Chip Hall of Fame: Kodak KAF-1300 Image Sensor

The chip that brought digital photography outside the lab

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Image sensors are so small and cheap now, that it’s hard to buy a phone without a built-in camera. Which is a result that few casual observers would have predicted in 1991 at the launch of the Kodak DCS 100 digital camera. The DCS 100 cost as much as US $25,000 and required a 5-kilogram external data storage unit that users had to carry on a shoulder strap. Still, the camera’s electronics—housed inside a Nikon F3 body—included one impressive piece of hardware: a thumbnail-size chip that could capture images at a resolution of 1.3 megapixels, enough for sharp 5-by-7-inch prints. “At the time, 1 megapixel was a magic number,” says Eric Stevens, the chip’s lead designer. The chip—a true two-phase charge-coupled device—became the basis for future CCD sensors, helping to kick-start the digital photography revolution. What, by the way, was the very first photo made with the KAF-1300? “Uh,” says Stevens, “we just pointed the sensor at the wall of the laboratory.”

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