Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dycam Model 1

It seems appropriate that the first article on this site should be about the first digital camera.  As with most things, it's possible to nit-pick here.  Ideas for things that sound a lot like digital cameras were patented as early as 1968.  The first digital camera that was actually built was made by Steven Sasson at Eastman Kodak (oh, how the mighty have fallen) in 1975.  It was not commercially produced.  In 1986 Canon released the RC-701, though it was not a digital camera, it was an analog electronic camera.  In 1988 Fuji built the DS-1P, which was a true digital camera, but most sources seem to agree that it was never sold.  Which brings us to 1990, and the Dycam Model 1: the first true, commercially available digital camera.  There's something else special about the Dycam Model 1: I own one.


The Dycam Model 1

My particular camera was presumably manufactured in 1991 or later, since a label on the back of the camera says, "Processor code and printed circuit copyright Dycam, 1990, 1991."  The serial number of my camera is 1079.

The camera was also marketed under the name Logitech FotoMan, but the Dycam had several advantages.  First, "Dycam Model 1" is a much cooler name than "Logitech FotoMan".  Second, the Dycam was black, whereas the Logitech was white and turquoise.

Let's talk specs:

  • 320x240 resolution (later upgraded to 376x284).  In contemporary terms, that's 0.077 megapixels.
  • Black and white (specifically, 8 bit grayscale, in other words, 256 shades of gray).
  • Optical viewfinder only.
  • Can store 32 photos (as TIFF or PICT) on its internal memory.  Sources on the internet report the size of the internal memory variously as either 1 MB or 4 MB.  The label on the back of my camera says, "Memory: 7,497,984 bits" which according to my calculations is 0.89 MB (7,497,984 divided by 8, divided by 1024, divided by 1024).
  • Shutter speed from 1/30 to 1/1000 of a second (1/25 when using the built in flash).
  • Fixed focus f/4.5 lens,  with an 8mm focal length, roughly equivalent to 55mm on a 35mm camera.
  • ISO 200.  The ISO is not variable, and the camera originally shipped with a neutral density filter.

There are a few rather charming things you should know about this camera.  First, it has just one button: the shutter release.  That's it.  No power switch.  And, though the camera has a flash, no button for turning the flash on and off.  Instead, the flash needs to be activated (or deactivated) via the desktop software.  Want the flash on?  Plug the camera into your computer, launch the software, activate the flash, unplug camera, go take your picture.  Want the flash off again?  Back to the computer...  Second, although the first commercial flash memory chips were introduced in 1988, the camera uses volatile memory.  This means that if the camera battery dies, your pictures disappear.  When new, the battery was good for roughly 24 hours.  And lastly: the original 1990 list price was $995 (roughly $1775 in 2012 dollars).

I did not get this camera in 1990, I got mine in 2008 from a guy in Canada, via an online classified ad.  And although I probably paid more for it than you would, I didn't pay anywhere near $995.  In the four years since, I have never seen another one for sale, not even on eBay.


That's a lot of bits.  Wait... no it's not.


I'd love to show you some sample photos, but I can't.  The camera does seem to work, that's not the problem.  The battery doesn't hold a charge of course, but if I plug the camera in to a wall outlet and press the shutter release button it makes an electronic, simulated shutter click noise, and then a few seconds later, it beeps to indicate that the photo has been saved.  Sadly, I have no way to get the photo off the camera.  I have the original connecting cable.  And I have access to plenty of old computers.  What I lack is the necessary desktop software.

There is actually a Dycam website, it looks as if it was perhaps last updated circa 1998.  But there's a phone number, so I called.  A friendly man named John answered the phone.  Dycam, the company, apparently no longer exists as such, but John thought he might be able to dig up some old software for me, and suggested that I email him, which I did.  A month later, when I hadn't heard anything, I emailed him again.  Nada.

Much of the information in this article was culled from other sites.  In particular, I enjoyed John Henshall's review of the camera, which first appeared in "The Photographer" magazine in 1993.  Mr. Henshall's review includes some now quaint-sounding assertions such as "Be warned, you will soon fill up your hard disc with a multitude of 100 kilobyte images if you are not totally ruthless about what you keep."  But quaint or no, his general assessment (which I paraphrase as "Sure, the Model 1 may suck, but clearly this is the future") was of course spot-on.

Have a Dycam Model 1, or Logitech Fotoman yourself?  Have any tips about where to get the software?  Let me know in the comments below.

27 comments:

  1. Nice!
    My first digital camera was also a logitech.
    I can't remember the name now.
    It was a webcam that could operate also without the computer (with a couple of batteries)
    And it could take photos and videoclips.
    It didn't have a display for review.
    Resolution was VGA I guess (640x480)
    I think it was in the mid or late 90's

    It was fun.. Not sure where it is now, probably it was also not working anymore and I throw it away :(

    The next camera was a Canon PowerShot A20
    Now I`m using a Canon 7D

    Cheers and good luck with the new blog !

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  2. p.s. Hi Ben, are you on twitter?

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    1. Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for the comment! I'm not on Twitter. One thing at a time, let's see if I can keep this blog up first. :-)

      -Ben

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    2. My father worked as electronic technician for Dycam from 1991-1999. I still own a Dycam Model 1 in the garage. My family used digital photography years before most families.They had few offices in the Chatsworth porn district LOL. I'm not sure of this is true but the adult industry was interesting in using their technology to advertize. I would be happy send you sample .TIFF pics if you're interested. I posted a CNN segment Logitech Fotoman/Dycam on my youtube channel: derekbrainard. derekbrainard@gmail.com

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  3. Got myself a Logitech Footman in local flea market with dock. I don't have PC or even old PC to test it but it beeps when I press the shutter button (after I changed the battery with newer).
    http://flic.kr/p/bna4Z9

    Tried to connect the serial-to-USB to my modern Mac but no communication. Will find an old PC to try it.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Pinot,

      Very cool! Looks like yours has the neutral density filter as well. Let me know if you're successful in getting it connected to a computer.

      -Ben

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  4. very cool writeup! Thanks for sharing your experiences with this camera. The oldest digital camera I have is the Apple Quicktake 100, which is relatively easy to find in ebay.

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  5. Hi Ben,
    While cleaning up our office before we move to a new building, found the same camera (Logitech) in a cupboard with the 1.44 disk with software. I will need to contact you if i can find a computer with a FDD. Using Macs at home and no floppy drives at work.

    Arjuna

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  6. Thanks so much, Arjuna! Here's hoping you can find a drive. If not, and you'd be willing to mail the disk to me, I'd be happy to copy it myself, then mail the original back to you, and pay shipping both ways of course. I also understand perfectly if you'd rather not do that. Thanks for posting!

    -Ben

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  7. Hi Ben. I came across your site by accident and realized that I have one of the white ones (Logitech fotoman - still in the box), I have to go dig it out of the other room, but if it comes with software, is it compatible with your model? If so, I'll be glad to burn you a copy. Let me know.
    Peggy Davis
    peggyd123@ymail.com

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  8. Hi Ben. I sent you an email about the Logitech Fotoman FM-1 software, camera and manuals, but forgot to attach the link to the photos. You can view them here:

    http://s132.photobucket.com/albums/q5/aguila_monster/To%20Sell/

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  9. Hi Ben,

    I've been collecting these as well - haven't found the dycam yet, but the logitech's seem to come up on ebay now and then. Was wondering if you've been able to get a hold of the software tho? if so, I would love to get a copy from you if possible. my email is ew.pub[at]anyorganization.com. hope to hear from you.

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  10. The software is still available from Logitech. It has always been there since the nineties. You can download it here:

    ftp://ftp.logitech.com/pub/techsupport/cameras/

    Google can do a lot more for you than spit out random search results, you just need to know how to use it properly.

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  11. Owning a Dycam Model 1 camera is actually part of my bucket of wish lists! I just do wonder if there are still stores or dealers out there where I could buy this one.

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  12. For a moment there I thought I was looking at an old light meter or something you get an old electronics shop. That camera has got to be quite the find. Too bad you can't get the pics out of it.

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  13. Pricey much, especially those times when it was first released! I think there are colored films already in the 90s, I wonder what happened to this one? Well, it's the starting point of digital cameras, Dycam Model 1 is excused. Still, I'd love to see one.

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  14. I designed the first viewer for Dycam. It took the graphic data and encoded in NTSC video. Still have the prototype around here somewhere....

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  15. Years ago,, I contacted Dycam about there ag camera system as I knew that infrared data from a 35mm yielded some data,, but just could not sort it out. A fellow named Steve "Herold" (sp) was the top skunk works person at the time and head person for the near infrared camera based off the model 4 was in charge.

    Steve and I worked together for over a year as I was about the first real farmer to get his hands on this tool.. I even got a para plane to do the photos to capture 100 to 200 acres with 1 image. The results and useable data was and still ahead of anything else I have ran into,, even tho its been over 10 years ago..

    Steve had his own camera image program that would down load the images and then apply a color coded value over the field areas with the veggie health index,, or BRIV.. I could see a area in a 100 acre field the size of a bathroom that had a insect problem or soil health issue with this enhanced digital image..

    As the demand picked up Dycam gave me the 48 state sales agreement to sell the camera systems.. I busted my rear for them and ended up at a ag show trying to show off the camera system and what it could do for farmers with zero support from the home company.. Just a pile of images and stories about each in a booth and table..

    I was beyond boke at the time raising 6 kids and paying off my x wife and buying into a farm all at the same time. That and I broke a disc in my neck and made travel near impossible,.

    There was a fellow in the booth next to me at the ag trade show that looked and acted like a reject from a low ball used car sales lot that would run down my efforts at any point it looked like I had someone who wish to hear my story.

    What ended up,, this jerk contacted the company and somehow won them over and they signed him on and took over my sales area and nil and void my contract by changing the name of the company but keeping the Dycam site and name up but no support or sales. They renamed the outfit, TetraCam..

    I still use my old model 4,, and it still performs its magic to spot crop health issues for me and our farm.. Matter of fact,, I am just about ready to shoot all our 2014 wheat crop searching for weed pressure areas..

    Daniel McAmoil, Penokee, Ks.

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  16. I actually have two of these cameras that were given to me when we cleaned up the office. I have the white one and the grey one, software and all attachments along with the manual. It's in the original box.

    JP, Ottawa, Ontario
    jeep535359@yahoo.ca
    Can anyone give me an idea on how much these would be worth today.

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    Replies
    1. Hi JP, I got mine a couple years ago for $40. But more importantly; do you have a computer with a disk drive that can accept those disks? I can step you through making images of them for those of us missing the disks can download.

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  17. My father John Edling started Dycam in 1988 with a friend Jon Barrett. If anyone has any questions or would like support please email me at bedling1@gmail.com and I will do anything I can to help.

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    1. Brandon,
      Long time no see.
      I'm fairly sure that this is not exactly what your father said. My plans for Dycam were fairly far along when John and I met again in, I believe, Logan airport. Your dad and George Ismael did not join the company until after Scott Loftin, Steve Heinold and I had completed the design of the Model 1 and sold a license to Logitech. The idea and start-up money was mine, and I was Chairman and President for the first five years. John Edling's critical early contribution was convincing me to do the company in California so that he could talk Scott, Steve and George into joining the company.
      I wonder if Kodak ever noticed that the Dycam 1 was intended as an homage to George Eastman’s Model 1. Both cameras had exactly one button and no removable media. The Dycam Model 1 was announced almost exactly 100 years after the first Kodak camera.
      Jon Barrett
      Boulder, Colorado

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  18. I don't know if you will ever successfully find software to download images from the Dycam Model 1, but you could try going to tetracam.com and giving them a call. Dycam was run by some folks who now run Tetracam, and the Dycam brains are still there, after all of these years! Good people! There is something very nostalgic about you writing this up and showing off a working Dycam Model 1, and so maybe they would be interested in helping you.

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  19. Sorry I did not take the time to read all the way down this wall of responses, but it looks like another anonymous (possibly Jon Barret) cleared up some possible misinformation that I and others have put forth here about who was and wasn't involved in the Dycam product.

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  20. Wow... How one thing leads to another. I was looking at this YouTube video of a 1995 Myke Tyson's fight, on which someone spoted a "time traveler with a smartphone" among the front row audience. Long story short, in the comments, someone rised to explain that it is actually a "Dycam Logitech" camera. Sure he moved my research interest enough and I ended up here. And let me tell you: this was a very constrictive finding, because even project designers and Dycam's founder commented here!!! Now I want one of this things!!!... BTW, the one in the video doesn't actually look exactly like a "Logitech Fotoman" (the white version), but it certainly is a camera and not a "time traveler with a smartphone" Pretty sure about that...

    Here's the video:

    https://youtu.be/JbyAc6CxvH0

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    1. Sorry... I meant "constructive"

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  21. I bought a Dycam Model I in 1991. I wrote to Dycam and received the developer's kit. As I recall the commands to the camera began with the character followed by a capital letter. The camera would then send info down the serial port. If I recall correctly the command S would reveal the status of the camera.

    -- Chris Peters (chris.peters6@netzero.com)

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