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First digital camera on display at Eastman House
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Cultural Artifact and Document Imaging

When Steve Sasson made the first digital camera in 1975, he never dreamed it would end up on display at the George Eastman House.

Nov. 23, 2014
Bennett J. Loudon

"I just never thought about the significance of it, to be honest with you, until the press started asking me lots of question in the early 2000s," Sasson said.

Sasson took part in a panel discussion Saturday at the George Eastman House about the effect digital photographic technology has had.

Despite the enormous impact his invention has had on modern life, Sasson remains startled by the celebrity it has bestowed.

"The camera represents to me a personal memory and a critical decision point in my career. From a broader perspective, I never expected people to be this interested in the prototype. I never really thought about it being historically that interesting. It motivated me, but I never thought about it in historical terms," said Sasson, who lives in Hilton.

Over the years, the mailbox-sized camera has been shown with Sasson in news interviews and documentaries, but it was never before put on public display. The public can see it until Jan. 4 at George Eastman House as part of the exhibit titled, "Innovation in the Imaging Capital."

Roger Easton, a professor of imaging science at Rochester Institute of Technology, who visited the George Eastman House Saturday to see the camera in person and hear Sasson talk, called the invention "a revolution."

"In my line of work, I use them all the time. I take digital images of historical documents, manuscripts," said Easton, who took a picture of the Sasson camera with his own, modern Kodak digital camera.

"Right now I'm working on a 1490 map of the world. That technology is what allows us to pull writings out that people haven't been able to read for hundreds of years," Easton said.

Sasson travels extensively, giving talks about the camera, innovation and inventing.

"I'm embarrassed to say that, but yeah, people do come up to me and want their picture taken with me all the time, which is fine," he said.

A few years ago, Sasson started getting letters from people all over the country asking for his picture and autograph.

"I collect them in a book. My book is getting pretty full. They're kind of moving stories," he said.

The camera was the result of a research project assigned to Sasson in 1975 when he worked at Eastman Kodak Co.

He retired from Kodak in 2012 and now has his own consulting firm.

"Nobody really told me to build a camera. They asked me to look at the imaging properties of this new type of imager called the charge-coupled device," Sasson said.

"I was just sort of the right person at the right place at the right time," he said, explaining that he was fresh out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a master's degree in electrical engineering degree.

"I liked to build things. As a kid I built all kinds of radios and transmitters at my house in Brooklyn. I used to scavenge parts from old TV sets people used to leave on the sidewalk," he said.

He didn't get much direction for what he described as a low-key project conducted without much funding or resources.

"I thought, if I'm going to measure the imaging properties of a device, it would be nice if I could capture images at will. That sort of sounds like a camera. And then I thought, wouldn't it be really cool to build an all-electronic camera, no moving parts at all," he said.

The pictures taken by the first camera weren't very good, but it demonstrated a concept. Back then, he guessed it would be 15 to 20 years before it would be perfected. He was off by about 10 years, and by that time the Kodak patent had expired.

BLOUDON@DemocratandChronicle.com

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If you go

The first digital camera, made by Sasson in 1975 when he worked at Eastman Kodak Co., will be on display as part of the Innovation in the Imaging Capital exhibit, which runs through Jan. 4.

For hours, admission and other details, visit: EastmanHouse.org.

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Original Source: Democrat & Chronicle