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The First Digital Image

FirstScanImage.jpg That's it to the right. The first film photo registered by a computer and recreated in pixels—30,976 to be exact. In 1957, Russell Kirsch, a scientist at what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, used a drum scanner connected to the SEAC (Standards Electronic Automatic Computer) to scan an image of his three-month-old son Walden.

As I understand it from reading Kirsch’s original report (PDF), the scanner used a very sensitive light-detecting tube called a photomultiplier to translate the parts of the image into black or white square pixels. If light was reflected off a scanned spot on the photo, SEAC registered a 0 (white). If no light signal was received, it’d register a 1 (black).

Kirsch has posted a brief video describing the event. He has a surprise guest too.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology Museum has an online exhibit based on a 1998 report by Kirsch.

Credit: NIST


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