History of the Camera

Let's Rewind Back in Time to Find Out the History of the Camera

Cameras were not always as we know them today. Technology has evolved a great deal, making photography so much simpler and advanced. Here, we will take a look at the brief history of the camera.
Taking pictures of events, loved ones, occasions, etc., is something that everyone does. This lets us capture memorable moments of our lives, that can be relived later on when we view the photographs again. Hence, cameras are an everyday commodity today, and are used widely as compared to earlier times. They are also much simpler and advanced to use as compared to the first cameras that were made. Below is a brief history of cameras, and their evolution.

Timeline and History of the Camera

Camera's history is extremely interesting, with the precursor of the camera being the Camera Obscura. The camera Obscura was not a hand-held camera per se, but was a dark chamber which consisted of an optical device for drawing. The camera Obscura used a lens or a pinhole to project the image of the scene on a viewing surface. The first camera Obscuras were large enough to house one or more person. The evolution into hand-held cameras was much more gradual. However, even the handheld cameras of yore couldn't be compared to the compact-sized cameras that we all use today.

The first photographs were taken using a pewter plate and bitumen. This plate was then exposed to light. Since the bitumen hardened where the light struck, the unhardened areas were dissolved away. This left a visible image. The first practical photograph method was invented in 1835 by Louis Jacques Daguerre. It was named 'Daguerreotype' after him. The process included coating a copper plate with silver, and then treating it with iodine vapor to make it sensitive to light. The image was then developed by mercury vapor. It was later fixed with a solution of ordinary salt. The process was then perfected by William Fox Talbot in 1840. The calotype produced a negative picture on paper, which had the lights as darks and the darks as lights. The positive would be made on another sheet of sensitized paper, which was then exposed to light through the negative.

vintage wood camera
antique camera with flash

The first American patent for photography was awarded to Alexander Wolcott and his camera in 1840. By 1843, the first advertisement with a photograph was made in Philadelphia. The Panoramic camera was patented in Sutton.

Photography and cameras were brought to the general public by George Eastman somewhere around 1885. He called his first camera the 'Kodak'. It was a simple box camera which had a fixed focus lens and a single shutter speed. It had enough film for a hundred exposures (photos) and had to be sent back to the factory for processing, as well as reloading the camera to be used again. Cameras became widely available only in the nineteenth century, with Kodak coming out with a series of box cameras as well as folding cameras.

The 'Brownie' by Kodak may be the cheapest camera to be ever made, with it being sold at around a dollar. This was also the camera to introduce the 'snapshot' concept. The Brownie was first introduced in 1900 and was on available for purchase even till the year 1960.

antique camera of 1940
35mm camera with film roll

What can be termed as a revolution in cameras appeared in the market in 1948. The world's first instant-picture camera. The Polaroid Model 45, also known as the Land Camera after its inventor Edwin Land, was the world's first instant-picture camera. The camera used patented chemical processes to produce finished positive prints from exposed negatives, within a minute.

polaroid camera
disposable 35mm camera

Photo-Pac was the company that made the first disposable camera in 1949. This camera was capable of clicking 8 pictures. But the first disposable cameras to catch the attention of the common public worldwide was the Photo Pack Matic by a company called FEX in the 1960s, and the Utsurun model made in Japan. Because of the popularity that disposable cameras had with the masses, all major companies like Konica, Fuji, Canon and Nikon started making their own models on a mass-production basis.

35mm, the film gauge used for still photography, was first introduced in 1892 by Thomas Edison and William Dickson. In 35mm, the photographic film is cut into strips of 35 millimeters. 35mm cine film was first used to build a compact camera by Oskar Barnack, but further research on this technology lagged due to the first world war. The first 35mm camera was brought into the market in 1925, and was named the Lecia 1. Twin Lens Cameras, better known as TLRs, were first featured in the nineteen hundreds. However, they were too bulky to be popular with the common public.

slr camera
underwater camera

The Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras, though developed in the 1950s, became very popular in the 1970s and was a raging hit with the common man. It used a semi-automatic moving mirror technology, and this allowed the cameraman, through a viewfinder, to see exactly what he was going to shoot. SLRs were compact as compared to the older cameras, neat, and extremely efficient. Features like auto-focus and zoom made photography extremely easy, and produced better results too, both for amateurs and professional photographers.

The waterproof camera was another handy invention that became very popular with the general public. It was actually Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a well-known French underwater explorer, who made these cameras ever-so-popular. But till the 1980s, these cameras were bulky and were used for professional and military purposes only. In the 1980s, Minolta introduced the Weathermatic -A, which was small and can be actually called the first underwater camera for the masses. From then on, till now, this technology has just been getting better.

digital camera
digital slr camera

The first true digital camera was the Fuji DS-1P in 1988. It had a 16 MB internal memory. However, it was never released in the US. The first widely available digital camera was released in 1991, the Kodak DCS-100. Nowadays, almost everyone uses digital cameras. Amateurs prefer using the compact digital cameras, while professionals use the digital SLR cameras that are available in so many models and brands today. As we speak, the race is on to bring in better models that are easy-to-use, have better image results, and are relatively cheaper.

As we can see, the history of cameras has evolved tremendously in the past 100 years or so. What was once purely a professional art, is now something that can be done by any layman for whatever purpose he chooses. And obviously, this technology can only get better, as time goes by.