Here is a leading-edge camera from the mid-1990s conceived to address the demands of professional and technical photographers. It has a modular in design, comprising the 0.33 megapixel binocular-style camera to which can be attached the LCD monitor/viewfinder and a macro flash adaptor with twin strobes and extra macro lenses.
You can see the whole, bulky fandango in these photos. The camera component alone weighs half a kilogram – my kitchen scales tell me the complete system as shown here is 1.05 kg. The total cost was also hefty - about US$2,200.
Incidentally, the DS-220 claimed to be the world’s first digital still camera that used lithium-ion batteries.
Fujix DS-505A (1996)
“It takes only a few moments to forget everything you’ve heard about digital photography,” says the Fujifilm brochure about the Fujix DS-505A.
Well, it takes only a few moments reading this brochure to realise that serious photographers needed a lot of persuading to abandon their 35mm SLRs in 1996. The blurb verges on being apologetic about digital photography – a feint endorsement indeed. “The first surprise will be how familiar it feels,” it continues. “The real-image viewfinder works exactly the same way as the one in your 35 mm SLR, and the other functions are similar as well.”
All these years later, we can see why this is such an audacious digital camera. The shape of the body is impressive but ungainly – the right-hand side of the body seems to have been sliced away. Its reflex viewfinder system is radical but flawed – creating so much light loss that the maximum aperture is reduced to f/6.7. Its photo file-handling system is revolutionary (at the time) – so much so that Fujifilm called the DS505A a “digital card camera”, the word “card” being a reference to the removable PCMCIA cards which had 5mb or 15mb storage capacity. But even the larger of these two cards could store only five uncompressed images!
The camera has a 1.3 megapixel sensor, maximum shutter speed of 1/2,000 second and continuous shooting rate of 1 per second.
The DS-505A was co-produced by Fujifilm and Nikon. Fujifilm made the electronics and sensor while Nikon made the body and F-mount lenses. Each company marketed it separately. Interestingly, each company printed the Nikon and Fujix names on the body but see how Fujifilm rendered the word "Nikon" unreadable on the cover of the marketing brochure. How unfriendly.
Ultimately, let’s put aside the timidity of the Fujifilm marketing and the limitations of digital technology of that era.
Let’s salute this absolutely remarkable camera.
Fujifilm DS-8 Clip-It (1996)
The prolific Fujifilm company brought out its first digital cameras in 1996 and by year's end, it had two models on the market – the DS-7 and this DS-8 Clip-It. Don't imagine that the fancy term "Clip-It" represents anything remarkable. It's really a curiosity, but a curiosity now prized by collectors. You see, the camera was all but the same as the DS-7 but with a clip-on optical viewfinder (which can be seen in the photos below). Apparently, it was only marketed in Japan. So, the DS-8 was special!
The camera had a 0.35 megapixel CCD sensor, external storage comprising a SmartMedia card and a 1.8" LCD screen. It sold for about US$700.
Fujix DS-300 (1997)
The DS-300 released in 1997 is a large, industrial camera with a 1.3 megapixel sensor and a professional range of image-making features. Nevertheless, it didn't have an LCD screen, only an optical viewfinder.
Fuji made this one to last. The body is manufactured of high-quality magnesium alloy while the lens barrel is made of aluminium, giving an all-up weight is 620 grams. My camera shown here is accompanied by a rare dust cover (designated CV-D3).
The DS-300 is a high-specification camera for commercial and industrial use, built expenively and sold for a considerable US$2,500 list price.
Fujifilm FinePix S1 Pro (2000)
A few days after the start of the new millennium, in January 2000, Fujifilm introduced its first proper digital SLR, the S1 Pro. This is a celebrated camera, but it’s certainly not a celebration of the new digital age. Before I explain, let’s recall what happened as 1999 clicked over to 2000. This was predicted to be the moment of the digital apocalypse, when the “Year 2000 bug” would cause any computerised device to malfunction. The problem was the inability of devices to recognize that the year 00 was 2000 not 1900. As things turned out, the world awoke on 1 January 2000 to find all our digital devices were OK. At the Fuji company, the engineers should have been developing an all-new camera for the digital age, like Nikon’s D1 from 1999. But in creating the S1 Pro, they improvised, perhaps because of fears about the Y2K bug. So the S1 Pro is a modified Nikon analog F60/N60 with some compromises. The compromises are evident, for example, in the separate battery systems within the S1 Pro. There are four AA batteries for the digital functions of the camera and two CR123A lithium batteries to operate the analog/mechanical functions. There is even a third battery system comprising a button battery for the camera’s firmware settings. The compromises are also evident in the three LCD display panels. There is a top deck display for the camera functions, a rear display for the digital functions and finally a large image rear display for reviewing images. Putting all that aside, there a more positives than negatives about this camera. Its autofocusing, electronically controlled focal plane shutter with speeds from 30 sec. to1/2000 sec. and exposure metering all work brilliantly. There are dual memory card types – CompactFlash and SmartMedia. (My camera is shown with a 1gb Microdrive, a hard disc card developed by IBM and Hitachi.) The camera’s Nikon origin also means the S1 Pro takes the full suite of Nikon F-mount lenses. Another positive is the incorporation of Fuji’s new 3.07 megapixel sensor which the company called “Super CCD”. The minuscule photodiodes on the sensor are arranged in a pattern that, with computer interpolation, doubles the effective image resolution to 6.13 (3040 x 2016). This was controversial at the time but there is no doubt that the S1 Pro makes beautiful photographs. The price of US$3,500 was very attactive in 2000. In summary, the S1 Pro emerged from a globally anxious moment-in-time to become one of the best-loved cameras of the early digital SLR era.
Fujifilm FinePix 4700 Zoom (2000)
Perhaps the nicest in the line of FinePix cameras with vertical configuration, this 2.4 megapixel model is small and beautiful. It has a little pop-up flash head, a metal lens cover that clacks open when engaging the shooting mode, plus a circular LCD display that is the cutest thing. It is a serious camera, however. Fuji used a "SuperCCD" sensor that it claimed produces the equivalent of 4.3 megapixel resolution images.
Fujifilm FinePix 1400 Zoom (2000)
The F1400Z is a pretty camera from the start of the "USB era" (2000). It's a compact, elegant 1.3 megapixel pocket camera with desirable consumer features - a 3x zoom lens, assortment of exposure controls, advanced playback features and excellent image quality. For an inexpensive camera, it is well made.
That being said, the Olympus C-900, which you can read about on this site, had these features (but not USB) two years earlier.