Vintage digital – the first full-frame DSLRs

The late 1990s saw a plethora of digital cameras evolve. Some were collaborations between various manufacturers such as Nikon-Fujifilm. But most of these cameras had sensor sizes which were smaller than that of a standard film camera, e.g. APS-C. The first true full-frame cameras appeared in the period 2000-2002.

The first full-frame SLR of note was the Contax N Digital, a 6MP SLR produced by Contax in Japan. Although announced in late 2000, it didn’t actually appear until spring 2002. The sensor was a Philips FTF3020-C, and was only in production for a year before it was withdrawn from the market. Pentax also announced a full-frame camera (using the same sensor as the Contax N), the MZ-D in September 2000, but by October of the following year, the camera had been cancelled. The next full-frame was the Canon EOS-1Ds, which appeared September 2002. It was a monumental step forward, having a full-frame sensor that was 11.1 megapixels. In reality Canon dominated the full-frame market for quite a few years.

Nikon, who stayed in the APS-C for many year was relatively late to the game, not introducing a full-frame until 2007. The Nikon D3 had a modest 12.1MP sensor, but this is because Nikon opted for a low-resolution, high sensitivity sensor. Many lauded the camera for its high ISO noise control, with Popular Photography saying the D3 “will bestow an unheard of flexibility to low-light shooters, or give sports photographers the ability to crank up the shutter speed without adding flash.” To compare, the Canon 2007 equivalent was the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, sporting a 21.1MP sensor.

How do these stack up against a modern full-frame? If we compare the Canon 1Ds against a Canon R5C on certain charcteristics:

Canon 1Ds (2002)Canon R5 C (2022)
number of focus points451053
number of shots per battery600220-320

These early full-frame DSLR’s were certainly beasts from the perspective of weight, and even megapixels, but to be honest 11MP still stacks up today for certain applications.

Further reading:


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