While it’s not absolutely necessary to know the history of cameras to take great photos, serious photographers might still want to learn about it.
Photography in itself is partly science, the evolution of cameras is certainly so. Plus, it just so happens to be really interesting!
For example, did you know the history of cameras goes much further back in time than photography as a form of art and documentation?
That being said, it’s important to know the difference between cameras and photography.
Photography as we know it didn’t emerge until the 1800s, while certain optical effects have been known since Ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese times.
The First Camera (Obscura) – 4th Century BC.
The camera obscura was really the very first camera.
However, there weren’t any techniques to permanently capture the projected image, with the exception of drawing or painting.
So, what is Obscura?
Latin for “dark room”, camera obscura is the principle of projecting an image of a scene onto a wall through a tiny hole in a screen. The resulting image on the wall will be inverted—upside down and from left to right. Mozi correctly described this phenomenon, stating that it happens because light travels in straight lines.
Who invented the first camera Obscura?
The first known record describing a camera dates from the 4th century BC. It was the Han Chinese philosopher, Mozi, who documented the natural optical phenomenon known as “camera obscura”.
First Applications of Camera Obscura – (1502 AD)
Although the camera obscura concept was known since ancient times, it didn’t really have a practical purpose until the Renaissance came along.
In the field of art history, some historians even claim, controversially, that some of the most famous Renaissance painters used camera obscura to trace scenes before painting them.
It wouldn’t be possible to properly “save” projected images until the invention of the photographic process.
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The Invention of Photography Cameras – 1816
When was photography invented?
It wasn’t until approximately 1816 that an actual (partly successful) photograph was made.
The person who took the first photograph was Nicéphore Niepcé, a French inventor who developed heliography. The credits for inventing photography goes to Nicéphore Niepcé as well.
Using a small camera he made himself and a silver chloride-coated piece of paper, Niepcé was able to capture an image. As silver chloride darkens when exposed to light, it could effectively capture the scene.
The only problem, though, was that it was impossible to remove the remaining unexposed silver chloride. This eventually caused the entire image to go black.
First Publicly Available Photography Process (Daguerreotype) – 1833
Of course, the history of cameras didn’t stop there and people continued experimenting with other solutions and materials. Eventually, after Niepcé’s death, his partner Louise Daguerre managed to figure out the world’s first photographic process in 1833.
Using a sheet of copper plated with silver and treated with iodine vapor, he was able to permanently capture an image. He called his invention a daguerreotype. It became publicly available in 1839.
Henry Fox Talbot invented the calotype in 1840, another similar type of
First Film Camera – 1859
Now that people had figured out how to successfully capture images, cameras began evolving rapidly. In 1859, Thomas Sutton received a patent for the first-ever panoramic camera. Built using a wide-angle lens consisting of a water-filled glass sphere.
Related Article: Best film cameras
Two years later, Oliver Wendell Holmes invented the stereoscope viewer.
The “Kodak” by George Eastman – 1888
Photography took another gigantic leap in
This groundbreaking camera was the first one that used celluloid film. Its design, however, was as simple as could be.
The first film camera was nothing more than a wooden box with one shutter speed and a fixed-focus lens. Customers could buy a Kodak camera, which came pre-loaded with film for 100 exposures. When the roll of film was full, they had to send it back to the factory for development.
First Mass-Market Camera (The Brownie) – 1900
Eastman was also responsible for the next big step in photography. In 1900, he introduced the Brownie camera, the first mass-marketed camera in the world.
This small and very affordable camera allowed people to take “snapshots” of scenes. A huge hit, the Brownie remained for sale until the 1960s.
First 35mm Film Camera – 1910
In the 1910s, the German engineer, Oskar Barnack, experimented with what would become the next generation of cameras.
Using 35mm cine film for still cameras, he eventually came up with the first 35mm film camera.
Commercialized as the Leica I in 1925, it was an immediate success.
This camera effectively made 35mm film the format for quality cameras.
- Kodak followed suit in the mid-1930s with their Retina I which used the used the 135 cartridge feature
- In 1936, Argus presented their inexpensive Argus I, which was soon followed by the massively popular Argus C3 in 1939.
- Canon joined the market in 1936 as well, introducing their Canon 35mm rangefinder.
First Single-Lens Reflex Camera (SLR) – Late 1920s.
The first reflex camera for everyday use dates from the late-1920s.
It was the elaborately named Franke & Heidecke Rolleiflex medium format TLR (Twin Lens Reflex).
Single-lens reflex cameras (SLR) – 1948
First Single-Lens Reflex camera (SLR) with an instant return mirror is the Gamma Duflex (made in Hungary in 1948)
From Film to Digital Cameras – Post World War II
It would be until after the Second World War, however, that SLRs became the most popular camera types.
What set them apart was their mirror-and-prism system. This new feature allowed photographers to see (and therefore, frame) the image before they captured it.
The 1948 Contax S was a landmark camera, the first one to use a pentaprism.
The first Japanese SLRs hit the market in 1952—the Asahiflex from the Asahi Optical Company, later Pentax. Many other Japanese camera brands began producing SLR cameras in the 1950s, including Canon and Nikon.
polaroid Camera – 1948
In 1948, Edwin Land introduced his Polaroid camera, which allowed photographers to take a photo and print it in mere minutes.
First Digital Camera System – 1975
The first camera which used an image sensor, instead of a film, was invented by a Kodak engineer by the name Steven Sasson. It is the first-ever self-contained digital camera of the world.
Although many scientists and developers had experimented with filmless cameras since the 1960s, digital photography as we know it didn’t emerge until 1991. This was when Kodak presented their Kodak DCS, which stands for Digital Camera System.
By the mid-1990s, there were several different digital cameras on the market, including cameras from Kodak, Apple, Casio, and Sony.
DSLRs and Smartphones Take Over –
The Japanese company Sharp presented the very first camera phone to the world in 2000.
With the introduction of the iPhone by Apple in 2007, the world of photography shifted again.
Now, millions of people take pictures with their smartphones.
Most photographers, however, still continue to use DSLR cameras, which began outselling film cameras in 2003. Canon launched their EOS 5D in 2005, the first full-frame, consumer-priced DSLR. This camera set the bar for quality digital cameras.
DSLRs now come with dozens of features and settings, are lightweight, and user-friendly.
Read Next: What is a DSLR camera
Mirrorless Cameras – 2004
Epson released the first-ever commercially available mirrorless camera R-D1 in 2004. Soon after, Leica released their M8 mirrorless camera.
History of Cameras Video
Here’s a great video about the fascinating history of cameras starting from the first camera!
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