A look back at our first digital single lens reflex camera from 2003 and how things have changed since: 20 years of DSLR cameras.  

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Above: the Canon EOS 10D from 2003. One of the first high-quality, affordable digital single lens reflex cameras that brought us to where we are today. 


The advent of digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras revolutionized the world of photography, bringing about significant changes in the way we capture and preserve images. The development of DSLRs marked a crucial milestone in the transition from film to digital photography, offering photographers unparalleled creative control and image quality.

Introduced in the late 1990s, DSLRs combined the optical precision of traditional single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras with the emerging digital technology. This integration allowed photographers to capture images directly onto a digital sensor, eliminating the need for film and the associated costs and limitations.

The instant feedback provided by the LCD screen enabled photographers to review their shots immediately, empowering them to make adjustments and perfect their technique in real-time.  Another defining feature of DSLRs is their interchangeable lens system, which gives photographers the flexibility to choose lenses tailored to their creative and technical needs.  


Twenty years ago, in 2003...

While in June 2003 DSLRs had been around for a few years, they were heretofore  prohibitively expensive and of modest resolution.  That resolution low enough that dedicated film shooters weren’t really feeling that digital would ever rival film quality. Then came the Canon 10D digital DSLR (and a similar model from Nikon).  More affordable than most, and sporting a whopping 6 megapixel sensor, the 10D was the turning point. This, to me anyhow, brought a pro-level DSLR in reach. 


Then vs. Now: Fun facts

The Canon 10D used a single Compact Flash memory card. The one I purchased with my 10D body in June, 2003, cost $175 for a 512 megabyte capacity.  Let’s compare to today. 

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Spoiler alert: memory costs, byte-for-byte, around 2000 times less today than 20 years ago.  The standard card for the cameras we currently use are 128 gigabyte, and cost just under $22. So, the card has a capacity that’s 256 times greater while costing 8 times less, making the “per megabyte” storage cost 2,026 times lower.  Expressed another way, the 50 or so of these SD memory cards I now use, if memory cards were as expensive per megabyte today as it did in 2003, would cost, adjusted for inflation, $3.3 million dollars (!). Instead of about $1,500 as they did. That’s kind of hard to process, even at the surface. 

Camera costs, on the other hand, have remained flat, factoring for inflation.  The 10D body in 2003 was, roughly, $1500.  That’s equal to about $2,500 today. Which will still buy a really nice camera body, though not a DSLR any longer, but a modern “mirrorless” body. What hasn’t remained the same, though, is the capability of that camera today.  The resolution will be about 4 times greater, but that’s just the beginning of the story. Cameras today can shoot many times more photos per second; the focus technology is blazingly fast and sophisticated – with an ability to find and lock on to, say, a human eye; the exposure metering much more refined and accurate, the dynamic range (the ability to see and clearly process a range from the blackest blacks/darkest areas to the whitest whites/brightest areas) is far superior, and the ability to make gorgeous photos in ever-decreasing amount of light is right there, too. And, while the shape of the camera body is pretty much the same, the overall size and weight is a lot less thanks to the mirrorless technology. And the lenses we now enjoy using were not imaginable in terms of their capabilities and sharpness 20 years ago. A lot’s changed, and, to me, it’s all for the better, by far. 

Want to know more about this legendary camera? Read the wikipedia article here.