Casio's digital camera celebrates its 20th anniversary

A member of the press trying out the Casio DC-90 prototype.
A member of the press trying out the Casio DC-90 prototype.PHOTO: CASIO
A group selfie taken with the Casio QV-10.
A group selfie taken with the Casio QV-10.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
The Casio DC-90 prototypes (above) with the Casio QV-10 (bottom left) and the Casio Exilim EX-S1.
The Casio DC-90 prototypes (above) with the Casio QV-10 (bottom left) and the Casio Exilim EX-S1.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
Casio's first electronic still camera VS-101.
Casio's first electronic still camera VS-101. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
Casio's Exilim series of cameras through the years exhibited at the Futurerium.
Casio's Exilim series of cameras through the years exhibited at the Futurerium.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
Casio QV-10 in the Futurerium exhibition.
Casio QV-10 in the Futurerium exhibition. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
The two Casio DC-90 prototypes with Casio QV-10 camera in the Futurerium exhibition.
The two Casio DC-90 prototypes with Casio QV-10 camera in the Futurerium exhibition. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
The entrance of the Futurerium exhibition at Casio's HQ in Tokyo.
The entrance of the Futurerium exhibition at Casio's HQ in Tokyo. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Japanese electronics company Casio is famed for its calculators and G-Shock watches, but not many consumers realise that the 69-year-old company actually started the digital camera revolution in 1995, when it released the QV-10, the world's first consumer-grade digital compact camera that came with an LCD screen.

That was before imaging giants, such as Canon and Nikon, came up with their own cameras. It all started when Sony released its first analog electronic camera in 1981. This prompted Casio to start researching on electronic cameras, and the company joined the Electronic Still Camera Working Group, which was spearheaded by Sony, in 1984.

During a media tour of Casio's Futurerium exhibition, which showcases the company's products from the past and present, at its headquarters in Tokyo, Casio tracked the origins of the QV-10, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in March this year.

Casio launched its first electronic still camera, the VS-101, in 1987. But it was expensive, had no display and images needed to be printed out via a printer that was sold separately. It turned out to be a flop.

Not to be deterred, Casio engineers their continued research and development, as they were determined to see the transformation of film and electronic photography to a digital one.

"The research by our engineers culminated in our first digital camera prototype, DC-90, in 1991," explained Mr Jin Nakayama, Casio's senior general manager of the digital camera division.

Due to the failure of the VS-101's, there was limited budget to work on a new camera. The engineers had to use leftover materials from other projects to make the prototypes, and this is why the early Casio digital camera prototypes look like projectors.

The Casio engineers came up with two key findings from the DC-90 prototypes - the need for an LCD screen and a PC connection.

As the prototypes had no viewfinder, they had to connect a small television to the prototype to use as a monitor. This was when they realised the advantage of adding an LCD screen to a camera, as it allowed users to check the images immediately, and delete unwanted images.

The engineers also loaded the images on to computers for testing, and found that a PC was a convenient and logical tool to view the images on.

With these findings in mind, the QV-10 - with a built-in LCD screen and PC connectivity - was finally released in 1995. And it ushered in the start of the digital compact camera era that consumers know today.

"Before the QV-10 was launched in 1995, film cameras were the dominant player. But after the QV-10 took off, digital cameras became dominant and took over the market," said Mr Nakayama.

Casio showed off a still-working unit of QV-10 during the tour. The display on the QV-10 can only be used for framing shots, and does not display exposure or real-time settings, such as the Live View function of modern camera.

However, QV-10's lens module can be rotated 180 degrees, so users can take selfies. This is probably the grandfather of Casio's popular TR selfie camera series.

In 2012, the QV-10 was given due recognition for its contribution to technology when it was categorised as an "Essential Historical Material for Science and Technology" by Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science.