History of Cameras and Photography
Although the foundations of photography date back as far as the ancient Romans, the history of cameras starts in the seventeenth century. The history of photography revolves around innovative attempt to reproduce images, whether the attempts were successful or photographic dead ends.
The ancient history of photography can be traced back to a device known as the camera obscura. A camera obscura consists of either a dark room or box with a tiny hole at one end. With a small enough hole, an inverted image of what the hole faces appears enlarged on the opposite wall of the camera obscura.
The camera obscura’s ability to reproduce images would become the basis for camera lenses as photography technology advanced. With the advent of the camera obscura, the combination of light and chemical processing also entered the realm of photography. At this point, the history of modern photography and cameras began.
A Brief History of Cameras
French inventor Nicephore Niepce produced the first permanent image in the history of photography. Niepce used a camera obscura and paper coated with photosensitive chemicals. The exposure time necessary to capture this historic first image was a staggering eight hours.
Daguerreotype and Calotype Cameras
In 1829, Niepce partnered up with Louis Daguerre. After Niepce’s death in 1833, Daguerre continued the research he and Niepce had begun. Through his continued efforts, Daguerre succeeded in reducing exposure time to a mere half hour. He also discovered that immersing images in salt would render the image permanent. Daguerre named his re-invention of the camera obscura the Daguerreotype and sold the rights to the French government in 1839.
“Daguerreomania” exploded in Europe and the U.S, where permanent images on glass and metal became popular. However, while reproducing images with the daguerreotype was popular, this new model could make only one image and not multiple copies.
Even as daguerreotypes became popular, the next step in the history of cameras was already underway. In 1835, Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot created the first paper negative. Nine years later in 1844, Talbot patented the Calotype. Although the Daguerreotype produced better quality images than the Calotype, Talbot’s invention could produce multiple copies from a single negative.
Talbot is also credited with publishing the first photo collection in the history of photography. In 1844, he published a collection of photographs entitled The Pencil of Nature.
The Next Step in the History of Cameras
Because the exposure times for both the Daguerreotype and Calotype were long, faster exposure times were the next step in the history of cameras. This became a reality with Frederick Scott Archer’s Collodion photographs in 1851. The Collodion process reduced exposure time to a mere three seconds.
To reduce exposure times, Collodion pictures were processed while the photographic plate was still wet. As a result, large amounts of developing equipment had to be available on location. Dry plate processing wasn’t available until 1871.
Between 1851 and 1871 a number of events occurred in the history of photography:
- 1861: James Clerk-Maxwell creates the first color photography system, using black and white photographs with red, green and blue filters.
- 1861 to 1865: Mathew Brady and his photography staff cover the American Civil war.
- 1877: Edward Muybridge’s pictures of a galloping horse prove that during gallop a horse’s four hooves leave the ground at once. Much money changes hands among San Francisco’s wealthy, who had bet on the outcome.
Dry Plates and Box Cameras
In 1871, Richard Maddox discovered gelatin could be used instead of glass for photographic plates. This step not only allowed for faster development but also paved the way for mass-produced film.
George Eastman took the process further and introduced flexible film in 1884. In 1888, Eastman introduced the box camera, the first product in the history of cameras available to the general public.
Since the end of the nineteenth century, photography technology has evolved at a rapid pace. The following are some landmark developments in photography during the 20th century:
- 1907: The first commercial color film is developed.
- 1936: Kodachrome, multi-layered color film, is developed.
- 1937: Photojournalism becomes an important part of reporting WWII news.
The Future of Cameras
The history of cameras and photography is ongoing with new innovations appearing regularly. With the digital camera, amateur and photographer can now take multiple pictures and view them almost instantly. Even underwater cameras are now affordable options for the general public.
Innovation and necessity have driven the history of photography and cameras. With the vast knowledge of photographic techniques available today, further innovations can be expected in the future.