Who Invented the First Camera? We've Turned Back the Pages for You

The need for capturing moments in a much faster way than paintings do, resulted in the invention of the first camera in the world. Do you know the name of the genius who made it possible for us to store visual information so easily? Let us take a tour of the history of cameras to find out.
The camera has become such a common device these days that it is more likely to find one in a person's pocket than finding a wallet! Even when buying cell phones, the first feature everyone looks for is a built-in camera. The story of invention of this extraordinary device is full of events that start from the era of Aristotle, who made use of gaps between leaves and holes in a sieve to view partial images of the sun. Great painters like Leonardo da Vinci and astronomers like Johannes Kepler are known to have understood the significance of being able to capture an image. Neither is it easy to pinpoint the exact time when the first camera was made, nor to call any one person its inventor. But the mention of the word 'camera' makes us curious to know who invented it.

History of Camera

To know about the person behind this awesome invention, we may think that we have to rewind to not more than 200 years. But in fact, to know the complete story we need to go back thousands of years, even before the invention of photography itself!

First Written Evidence
The Chinese philosopher Mozi (470 BC - 390 BC), wrote about a 'locked treasure room' or 'collecting plate' in 5th century BC, which is the oldest existing documentation of a pinhole camera. Aristotle's (384 BC - 322 BC) collection Problemata has the earliest evidence of a primitive camera called the Camera Obscura on paper.

Development of the Theory of Optics in Early Common Era
Claudius Ptolemy (c. AD 90 - c. AD 168) wrote about optical principles exquisitely. He even formulated a theory of vision. Influenced by him, Iraqi Arab scientist Ibn al-Haytham, also known as Alhazen elaborated on using a lens to focus on a screening plate in his Kitāb al-Manāẓir (Book of Optics) in 1021 AD. Much later, Roger Bacon (c. 1214 - 1294), in his Opus Majus, expounded the works of these two and others. Theon of Alexandria (c. 335-c. 405) and many other scholars like Anthemius of Tralles (c. 474 - c. 558), Al-Kindi (c. 801 - 873) made similar observations and some even developed simple devices to project images on a surface. The images were generally traced by hand. The same would, in later years, be replaced by 'recording plates' for images.

The First Geometrical Analysis
Shen Kuo (1031 - 1095), a Chinese scientist worked with the pinhole camera like his ancestors. He was the first to quantify the properties of the camera obscura as well. He observed the inversion of images formed by a concave mirror and studied foci. Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630), one of the pioneers in projective geometry, laid out many optical laws and principles of the pinhole camera in his Astronomiae Pars Optica (The Optical Part of Astronomy).

The First Design in the Modern Times
These earliest cameras were enormous in size with enough space for a person to sit inside. The first small camera which could be held by hand, was designed by Johann Zahn in 1685. He was also the first to think of lens covers, so that the screen could be protected from light while changing slides. However, it took many more years for this design to be implemented successfully. Along with camera obscura, Zahn also worked on magic lanterns and many other primitive image projectors.

More Principles Laid
Robert Boyle (1627 - 1691) studied the refractive powers of different materials. Robert Hooke (1635 - 1703) too found out many optical principles that later helped in camera construction. But, his research led him to improve microscope models although he did not build any himself. He went on to discover the cell.

The "Aha" Moment: The First Photograph Taken
In 1727, following the discovery that silver nitrate darkens upon exposure to light by Johann Heinrich Schulze, researchers started giving more thought to recording images permanently. Following this, the first Panorama was opened in 1794 by Robert Barker. The year 1827 is said to be the landmark year in the history of the camera. The first photograph was shot that year by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce using a sliding wooden box camera by exposing bitumen coated pewter plate to light. Based on his ideas only, Frenchmen Charles and Vincent Chevalier built the first camera that could produce photos. Thus, Niépce is considered to be the one who created the first successful photograph.

The Daguerreotype: The First Photographic Method
In 1836, Louis Jacques Daguerre, who was Niépce's partner, introduced the first practical method to form photographs. This method was called daguerreotype and it was devised after the death of Niépce. Daguerre used a silver coated copper plate and used iodine vapor to treat it which made it sensitive to light. While developing the image, mercury vapor and salt solution was used.

Producing Multiple Images: The First Negative
In 1840, Alexander Wolcott got the first American patent issued in photography for his camera. Around the same time, William Talbot for the first time, generated positive images from negatives to produce permanent images. His process called the calotype became far more successful and completely took over the daguerreotype by 1865. After this, rapid development in the camera technology and continuous contribution by individuals all over the world further propelled research to develop more sophisticated cameras.

The First Commercial Camera
The year 1888 proved to be another important turning point in the history of the camera. George Eastman, who started manufacturing paper films in 1885, made his first camera which he called 'Kodak'. This was the first camera to go on sale. Just a year later, he replaced the paper film with celluloid and his camera took a form, which was close to modern-day still cameras (i.e., those which use a film). It was the simplest form of a box-shaped camera with a single speed shutter mechanism. By the end of the 19th century, Eastman had introduced an expanded lineup and started the commercialization of cameras. The Browning (Brownie) by Kodak was the first camera to be mass-marketed. Many other brands soon entered the camera market and numerous new discoveries were made in still photography technology.

The First Instant Camera
The year 1948 saw the introduction of instant Polaroid cameras in the market. The Polaroid model 95 was the world's first instant picture camera. These cameras used a chemical process to develop positive images from exposed negatives within a minute.

The First Digital Camera
More than 75 years after pioneering the analog filmed camera, the Eastman Kodak company was the talk of the town again. After several less successful attempts of digitizing the camera by many others, Steven Sasson, an engineer at Kodak succeeded in building the very first digital camera in 1975. The camera weighed a mammoth 3.6 kg and produced only black and white images at a meager resolution of 0.01 megapixels! It took a tedious 23 seconds to successfully capture one image. Since then, digital cameras have never looked back, and today they have almost completely phased out the analog-film loaded still cameras.

The First Autofocus Camera
The first mass-produced autofocus camera was made by Konica in 1977. Polaroid closely followed with a single-lens reflex model the very next year.

The First Camcorder
In 1982, Sony released the first Betacam system that had a single unit for camera as well recorder. Shortly after, the first camcorder for the general public was released.

Today, the speed at which the cameras are surging ahead in terms of technology is astounding. We can clearly capture an image of a car registration number from a huge satellite camera orbiting a couple of thousand miles above the earth's surface. On the other hand, spy cameras are being incorporated in sizes as small as a shirt's button!

Having heard the entire story of this wonderful device, we have got the answer we came looking for, haven't we? Although, there is not a single name to be credited, George Eastman - The Kodak Man is credited with the invention of camera as he is said to have encapsulated the concept of photography into a device, which was not achieved by anyone before him.