If you were around when the Altair 8800 was king, you might remember the name Cromemco. They were an early vendor of add-ons for the Altair, along with companies like Godbout and Morrow. The company was mostly famous for a very crude digital camera for the Altair and a similarly-crude graphics interface card. They graduated into building S-100 bus computers. Like many similar companies, they could taste the upcoming home PC market, and they wanted a piece of it. Their answer? The $1,800 C-10 Cromemco Personal Computer, and you can see [Vintage Geek’s] thoughts on the odd machine in the video below.
The system ran CP/M and, like many similar systems, got lost in the rush to get the IBM PC. Compared to other computers of the time, the C-10 was compact. The keyboard layout seems odd today, but there wasn’t really much standardization in those days.
While the official history of the digital camera begins with a Kodak engineer tinkering around with digital electronics in 1975, the first digital camera was actually built a few months prior. At the Vintage Computer Festival East, [William Sudbrink] rebuilt the first digital camera. It’s wasn’t particularly hard, either: it was a project on the cover of Popular Electronics in February, 1975.
[William]’s exhibit, Cromemco Accessories: Cyclops & Dazzler is a demonstration of the greatest graphics cards you could buy for S-100 systems and a very rare, very weird solid-state TV camera. Introduced in the February, 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, the Cyclops was the first digital camera. This wasn’t a device that used a CCD or a normal image sensor. The image sensor in the Cyclops was a 1 kilobit DRAM from MOS, producing a digital image thirty-two pixels square.
The full description, schematic, circuit layout, and theory of operation are laid out in the Popular Electronics article; all [William] had to do was etch a PCB and source the components. The key part – a one kilobit MOS DRAM in a metal can package, carefully decapsulated – had a date code of 1976, but that is the newest component in the rebuild of this classic circuit.
To turn this DRAM into digital camera, the circuit sweeps across the rows and columns of the DRAM array, turning the charge of each cell into an analog output. This isn’t a black or white camera; there’s gray in there, or green if you connect it to an oscilloscope.
This project in Popular Electronics would be manufactured by Cromemco in late 1975 and was released as their first product in January, 1976. The Cromemco was marketed as a digital camera, designed to interface with the MITS Altair 8800 computer, allowing anyone to save digital images to disk. This was the first digital camera invented, and the first digital camera sold to consumers. It’s an amazing piece of history, and very happy [William] was able to piece this together and bring it out to the Vintage Computer Festival this weekend.