The early days of digital

I took delivery of my first Kodak DCS520 digital camera in late November 1998. It was a revelation. I had used a previous model (DCS3) which was pretty poor and I wasn’t really that convinced about the whole process. After three days, I was a convert – the kind of convert who then sees it as their role to evangelise about their new-found wisdom/insight/faith. Based on the Canon EOS1n camera, the Kodak conversion replaced the whole of the back of the camera and quite a big chunk of the electronics too. It was expensive, relatively slow and it only had 1.9 megapixels. It had a tiny low resolution LCD screen on the back and it used enormous and expensive batteries that rarely lasted a whole day but I absolutely loved it from that first week!

©Neil Turner/TSL. 10th December 1998

This was one of the first proper portraits that I shot with my first DCS520 (known as the Canon D2000 in some countries) and it was of a double bassist and jazz teacher in his own home. My conversion was so dramatic and so complete that I even remember sulking a little when I had to shoot on film for the glossy sections of the newspaper. We worked with these early cameras for nearly four years until the Canon EOS1D came out. Nikon had introduced the D1 in that period and the see-saw battle for supremacy between the two big manufacturers with input from Kodak and Sony began in ernest.

I quite often get asked what the big trigger was for digital in the newspaper industry. There are a few factors;

  • The arrival of cameras capable of shooting quality images
  • The money saved by newspapers getting rid of darkroom staff
  • The arrival of new health and safety laws that meant waste chemicals became very expensive to dispose of
  • The speed of turnaround of digital pictures
  • The ease of archiving digital images

Talking with others who used the Kodak DCS series camera from that era we all agree about one thing – how good Kodak’s software was. What a shame that they threw away their lead in professional digital photography. If they had even kept their software development going, they could possibly have avoided needing to file for bankruptcy protection in the US courts last week. I look back at the early days of digital with a real fondness – they really were the most exciting of times. There’s something very cool and very rewarding about being in the second row of pioneers!