“I have seen the future, and it is nestled snugly in the palm of my hand.” These are the opening words of a review of this camera in the prestigious Chicago Tribune newspaper by the art critic Andy Grundberg.
How wrong was Grundberg in 1989. For in five years, the electronic technology of the Canon RC-251 was snuffed out by digital technology.
The still video system of the camera was an analog technology that extracted a single frame from the camera’s video signal and stored it on a magnetic disc.
So this camera represents a moment in time, not the future.
What did Grundberg like about the camera? “That amateur snapshooter will have to fork out close to US$1,000 for the pleasure of owning the [camera] and its accompanying paraphernalia, but look at what he’ll get: a pocketable binocular-shaped camera weighing in at a mere pound that can record, play back and even erase 50 images on a 2-inch floppy disk.”
My RC-251 carried the title "Ion" in Europe. The identical RC-250 was titled "Xapshot" in the USA and "Q-PIC" in Japan. There were these three versions because each market had a different TV standard. The camera had a 0.2 megapixel sensor and recorded its photos onto a Hi-band video disc at up to three frames a second. Its fast f/2.8 lens was, unfortunately, fixed focus. You could buy it in black or white, the camera that is.
Despite all his enthusiasm, the reviewer arrived a shocking realisation: “As entrancing as still video is, however, marketing experts are saying that it will never replace the 35mm snapshot.” He was right about that.
The camera you see here comes with a labyrinth of cables for playing photos through a TV.
The camera you see here has a fascinating history. It was personally presented to a Canon salesman by a member of the Japanese team that developed the RC-250/251. It was a prize for selling Canon photocopiers, not RC-250 cameras! This happened in Sweden, so the instruction manual and other documentation are in Swedish.
Canon PowerShot 600 (1996)
Here is the famous Canon PowerShot 600. It’s the first in the PowerShot range and therefore the first of Canon’s consumer digital cameras. For your US$1,000 you got some nice features, such as the fast-ish f/2.5 autofocus lens, 0.57 megapixel resolution, a selectable shooting mode for “B/W TEXT” and PC card storage (supplemented by 1mb of internal storage).
However, you didn’t get a screen for composing or reviewing your photos.
The thing that is always commented on is the large size of the camera. This is partly explained by the need to accommodate the PC card and a huge Nicad battery pack. What appears to be the lens is pretty large too, except it’s the viewfinder lens.
The reason for the remaining bulk is anyone’s guess. Interestingly, the Fujix DS-300 was released a year later and is a similar bulk with no screen. But that camera is an industrial workhorse, of 1.3 megapixels and a professional range of image-making features.
A curious feature of the camera are the obscure controls. For example, there is no On/0ff button – the lens cover slider does that job although the only indicator is a bizarre Pac-Man symbol. What about erasing a photo? Here's what the instructions say: Firstly, count down from the highest serial number in the display in order to identify the photo you want to erase, hold down the button in the centre of the Mode Dial and turn the deal to "ERASE", press and hold the Quality Button, press the shutter button. Got that?
Canon EOS 1D Mk1(2001)
First there was the Canon EOS-1. Then there was the Canon EOS-1D. The very slight difference in the names of these two SLR models reflects a dramatic revolution in photography.
The 1 was a film camera – the first professional model in the firm’s EOS system of autofocus single lens reflex cameras. It came out in 1989. The 1D was the first professional digital SLR developed entirely by Canon. (Previous DSLRs were digitalised film cameras co-produced with Kodak.) It came out at the end of 2001.
“EOS-1D was designed to meet the rigorous demands of professional news, sports and studio photographers," it says.
“The camera features a lightweight, heavy-duty magnesium alloy exterior, and thorough water- and dust-resistant sealing on all switches and body seams.”
It also tells us that the original price (with accessories) was ¥750,000 in Japan and $15,000 in the USA.
The museum of course makes no mention of another slight but significant difference in camera naming, between the D1 and 1D. The D1 was Nikon’s first true digital SLR and came onto the market in 1999. That means that Canon’s 1D was more than two years in arrears. Technology and customer expectations had advanced a long way in that time.
When it arrived, Canon’s answer was as exciting as Nikon’s had been surprising.
It has a 4.15 megapixel CCD sensor with an effective pixel area of 27.0 x 17.8mm (not the "full frame" size of 36 x 24mm so it multiplies a lens's focal length by 1.3). By comparison, Nikon's D1 has a resolution of 2.66 megapixels, a pixel area of 23.7 x 15.6mm and therefore a multiplier of 1.5. The 1D has Canon’s proprietary high-speed digital signal-processing circuitry. Altogether, these give results with legendary colour and realism. It has a 45-point autofocus and 21-zone exposure evaluation.
For the professional photographer, it can shoot at 8 frames a second and fire bursts of up to 16 RAW images at one time. Naturally, in the two years between the D1 and the 1D, Nikon made its own advances.
So the two leviathan manufacturers settled into a battle that continues today.