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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

20 Years Of Photo Innovation


Take a look back at two decades of trends and technologies that changed photography


DX Coding For SLRs (1985)
Like autofocus, the introduction of DX coding on film canisters was another step toward automation in photography, enabling cameras to automatically select the correct ISO setting. In 1985, Pentax was the first to introduce a 35mm SLR with the ability to read DX coding—the A3000. While some photographers still prefer to set a custom ISO different than the manufacturer's recommendation, DX coding quickly became a ubiquitous feature on 35mm cameras.

80-200mm ƒ/2.8 ED AF Nikkor (1988)
While Nikon and other manufacturers included many zooms in their inventory of lenses, it was prime lenses that were favored by most photographers for their sharpness and speed. The 80-200mm ƒ/2.8 ED AF Nikkor, with its constant maximum aperture and superior image quality, marked a turning point in photography, when zoom lenses rather than fixed focal lengths would become a photographer's first choice. A successor to the manual-focus 80-200mm ƒ/4 Nikkor, this lens not only was autofocus and an ƒ-stop faster, but it also delivered amazing sharpness and color fidelity with the aid of three Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass elements.

Flash Memory Cards (1990s)
While digital cameras have changed how a photograph is made, memory cards have transformed the way photographers shoot. Early digital cameras were tethered to large portable storage devices, making them unwieldy for typical use. The compact memory card changed this by allowing camera designers to incorporate storage into the camera itself. Introduced in 1994, the CompactFlash card was the first widely available form of flash memory for digital cameras and still is a popular format today. Multiple other formats soon followed. As the price of these cards dropped and capacities increased, photographers got the additional benefit of shooting many times the equivalent of a roll of film on a single card, less the interruption of switching rolls.

Adobe Photoshop 1.0 (1990)
In February 1990, the world of photography changed forever, although few photographers likely noticed. Born out of an interest in photography and emerging computer technology, Thomas Knoll developed the roots of an image-editing technology while working on his Ph.D. He had developed a basic application for handling images on his Macintosh Plus computer. His brother, John, who worked for Industrial Light and Magic, was excited by what he saw and encouraged his brother to expand on what he had done. Called Image Pro, the software was taken around various companies in Silicon Valley until finally a company by the name of Adobe took interest in 1988. Within less than 10 months of development, Adobe Photoshop 1.0 was released, and after more than a decade of revisions and innovations, it has become the gold standard of digital image editing. It allows photographers to replicate tools and effects available in the traditional darkroom, and adds an arsenal of additional capabilities made possible through digital capture and output.

Fujichrome Velvia (1990)
Famous for its super-saturated colors, Fujichrome Velvia is a staple of pro and amateur landscape shooters. Introduced in 1990, Velvia was the first transparency film to best the legendary Kodachrome in sharpness and grain, as well as vividness of color. It also offered the advantages of E-6 film processing, which included much faster turnaround, worldwideavailability and the ability to easily push or pull development. In turn, other filmmakers have worked harder to improve their own emulsions, and the quality of E-6 transparency films has improved dramatically in the last 20 years.

First Digital Camera (1991)
In 1990, photojournalists began testing Kodak's prototype professional digital camera. A modified Nikon F3 with a 1.3-megapixel sensor, the camera was capable of storing 50 images on a non-removable hard drive. By 1991, the DCS Camera was shipped. The body was quite cumbersome, heavy and very expensive; however, the technology paved the way for the digital SLRs of today.

Lithium Batteries (1990s)
Digital cameras, flash units and other photo equipment create heavy electrical loads, and alkaline batteries perform poorly—especially in cold weather. While rechargeable batteries work very well, reenergizing them while you're on the road or in the backcountry can be a problem. Disposable lithium AAs have provided an answer since their introduction in the 1990s. They're as effective as rechargeables and are easily replaced when they're drained. Although they cost more than alkalines, lithiums are less expensive in practical use because they last as much as five times longer. That's less waste for the environment, too.

Nikon Coolscan (1993)
Until 1993, when Nikon released the first version of the Coolscan, high-quality film scanners were prohibitively expensive for all but the service bureaus. Unlike those high-end scanners that relied on fluorescent or tungsten illumination that generated a lot of heat, Nikon used a cool light source to scan the image, which made it exceptionally compact and quiet. It became the first affordable and portable scanner on the market for consumers and changed production costs in many printing, publishing and photography professions.

Carbon-Fiber Tripods (1994)
First available in 1994, carbon-fiber tripods were the first major advance in tripod design in decades. Although they're more expensive, carbon-fiber tripods are as much as one-third lighter than an aluminum tripod of similar height. They're much more rigid as well, which can be important when you're working with macro lenses or long telephotos. The carbon-fiber tripod's biggest impact on photography, though, may be that its light weight encourages more photographers to bring along a tripod with them in the field.


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