alter ego when she's interviewing defunct arcade game characters for laughs and inside information while promising "journalist integrity at least 20% of the time." See her Arcade Recall cartoon panels, her picture Bio, her blog, and her charming beg page.


Theresa's Website: book reviews -- alternative history, science, business, fiction, photos and stories about Detroit

Theresa has more Detroit photos on Flicker.

Theresa's book reviewer profile on Amazon where she is a top reviewer

BUY USED BOOKS from The Seeker Books collection as listed on

a site devoted to the TRS-80 and selling our book.

Who is guppyart? Rachel Gutek, a Grammy winning artist. Visit her site.