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.

28 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: Kodak Built World’s First DSLR… Using A Canon Camera Body

    1. I’m still waiting for the e-film product to be produced.


      anyone remember that? a sensor in a film like cartridge that would fit inside a regular mechanical slr.

      they tried to get funding for, like, 3 rounds and finally gave up.

      a lot of us waited for this and hoped for this. it never happened.

  1. 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 :)

    1. Why guess, it actually tells you it’s 10 bit ;P
      What surprised me is the 10M RAM and 100M hard disc. I had no idea those were feasible on a portable device in 1987.

    2. DOH my calculation is way off it is only 11,191,910,400 pixels or 11.2Gigapixels. And since HiRISE ($40 million) 2006 is 2.52Gigapixxel it would be in the right ball park.

        1. At university, I shot 8×10 film and scanned it on our costs-more-than-a-car drum scanner. The files were too big for our brand new Mac Pros to handle, and I could enlarge it optically to billboard size without seeing grain.

          1. I think his point is that for certain applications good film still beats the pants of digital when it comes to resolution. (This does require GOOD film though. The cheap stuff isn’t so good for blowing up.

  2. 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!

  3. 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. :)

  4. 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.

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