Digital photos in 1996.

I first experienced the Internet in the early 1990s via an old text-based dial-up service called GEnie (operated by long-time Disney-sponsor General Electric). GEnie had opened up a portal to a few types of internet services, including things like Gopher (the pre-web search engine) and FTP (the pre-web file transfer). They also had something that let you view text pages on the internet. It wasn’t until July 1995 that I would learn that these text pages could also have pictures!

I had accepted a new job and moved to Iowa. On my desk was a SUN workstation running SunOS (Unix). It had a program called Netscape that let you see those same text pages, but with small pictures! It’s hard to believe there was a time when we didn’t know what the “world wide web” was.

One of the early web sites I visited was a personal home page for the Banks Family. They had gone to Walt Disney World and used something called an Apple QuickTake to take photos and then upload them to their website each night. Yes, Virginia. Apple basically invented the consumer digital camera in 1994.

Since my new job allowed me to get to Disneyland and Disney World often, I decided I would like to have one of these computer cameras* to document my trips also. There weren’t many options back then, so in 1996 I decided to buy an Epson PhotoPC for $500.

* During those early years, I had to call it a “computer camera”. No one knew what a “digital camera” was.

The PhotoPC had 1 megabyte of storage. It could take a dozen 320×240 images (or a few at 640×480) before you had to hook it up to a PC to download those images over a serial cable.  This is the camera I used for all my Disney and other theme park trips from 1996 to 1999. (I did soon spend $300 to add a 4MB memory expansion which let me store up to 99 640×480 photos.)

Film cameras of the day could have as few as 12 pictures per roll (like the Kodak Disc camera), or maybe 24 or 36 pictures for a more standard camera. Getting over a dozen digital and not having to buy film was amazing! Even if the pictures looked like this…

EpsonPC photo taken on May 20, 1996.

That is a 320×240 image from the PhotoPC. Understand that, back then, a “large” PC screen might have only been 640×480 so the full size pictures the camera took where perfect for the technology of the day. And since the internet was a dial-up service and very slow, photos were scaled down even smaller else they would take “forever” to load. While today that image looks like a thumbnail, back then, it filled 1/4th of the screen.

If I had known how important the world wide web would become, or that we’d one day have high speed internet and 4K monitors (I’m sure this will seem retro and quaint in a decade), I would have upgraded my camera sooner to the a model that took larger photos. But, at the time, this camera took images larger than I could use on the web.

With that in mind, I’ll leave you with a few more images:

Epson PhotoPC photo taken on May 20, 1996.

This was the walkway that led to the parking lots. You can even see cars parked to the left and right of it. Unfortunately, the resolution is so low, I can’t tell if I was facing towards Disneyland (are those the ticket booths at the end?) or away from it towards where Disney California Adventure is today.

And just to compare, here is what a full size 640×480 image looked like:

Epson PhotoPC photo taken on August 16, 1996.

That was the old Disneyland Hotel “lake.”

I look forward to walking you through some of these old photos in future postings. Hopefully this post will give you an idea of what I have in mind for future articles.

Until then…

3 thoughts on “Digital photos in 1996.”

Leave a Reply