20 Years Of Sony Digital

I recently purchased a Sony Mavica FD7, from 1997, for a fun window into the early days of digital photography. My main camera (Sony A9) was released almost exactly twenty years later. Just how far has digital camera technology come in two decades? Let's have some fun with numbers...

The differences between these two models (Format, styling, audience) are huge, so it won't be fair, just for fun. However, there are some interesting reasons to make this comparison. These are both digital mirrorless cameras with live-view and removable media. Both are the same size (width) and weight. The first predates digital SLRs and the other improves upon it in almost every way, so in a way these two models bookend the DSLR legacy quite well.

   Feature       | Sony FD7 Sony A9 

  • Price (USD)

  • Weight (g)

  • Width (mm)

  • Lens

  • Pixels

  • Burst (max fps)

  • Buffer

  • Shutter (max)

  • Battery Life

  • Silent Shooting

  • Bit-Depth

  • Memory

  • LCD Screen

1,140

700

127

10x zoom

307,200

0.1

0

1/4,000

600

No

8

Floppy

2.5"

3,499

673

127

No

24,000,000

20

241

1/32,000

650

Yes

12 / 14

SD (x2)

3"

Image Sensor

Sharpness, colour and dynamic range have obviously moved on a lot in twenty years. Early digital cameras couldn't compete with 35mm film as far as image quality was concerned, but what they could offered was convenience. Once you had bought the camera it was considerably faster and cheaper to view images and that was enough to get the ball rolling. The evolution of digital components surpassed film several years ago, but it keeps upping the game. We now have features like the A9's stacked sensor, creating camera that obliterates any pro DSLR on speed while allowing you to shoot weddings, wildlife or golf completely silently for a fraction of the size and cost. 

Since these two boxes are similar in size this means the size of the two camera's pixels are almost identical.

 

The Sony A9's image quality obviously puts the old FD7's to shame, not only due to the sheer amount of pixels, but also its quality per pixel. For now let's ignore lens quality, pixel pitch or dynamic range. One of the things that really dates the old FD7 sensor is that it combines two interlaced VGA (640x480) fields. It was the norm for early "digital" cameras to re-purpose sensors built for video. Some earlier cameras could only output images to a television.

Memory

Twenty years has transitioned us from volatile, low-capacity magnetic discs to robust & cheap high-capacity solid state memory. It's now possible to fit one terabyte of data in the size of a thumbnail. That's 700,000 times as much data, in an area 1/167th the size of a floppy disc. To put this another way; per cubic milometer, modern media can store 117 million times as much data.

 

Although these small cards can write data about 5,000 times faster than a floppy disk, some solid state memory can reach more like 50,000. Its also nice that modern media doesn't get destroyed by shock/vibration and magnets. It's truly amazing how far things have come!

 

The Sony FD7 can record about 30 thousand pixels, or 4 kilobytes of data per second (taking 10 seconds to record a single 8bit compressed image). The Sony A9 can record 480 million pixels, or 480 megabytes of data per second (taking twenty 12bit RAW images per second, for about 12 seconds). That's 120,000 times as much data per second.

 

NOTE: The new Sony A1 can write up to 1.5 billion pixels per second in its buffer, about 375,000 times more than the FD7.

Lens

The FD7 having a built in 10x zoom lens puts it in a very different category to the A9. If you're trying to compare the focal lengths then the A9 would be huge with a 400mm 

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