In 1975, Steve Sasson, then a new hire at Kodak, recorded a black-and-white digital image with an 8-pound camera that took 23 seconds to record the image onto a digital cassette tape and another 23 seconds to convert the 100 captured lines to 400 and play them back on a conventional television set.
Compare that with what showed up at Photokina last month.
ISO ranges, file sizes and bit depth move upward. And that's not the most important movement. The most important movement was movement.
Nikon introduced their D90 DSLR with high-quality movie mode – 24 frames per second, 720p HDTV quality [see David Leeson's review of the D90 in this month's Camera Corner column.] And then Canon trumped it with the EOS 5D Mark II incorporating full HD 1920x1080.
The Canon will shoot at this level for 12 minutes. I was told that if it shot any longer it would have to be legally designated a movie camera. Someone was probably pulling my leg, but you get the idea. The notion of a "still camera" or a "movie camera" is disappearing and being replaced with just plain old "camera."
And then we come to RED ONE (http://www.red.com/). Hardly a newcomer, it already has shot a number of feature motion pictures. Here is a fully professional 4K (4,000 pixels on the longest dimension of the frame) movie camera that shoots the movie equivalent of raw files and delivers quality at least the equal of 35mm motion picture film. This is not totally new, but similar cameras from the movie industry, stalwarts like Arri, cost a great deal more than the $17,000 that a stripped Red body costs. And while you are probably going to spend at least $50,000 after adding lenses and important accessories, this is still a cheap ticket into the movie business. And the raw files allow some of the basic creative controls that allow video to compete with film.
The company has also announced EPIC, a 5K camera to come in at about $40,000 (with full credit for those trading in the original RED) and SCARLET, a much smaller camera with 3K resolution, for approximately $3,000.
The original RED can shoot twenty-four 12MB raw files every second. That could mean pretty good still images. Perhaps it's physically far too big a camera to worry Canon and Nikon. But it must make some IATSE still photographers feel a little less secure.
As for the 5K sensor, Jim Jannard, the power behind Red, announced, "Mysterium 'Monstro' is a sensor program that pushes the envelope past anything on the horizon. It will go into ... another camera aimed squarely at the DSLR market." Ooops, I guess Canon and Nikon should worry.
What does all this mean? Dirck Halstead's radical predictions of the Platypus shooting both photojournalistic stills and movies will seem quaint as more and more news outlets on the Web use both stills and motion.
In due time, a lot of cameras on all levels of quality won't be still cameras or movie cameras; they'll just be cameras capable of delivering a high-quality, professional result in either medium.
And folks will have to learn that holding down the shutter button for a long time doesn't make a good movie and frame lifts from movies don't make good stills. It's easier to create versatile cameras than versatile photographers.
Oh, and my personal hope is that it brings the important worlds of good reporting and good storytelling – say, the worlds of Don McCullin and Clint Eastwood – closer together.
This month's "picture that has nothing to do with the column" is of a sign posted at a hotel in Beirut.
More of Bill Pierce's pictures can be seen at http://www.billpiercepictures.com.