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A photographic film producer develops the world’s first fully digital camera

Did you know that Fujifilm developed the world’s first digital camera? In 1988 at the Photokina trade fair in Germany, Fujifilm announced the FUJIX DS-1P, the world’s first camera to save data to a semiconductor memory card. Taken for granted today, this method of storage was revolutionary for its time and was a Fujifilm original. With its then-impressive 2 megabytes of SRAM, the semiconductor memory card could hold 5 to 10 photographs’ worth of data.

So how did a company known for its photographic film come to develop an advanced digital camera, including all of the original technologies that made it possible? This article explores the background of this amazing world’s-first achievement.

Anticipating the digital era

Fujifilm was one of the first companies to envision the digital era, and to engage in digital camera R&D. In the 1970s, Fujifilm began developing CCD (charge-coupled device) technology, which a digital camera requires to convert visible light into an electric signal. In the 1980s, Fujifilm was already researching and developing digital imaging technologies. In 1988, Fujifilm developed the FUJIX DS-1P, the world’s first fully digital camera, and in 1989, it began sales of the FUJIX DS-X, the world’s first commercially produced digital camera.

Analog technology and its limitations

Before the development of the FUJIX DS-1P, still video cameras using an analog format were the main type of electronic camera. They stored frames to a magnetic medium called a video floppy. Back then, semiconductor memory was extremely expensive, and the idea of saving photographs in a digital format and viewing them on the low-performance personal computers of the time did not seem viable. Although video floppies were inexpensive, their data capacity was poor, and imperfect rotation could negatively impact image quality.

Taking on the digital challenge

Although it was recognized that saving photographs to a semiconductor memory card could offer low noise and outstanding color reproduction, the extreme cost of this memory remained a barrier. Fujifilm, however, saw much more affordable semiconductor memory and much higher-performance image sensors and image compression technology on the not-so-distant horizon. So in defiance of the conventional wisdom, Fujifilm took on the challenge of developing a digital camera that stored still photographs on a semiconductor memory card. The result was the world’s first fully digital camera, the FUJIX DS-1P.

Fujifilm launched the world's first fully digital consumer camera FUJIX DS-1P in 1988.

Corporate DNA that allows no fear of product cannibalism

Fujifilm was a photographic film manufacturer. So why was it enthusiastic about developing a camera that used no film at all? Fujifilm has always had a corporate atmosphere and environment that encourages creative destruction and allows no fear of leaving behind old technologies or cannibalizing current products. Fujifilm’s engineers are passionate about developing technologies and products that have a positive impact on society. So they dived straight into digital camera R&D and created several world’s firsts in the process.

Leading-edge products via original technologies

It’s in Fujifilm’s DNA to take on the challenge of developing its own technologies and create amazing, leading-edge products. The world’s first fully digital camera, the FUJIX DS-1P, is one key example. That DNA is just as alive today, finding its latest expression in the FUJIFILM X series of advanced digital cameras.

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