Before I talk about this radical camera, I’ll keep you in suspense by talking about discs.
One of the challenges faced by digital camera makers in the mid-1990s was this – how to get photos from the camera to the computer.
One solution was flash storage on a card which could be removed from the camera and plugged into the computer. Various cards were available by then such as the SmartMedia and Compact Flash. Before them came the PC (PCMCIA ATA) card. Actually, all these were quite expensive and therefore were not really the answer to the challenge.
Sony would soon start using their dirt-cheap 31/2 inch floppy disc which dated back 15 years. And then stop using it. Sharp had introduced the MiniDisc in 1992. Four years later, they decided to adopt it for photography.
This is the camera they designed for that task, the Sharp MD-PS1. It’s therefore the very first digital camera with MiniDisc storage.
The MiniDisc is reasonably priced. The more remarkable thing is its storage capacity – up to 2,000 photos. Therefore, the MD-PS1 represented a double breakthrough for amateur photographers when it was first marketed at the start of 1997.
The camera itself is otherwise typical of its era with a 0.35 megapixel sensor, 21/2 inch monitor and settings for macro, near and far. There is a cute flash which only pops up when you press the shutter.
Of course, the incorporation of the MiniDisc also allows the camera to function as a recorder/player.
Thus, it’s not the camera but the disc that makes this story so fascinating.
This one is the beautiful Sharp which came out in 1997 to accompany the wildly successful Zaurus line of personal digital assistants. Recall that PDAs were palmtop computers or personal organisers that had innovative functions like email and internet access.
Sharp and other PDA manufacturers didn’t include a camera within their devices, but sold them as accessories. So here is the Sharp camera that goes with the Zaurus MI-500 series of PDAs. (The camera only functions when plugged into the Zaurus.)
You can see them together in my photos.
The card interface is via the PCMCIA slot in the Zaurus and lets you view your photos instantly. It also lets you send the photos by email or on the internet, via a phone line connection – remember those days of dial-up internet!
The Zaurus has internal memory up to 6mb which is quite OK when your photos have a maximum resolution of 640x480 pixels. On the camera, you can see a switch for bright or dull lighting situations and a little wheel for the 4x optical zoom.
That shouldn’t be hard to manage, if you were a smartly dressed young business type in the mid-1990s. But that’s only after you’ve succeeded in mastering the infernal Zaurus itself, with its 245 dense pages of instructions.
Cue the Blackberry solution.
Ricoh RDC-2 (1996)
Now for the RDC-2. Again, the colour monitor was optional, and whether using the viewfinder or the monitor, you hold the camera like a pair of binoculars. This time there is a bold 2-step "bifocal" switch next to the shutter button that replaces the multipurpose toggle of the RDC-1.
The example shown here is the "2L" version of the RDC-2, supplied with the DM-2 colour monitor. (My monitor still has its clear plastic screen protector in place.)
There is the same 0.41 megapixel resolution but 4mb of internal storage, as well as a removable PC Card. You have to transfer images from the camera to the card. Although there is no video mode, the camera does record audio. And it has a special mode for capturing documents.