Imagine a life without cameras. Almost impossible right? It’s become such a necessity that it had to be fused with our phones so that we could carry it with us conveniently. But, what if they never existed? So many memories would have been lost and never carried forward, and think about education. It would have been such an inconvenience! Just think about how quick and easy it is to illustrate and explain something only because you were able to take a photo of it. Otherwise, good luck with explaining what an Armadillo looks like. With all that being said, let’s take a moment to contemplate and be thankful for the magnificent invention that cameras are and tip our hats to show respect to all the brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to make them available and affordable for us commoners.
Early History of Camera
The earliest camera can be traced back to as far as the 1500s! Abu Ali Al Hasan Ibn Al Haytham is considered to be the father of optics and is credited with inventing the first pinhole camera called the “Camera Obscura”. This contraption was a lightproof box with a small hole on one side for light to enter and strike a reflective surface to project an inverted but colored image. The camera obscura was originally used to observe solar events and in drawing architecture. Back then the technology to capture and record photos did not exist and it wasn’t until the late 1830s when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce used a portable camera obscura to expose a pewter plate coated with bitumen to light. This is the first recorded image that did not fade quickly.
Following Niépce’s success, a number of other experiments progressed rapidly and the development of photography took off quickly. Daguerreotypes, emulsion plates, and wet plates were developed almost simultaneously in the mid-to-late-1800s.
Niépce’s success led to a collaboration with Louis Daguerre and the result was the daguerreotype, a forerunner of modern film. The daguerreotype was a copper plate coated with silver and exposed to iodine vapor before it was exposed to light to create the image. Early daguerreotypes had to be exposed to light for up to 15 minutes and they were very popular until they were replaced in the late 1850s by emulsion plates.
Emulsion plates quickly gained popularity as they required only a few seconds of exposure time which made them much more suited to taking portraits. As a matter of fact, many photographs from the Civil War were produced on wet plates and it was during this time that bellows were added to cameras to help with focusing. Two common types of emulsion plates were the ambrotype and the tintype. Ambrotypes used a glass plate instead of the copper plate of the daguerreotypes. Tintypes used a tin plate. While these plates were much more sensitive to light, they had to be developed quickly. This meant that photographers needed to have chemistry at hand and they often traveled in caravans which doubled as darkrooms.
The Invention of Dry Plate
Photography took a huge leap forward in the 1870s when Richard Maddox improved on a previous invention to make dry Gelatin plates. These plates were equal to the emulsion plates in terms of speed and quality, but the most significant advancement was that they could be stored and developed at a much later time if needed. Photographers now had much more freedom in taking photos and also allowed for smaller cameras to be invented that could be hand-held. As exposure times decreased, the first camera with a mechanical shutter was developed. Needless to say, cameras were very expensive and were only available to a minority. It wasn’t until the 1880s when George Eastman established the company Kodak and the average people were able to avail cameras. By then the cameras had started to shape and look more like cameras we are used to seeing today. But still, it wasn’t as easy to develop the photographs, the cameras did not have any focusing adjustments and had the capacity to shoot only 100 photographs. Once the camera had reached its capacity, the entire camera had to be sent to the factory to develop the photos.
In 1913 Oskar Barnack began to research the possibility of inventing a smaller camera that anyone could use. The Leica camera began to be commercialized after World War 1, and they eventually developed a second model called the Leica 1. Over the years, cameras began to shrink in size and become more sophisticated. The films used then were still pretty large and costly, but by the 1940s the 35mm film had become popular and cheap enough for the average person to afford.
Around 1948 Polaroid introduced its Model 95 which had the capacity to take and develop photographs in less than 1 minute! Even though this camera was fairly expensive, the general populace awed by the camera’s instant imaging, took to the camera instantly. Around the 1950s, Asahi (which later became Pentax) introduced the Asahiflex and Nikon introduced its Nikon F camera. These were both SLR-type cameras and the Nikon F allowed for interchangeable lenses and other accessories. SLR-style cameras remained the camera of choice for the next 30 years. Many improvements were made to both the cameras and the film itself. Compact cameras that were capable of making image control decisions on their own were introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These “point and shoot” cameras calculated shutter speed, aperture, and focus, leaving photographers free to concentrate on composition.
The automatic cameras became immensely popular with casual photographers. Professionals and serious amateurs continued to prefer to make their own adjustments and enjoyed the image control available with SLR cameras. The first digital camera was developed in 1988 but was never sold to the public. It wasn’t until 1991 that Kodak released the Kodak DCS, which was their first in a long line of digital cameras. Other manufacturers quickly followed and today Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and other manufacturers offer advanced digital SLR (DSLR) cameras. Even the most basic point-and-shoot camera now takes higher quality images and smartphones can easily pull off a high-quality printed photograph.
The production and development of digital cameras has continued to increase over the years. Interestingly enough, despite the move from digital cameras to smartphone cameras, there has been a rise in popularity of Polaroid film cameras. In 2004, Epson, a company well known for their photographic printer and ink, introduced the first true mirrorless camera the R-D1. Epson in partnership with Cosina developed the R-D1 which was another big leap to the development of cameras. These cameras started gaining popularity among enthusiasts, travelers, and street photographers who did not want to carry a bulky DSLR.
The Bottom Line
“Sky’s the limit to where camera technology will go from here. Now professional-grade images can be produced with nothing but a smartphone and selfie stick. It’s fascinating to imagine that just over 200 years ago, photographs, as we know them, were still experimental. Maybe in ten years’ time, we’ll have camera eyes capable of producing pictures equally or better than our own eyes.”