Nokia 7650 to Lumia 1020: A history of camera phones

Features Dean Quinn 11:42, 15 Jul 2013

The Nokia Lumia 1020 could change the way we think about mobile imaging tech, but how did camera phones get to where they are now?

It's 2001, Apple has just released the iPod, Harry Potter makes his big screen debut, terrorists fly two hijacked passenger jets into New York's most iconic buildings causing catastrophic loss of life, and Shaggy rides high in the charts with a cautionary tale of denial.

Chances are that if you were around at the time that you'd remember all of the above. Heck, you might even have some ephemera related to them (we know you've got a dusty copy of 'It wasn't me' in a drawer somewhere). It is however, quite unlikely that you'll have a photographic record of you attending a screening of the J K Rowling-created wizard's inaugural adventure or will have captured on film first hand the events of that fateful September morning in the Big Apple.

Had all those things occurred just few years later, not only would they have been snapped and/or filmed, but they'd have been shared with the world via various means. Why? Because of the birth and proliferation of the camera phone, that's why.

Prior to 2001 though, they didn't really exist. Back then whole mobile phone space was shifting along quite nicely with previous decade seeing the uptake of portable telephony devices explode as the hefty and expensive bricks associated with eighties Yuppies gradually morphed into convenient, stylish and most importantly, affordable, plastic pebbles.

Nokia reigned supreme thanks in part to its 3210, released in 1999 and the first device aimed squarely at young folks. A targeted marketing campaign saw the handset shift a staggering 160 million units and firmly cemented the Finnish manufacturer at the heart of the mobile game, turning what was once the preserve of the wealthy into a lifestyle choice that everyone could chose to make. Basically, in 1999, if you didn't have a Nokia, you certainly wanted one.

Just three years later though, Nokia would do something that would shift the mobile space in another direction entirely. Enter the Nokia 7650 - the first widely available camera phone. While there had been other mobile phones that featured cameras prior to this - Sharp had developed the J-SH04 for Japanese firm J-Phone two years previously - this device was the one that rocketed mobile photography into the mainstream.

The Nokia 7650 didn't exactly break sales records but heralded the birth of the high-end camera phone as a viable proposition. Retailing at €600 (£512), it certainly wasn't cheap but with a revolutionary for the time spec list including  full colour display, 32-bit RISC processor clocked at 104MHz, 4MB memory and the first iteration of the Symbian OS, it inspired innovation from competitors and set the ball rolling for camera phones as we know them today.

Sony Ericsson took up the challenge with the Sony P800 in late 2002, a PDA-like flip phone with a VGA camera onboard and this was quickly followed in 2003 by Motorola's E365 candybar device, it too was loaded with a VGA snapper. Ever the innovators, it was Samsung that brought the first 1-megapixel mobile camera to market in 2003 and quickly followed that up with 2004's SCH-S250 - the world's first 5-megapixel camera phone.

The previously incomprehensible notion of mobile photography really began to snowball at this juncture up to the point where Nokia became the world's biggest selling digital camera brand in 2004, beating the likes of Nikon, Olympus and Fujifilm.

Fast forward a few years and the mobile space would see landmark developments in imaging technology including hitting the 10-megapixel milestone with Samsung's SCH-B600 in 2007, the first mobile camera with 3x optical zoom (Samsung again with 2007's G800), Nokia's incorporation of high-end Carl Zeiss optics and Xenon flash into the 12-megapixel Nokia N8 launched in 2010, and Sony smashing the 16-megapixel barrier with the Sony S006.

Then the smartphone happened. While what exactly constitutes a smartphone and the exact point of their arrival could be debated until the cows come home, let's say for argument's sake that Apple's first iPhone in 2007 galvanised the concept and made us all aware of what these devices are and can do (yes, we know there were all kinds of PDA hybrids and that Symbian had been plugging away for an age, and a little firm called RIM was rewriting the rulebook with its BlackBerrys).

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