Retrotechtacular: Kodak Built World’s First DSLR… Using a Canon Camera Body


It has been far too long since we’ve seen an installment of Retrotechtacular, and this is a great one to start back with. It’s always a treat to get the story from the horse’s mouth. How about the tale of the world’s first Digital Single-Lens Reflex camera? [Jame McGarvey] shared the story of how he developed the device in 1987.

That’s it shown above. It’s not surprising to see that the only real modification to the camera itself is the back cover. The difference between an SLR and a DSLR is really just the D, which was accomplished by adding a CCD in place of the film.

The entire story is a treat, but there are a couple of nuggets the we enjoyed most. The possibly-clandestine purpose of this device is intriguing. It was specifically designed to pass as a film camera which explains the ribbon cable connecting the CCD module to the control box which would be stored in a camera bag. It is also delightful to hear that the customer who tasked Eastman Kodak with developing the system preferred Canon camera bodies. So this Kodak DSLR indeed used a Canon F-1 body.

Once you get done looking this one over you will also enjoy learning how a CCD actually works.

[Thanks Ben]

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.


  1. RP says:

    “The customer preferred Canon film cameras, so I chose the beautiful and rugged New F-1″

  2. hue says:

    Well, this later revision used the Nikon F3:

  3. Truth says:

    Wow. 1320 x 1035 in 1988 (monochrome 8-bit at a guess). And if you abuse Moore’s law that would mean, that 26 years later, that the state of the art these days would be 13 orders bigger, so 10,813,440 x 8,478,720 or 92 terapixel cameras :)

  4. jnwatts says:

    Typo: It should be [James McGarvey] not [Jame McGarvey]. Very nice guy btw, I work him here in Rochester. ;-)

  5. macegr says:

    “The difference between an SLR and a DSLR is really just the D”

    With the F-1’s fast film advance motor options, in this case the D really was silent.

  6. Hirudinea says:

    The picture he showed was really good, I’m amazed by it for the time period. And here’s a thought, the government hired Eastman-Kodak, a company that was totally committed to film, to make a digital camera, a technology which has all but destroyed film, it’s like asking somebody to sharpen the guillotine blade before you cut their head off!

  7. onebiozz says:

    *looks at my 16mp nikon DSLR with 14 bit uncompressed raw processing* … damn

  8. JimmyNeutron111 says:

    Would someone with an old film reel camera mind doing a movie about this writeup (and then digitize and upload to YT, of course) ?

    Maybe do a few scenes of folks dressed up like “old-timey” engineers hovering over plans or parts on a table (w/ at least one of them holding a pipe or something), and then smiling for the camera.

    This was a great Retrotechtacular, and I know it wasn’t actually that long ago… but it just wasn’t the same.

    Oh, and don’t forget the cool sounding narrator. :)

  9. The irony is that Kodak were first to develop, and last to actually see the potential market. As a result the world is awash with Digital Canon, Nikon, Fuji and the like and Kodak bought the farm in 2012 – Rochester NY – famed as the “Home of Eastman Kodak” (and my birthplace incidentally) is, I believe, now a ghost town, compared with its hey day.

  10. BillBrasskey says:

    Interesting read and good find HaD :) Those history bits are great.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96,312 other followers