It’s hard to remember—in this world where every cell phone has a camera, you can have a face-to-face video conversation from a smart phone, and even Barbie is enhanced with more than just plastic breasts—that the whole digital photo thing didn’t hit the consumer world more than about ten years ago.
Digital cameras weren’t exactly new. Working in the printing business in the early 1990s I’d been around as the early professional models were having the kinks worked out of them. Those cost tens of thousands of dollars and most were tethered to a computer for storage. But it wasn’t until 1999-2000 that the first models broke the $1,000 price barrier. Being the good little digital consumer that I was I went out to buy one.
Barbara and I were heading to Hawaii just after Christmas, along with my parents and brother and neither of us had a camera that was in working order. I bought what was then a relatively low-end but decent-quality model: the Canon PowerShot S20.
The S20 had 3.3 megapixels of resolution, which was somewhat offset by the fact that the memory card that shipped with the camera held only 8MB. It being the beginnning of the digitized decade, extra memory chips weren’t in every Walgreen’s or corner grocery; you had to order them online or go to a photo shop and pay an outrageous price to expand to 16MB or—if you were packing a wad of cash—32MB. Or take a few shots and download them to your computer ASAP. I deleted a lot more shots directly from the camera back in those early days than I do now when I have the luxury of a memory chip with literally orders of magnitude more capacity.
The S20 got a lot of work in its first months. A slip on a path in Hawaii dropped it on lava rock, leaving a dent on the corner next to the flash. A couple of weeks later I was in San Francisco for a meeting at Macromedia of the “Director Advisory Council.” Back to San Francisco in February for one of a FlashForward conference (oddly, I don’t appear to have taken any photos of the last trip I made to NYC, in April for the Macromedia UCON). Then it was off across the country and the Atlantic for the wedding of my friends Eric Rewitzer and Annie Galvin in Ireland, followed by a stay with Director developer James Newton, and a week in Amsterdam where we met up with even more Director folks.
Eric, who was working in the middle of the digital media world at Apple at the time, told me in later years that I was one of the first people he knew with a digital camera and that the pictures I sent them of the wedding and surrounding events were the main digital record they had. That wouldn’t happen now.
The Canon’s sort of a brick compared to my iPhone or the svelte, higher-resolution cameras you can pick up for an eighth the price I paid a decade ago, but it still takes good photos and it’s been stolidly reliable. Below is a picture of an old friend of mine after work as we were getting ready to grab a beer. It’s the fourth picture I took with the S20. The first three photos were deleted long ago.
The Digitized Decade is a look back at the first year of our entry into consumer digital photography.