Mavica – Sony’s pioneering digital camera

Sony obviously liked the name Mavica. In 1974 the company announced Mavica, a video recorder which captured moving pictures on flexible magnetic cards, that each measured 15 by 20 cm and curved slowly past a scanning video head.

Each card could store 10 minutes of colour tv with stereo sound. Sony promised higher density cards with increased recording time but Mavica was killed by the arrival of Sony’s own Betamax, with several hours recording time from a small casette.

In 1981 Sony dusted off the name again and shocked the photographic world by demonstrating a camera, which looked like a conventional Single Lens Reflex, but contained an electronic image sensor and miniaturised computer disk recorder. The SLR Mavica recorded analogue tv stills on a 5cm floppy disc coated with pure metal powder and spinning at 3,600 rpm. The pictures replayed through a home TV set.

In July 1988 42 electronics and photographic companies agreed a standard for “electronic still video”. Based on the NTSC TV standard, it gave either 25 fully interlaced picture frames, or 50 half-scan pictures of lower resolution. But the technology remained too expensive to rival film. So most companies shelved the idea.

In December 1988 Sony tried to go it alone, launching a consumer version of Mavica in Japan. The full kit cost around £500 and it bombed. By then Fuji had developed a prototype digital camera which used a solid state memory card instead of disc, which is of course the way modern digital cameras work.

But because memory cards were still expensive, Sony moved on to using a standard 9cm PC floppy to store 40 digital images at very low cost.