Sega Digio SJ-1: The 1996 Sega LCD Digital Camera

[piano-laden jazz music] Greetings and welcome to an LGR camera thing! And this time around we’ve got a delightful
little oddity from Sega. Yes, that
♪ Sega! ♫ Back in the mid-90s, they were experimenting
with all kinds of hardware beyond games, and 1996 saw the release of the Digio SJ-1, Sega’s first and only entry into the personal digital camera space. The SJ-1 sold for 29,800 yen, or roughly 300
US dollars, when it was first announced in the fall of 1996. A full two years before the Nintendo GameBoy
camera came out, by the way, another example of Sega doing what Nintendon’t. And the Digio wasn’t just a toy camera or
a game console add-on either, nope, this was a point and shoot digital camera with a better
set of specs and features than you might expect. Things like a 320×240 resolution image sensor,
manual focusing for both landscape and macro photography, and even a color LCD screen acting
as both a viewfinder and a playback device. And images were stored on state of the art
“Digital Film,” as Sega called it. Which in reality was a version of Toshiba’s
recently-released SmartMedia format. Yeah, I was honestly shocked when I first
found out about this thing! Not only was it an official Sega product from
the mid-90s that I’d never heard of, but it was a digital camera with some seriously
impressive specifications at a price that was entirely reasonable from the get-go. However, Sega never marketed the original
Digio SJ-1 for sale outside of Japan, and even there it seems it was largely advertised
to their existing customer base in periodicals like Sega Saturn Magazine. Which, on further inspection makes sense seeing
as the Digio was advertised to work in conjunction with the Sega Picture Magic and the Sega PriFun. The former of which was a graphics tablet
with a combination of Sega 32x and Mega Drive hardware inside, allowing for drawing on top
of and editing digital photos taken on the SJ-1. And the latter being a video printer designed
to work with the Sega Saturn and the Pico, letting users print 4×6 photos and sticker
sheets captured using the printer’s composite video input port. [Japanese PriFun advertisement plays] And yep, the Digio SJ-1 outputs using composite
video as well using a 2.5mm adapter cable, same kinda thing you saw on consumer camcorders
back then. So if you didn’t feel like squinting at
that tiny LCD screen, you could view saved photos or even a live feed from the camera
right on your TV. Dude, seriously, this is awesome for a three
hundred dollar camera from ‘96! Why weren’t these more popular? Sega did at least update the SJ-1 slightly
in 1997, bundling in a clip-on magnifier for the LCD screen and a larger memory card, along
with a couple of fresh new paint jobs like metallic pink and silver. 1997 is also when the Digio went on sale outside
of Japan, but from what I gather this was limited to Australia and was only marketed
there for less than a year. Yeah, this really is the perfect storm of
impressive yet obscure tech from a well-known company, I live for this stuff. So let’s take a look at the original HDC-0100
model from 1996, which I imported from Japan about a year ago now. It’s been a journey to get everything I
needed for this video, cuz yeah. Even though it came in the original packaging,
all that was in the box was the camera itself and the video cable for connecting it to a
TV. Oh, and the memory card, thank goodness, since
the Digio will only accept a particular type of early model SmartMedia card. This one for the Digio uses 5-volt power instead
of 3.3 volts that soon became the norm. Not only that, but this only has 5 megabits
of storage, equating to just 625 kilobytes. So not only is it bizarrely-specced, but I
had no way of getting the photos off the camera beyond hooking it up through fuzzy composite
video. Turns out that’s because, originally, Sega
only intended the Digio for use with their graphics tablet and printer, not a computer. It wasn’t until January of 1997 that they
started selling separate kits for connecting the Digio to a PC, for an additional cost
of 7,800 yen, nearly 80 dollars. That’s a lot for a floppy disk and a serial
cable. Anyway, we’ll sort out the computer stuff
later on, but for now let’s take a gander at the SJ-1 itself! It’s a solidly-built binoculars-style design,
a popular form factor on early to mid-90s digital cameras, weighing in at 11 ounces
with batteries installed. Which, by the way, are an absolute pain to
get in there. It takes four AA batteries and you have to
jam the bottom pair in past the top two spring contacts to get them to fit. [batteries shuffling] Seriously, who signed
off on this design? Another quirk of the Digio is that even with
the batteries installed, the camera will not power on at all without the memory card latch
in the upright locked position. I thought I’d received a dead camera when
I first got it, but nope, you just have to lock that tiny switch on front or nothing
happens. Also on front is a red LED indicator for the
self-timer feature, just above the opening for the lens, which is a 10 millimeter design
with an aperture of 1.9. And right above that on top is the aforementioned
manual focusing ring, something rather unusual for a compact digital camera in ‘96. It does a pretty darn good job too, especially
on the macro side of things, I’m impressed with the range of focus options. Along the bottom you’ve got a standard tripod
mount, on the left you’ve got nothing at all, and on the right is a little rubber door
covering the ports for video output, serial connectivity, and a place to plug in a 10-volt
DC power supply. Finally, there’s the standout feature of
the Sega Digio: the color LCD panel. Which, again, was an impressive feature in
1996, especially at its $300 price point. The LCD-equipped Casio QV-10A cost fifty percent
more by comparison, though it also had a screen twice the size. Anyway powering on the Digio boots up this
nifty splash screen, followed by a live feed acting as a viewfinder. Yep, there’s no optical viewfinder at all
on here, only an LCD. And a tiny one at that, the panel is only
about 0.7 inches, or 18 millimeters across. It is magnified a bit to try and make up for
that, but this also means that you have to move it away from your eyes in order to actually
focus on the image and see it clearly. And taking a picture is simple and silent,
everything but the focusing happens automatically. [photographic silence] It does take about
five seconds to save an image, but once you have some you can switch over into playback
mode and manage pictures directly on the camera. It’s limited to simple stuff like locking
photos, deleting groups of them, and formatting the memory card, but this was still pretty
fresh stuff in ‘96! Many digital cameras up to that point didn’t
allow you to access pictures at all unless it was through a computer. Speaking of which, I tried several methods
of getting files off of here without the serial adapter, including putting the card in another
camera that uses similar SmartMedia cards, and trying multiple PCMCIA adapters that were
supposedly compatible with 5-volt memory cards. But man, no matter what I just couldn’t
get anything to recognize it. So I turned to Amazon Japan, as ya do, and
imported an HDC-3002 kit for 2,000 yen. And uh, welp! All it came with was the software, which I’d
already found an archive for online. What I really needed was the serial adapter,
so I put in a saved search on Yahoo Auctions Japan until I found a listing for both the
HDC-3002 and 3000 kits complete in box for a total of 3,100 yen.
Excellent. I didn’t need both of them but whatever,
I’ll take what I can get. The only real difference is that the 3000
is only for IBM PC-compatibles running Windows 95, and the 3002 also comes with software
for the NEC PC-9821. While I don’t have a PC-98, I do have an
NEC PC running the Japanese version of Windows 98 which really is the next best thing! [Windows 98 startup sound plays] Mm, my waves are now vapor. Right, so the HDC-3002 software here is completely
in Japanese, that’s a bit of a thing. There is an English version of the software
from its later Australian release, but ah well, functionality is standard enough for
mid-90s photo retrieval apps that I didn’t have a problem with it. With the Digio plugged in and powered on it’s able to download your photos in Sega’s proprietary SJ1 file format. From here you can select which images you
want to delete or keep, transferring the ones you like over into the editing window. From here you can do things like flip and
rotate images, adjust RGB color values, edit hue, saturation, and lightness, change brightness
and contrast, and both increase and decrease sharpness and mosaic pixelization. Once you’re happy with things, you can export
images to something more standardized, like Windows bitmap files, and there ya go. As for the images themselves, well, as mentioned
earlier they’re captured in 320×240 resolution, though if I had to guess it looks like it’s
automatically upscaled from 160×120. I should’ve expected as much since it holds around twenty pictures on that tiny memory card, so yeah. The resulting images are maybe a tad more
compressed and chunky than they otherwise could be. Not that I expected impeccable image quality,
but still, everything just looked so cool through that LCD screen! Ah, I mean well, sometimes. See, the digital viewfinder is useless during
the middle of the day due to its inherently reflective design and muted backlighting. Imagine having a Sega Game Gear screen that’s
less than an inch across and you’re looking at it through an oddly curved magnifying glass. Yeah. The screen is turned on here, I swear, but
even in the shade it’s hard to see anything if the sun is out. Not only that, but the battery life? Ha, what battery life! I only get enough juice from four AA’s to
fill the card once with pictures and just get them loaded onto a PC before it dies. I went back to count and it turns out I went
through two dozen batteries just to make this video. [dead batteries crash to the floor] Still, these kinds of quirks and caveats are
precisely why I enjoy using older digital cameras from time to time. I don’t do it for the ease of use, I do
it for the fun of it, for the retro challenge of the ordeal. I love taking pictures of things that wouldn’t
be out of place when the camera was manufactured. Old cars, buildings, trees and metalwork and stuff. And I love seeing how devices like the Digio
go about capturing various colors and light ranges, because you never get precisely what
you expect. Like the Mitsubishi DJ-1000 I reviewed, this
is another mid-90s digicam that produces these downward streaks of light on any parts of
the image that’s bright enough. It’s not always a desired effect, but when
you plan for it I think it’s pretty neat. And of course, I always take pictures of several
of the same scenes with each camera I cover so you can compare them to one another. Like this tiger and circus dude, which I always
photograph around the same time of day and compare it with a modern camera phone. Yeah, that’s about what I expected really,
the SJ-1 tends to go for over-exposure almost every time, it really isn’t good with bright
outdoor scenes under clear skies. Or dim indoor scenes under no skies, hehe. Yeah so I took this thing to E3 2019, because
why not. They have a Sega booth there and I thought
it’d be fun to take the Digio on a pilgrimage back to the homeland, so to speak. And yeah its lack of flash makes it bad for
bars, but it did pretty decently out on the show floor! Turns out it’s particularly well-equipped
to capture hues of blue, which, I mean it’s a Sega camera. If it didn’t do a good job at the color
blue then what would be the point? And yeah, that is the Sega Digio SJ-1 from
1996! A fun little camera that still amuses me for
the very fact that it exists. There’s something about consumer electronics
made by game companies that always fascinates me, but especially when it’s from a company
like Sega that by and large really isn’t associated with this kinda stuff. Sure it murders batteries, you can’t see
crap using it outside, and it was almost exclusively sold in Japan so good luck finding one.
But whatever! The fact that it’s so limited in availability
and usability is why I find it enjoyable at all. [retro synthwave beats] So concludes another LGR thing. If you enjoyed this thing then great! Old digital cameras, game-related stuff, and
retro tech in general is what I do, so maybe check out some of my other videos. And as always, thank you for watching!

100 Replies to “Sega Digio SJ-1: The 1996 Sega LCD Digital Camera”

  1. Haha. Just like with all SEGA portable devices the battery life was horrible. My SEGA Gamegear with 6 x AA lasted maybe just under an hour? Sucked when I was on vacation with the TV cartridge & antenna watching local shows after finally dialing in the terrestrial signal and it would die due to low power. Still awesome tech tho for the time. Awesome vid!

  2. If I had this back in the day, I would have totaly hooked it up to the VCR and record videos … yeah I never had a video camera up until 2004 🙁 … Would have been nice to record some footage of it on an analog video capture card or somethin, so we can see the quality! 🙂

  3. How much will you sell me that Sony Trinitron KV 1380R for? I kid, but that is a ridiculously neat TV, with ports/features not common of that time (though I'm certain you already know)

  4. Oh man, that's really good for 1996. And all the features like editing the photos on that tablet thing… impressed.

  5. Well, it was quite pricey at that time, though. The 1998 Dreamcast was 29k yen when released, so this camera was a bit pricier, at 1 year before Dreamcast.

  6. I'm fascinated by this kind of artifact. I'd love to have a Sega camera.
    It's interesting that whatever you photograph with this thing, it looks like it was actually shot in the 90s.

  7. I think we share the same kind of love for vintage digital cameras…keep on make me search for things on Yahoo Japan!

  8. "and it murders batteries." Just like the Game Gear, Nomad, and the VMU. Sega just couldn't make a handheld device that didn't genocide batteries.

  9. It delights me to no end that there was somebody on the E3 2019 showfloor taking photos with a digital camera from 1996.

  10. Very nice piece of old tech, which was ahead of its time back then.
    Thanks from making this video Clint. 👍
    Your enthuasism is one of a kind. 😄

  11. If it came with that eye piece thing and didn't eat batteries like that, it might not be to bad! well other than that image quality lol
    Thanks for another great video! 😀

  12. For anyone young enough to not have used a film camera at the time 24-36 exposures (pictures) was the norm depending on the film size the camera took. At 20 images this camera was in line with physical film cameras of the time, even if it seems limited compared to modern cameras.

  13. Me: "Wow! Cool camera! And from Sega! I think I might go on eBay and buy one…"

    Price: $750

    Me: "On second thought, this video is good enough."

  14. I use a Mavica FD-90 for the same reason as you enjoy old cameras. It's fun to use and there's a lot of nostalgia behind it.

  15. A portable device from SEGA that eats through batteries…? Well. At least they were consistent. I was actually really impressed by this.

  16. I used to have that sony television with the side speakers as a kid. I just got my brain blown out of my ears with nostalgia. Thanks for that.

  17. Went to Japan for vacation and found this camera for 100 yen(about one dollar) in a second hand shop, I just checked eBay and I think I've made the best purchase of my life.

  18. Oh my! I enjoy your every video, but that was a real gem!
    I loved SEGA back in the days, and I love (it's that days) still. Getting a still image of it, well, what's to wish for. Dude you made a great job with it. They sent you a single freaking floppy? Oh they bastards.
    Keep it up.
    From Russa with SEGA

  19. 3:00 That camera store still exists, I go there to get my film developed to this day. They even have a camera museum upstairs, and I wouldn't be surprised if they kept one of these in their collection.

  20. Imagine if Sonic Adventure got a remake and had a photo mode. I can certainly imagine Amy Rose or Big the Cat carrying one of these cameras to take pictures!

  21. Awful quality and price compared to APS which was VERY popular in Europe and Japan which is probably why Sega did not bother and the fact that every store back then had a machine that you could load your APS films into and have them converted in 5 minutes, some machines even let you edit the pictures before you printed them, and some machines let you do big prints.
    Europe and Japan were pretty much APS and DV camcorders for majority of consumers, my family were lower middle class and had no less than one miniDV camera, 7 freaking APS cameras!

  22. I just took one of those apart and I can tell you, it's the biggest, most unserviceable pile of shit I've ever dealt with. Hidden screws (even under the black camera lens protector plastic). Some stuff is glued. A ton of screws and clips on top of it all, and then everything is surrounded by metal foil shielding.

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