The History of Cameras

The history of the camera is extensive, technical and, at times, obscure; for example there is no one particular person credited with the invention of the camera, it was more of a continual process of progress throughout history. Nevertheless notable names include Johann Heinrich Schulze, Joseph Niépce, Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre and George Eastman.

The camera obscura was known to be the first device that captured an image on-screen. It had been known to scholars as early as the 4th and 5th centuries around the time of Aristotle. However in 1021 AD, Idn al-Haytham was the first man to give a clear and correct description of the camera obscura and the diffraction of light, as well as being recognised as the father of modern optics.

After the analysis of the camera obscura, came the exploration of chemical components needed to create a photograph. In 1727, Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered that using silver nitrate could create a black and white image. The chemical reaction of the film to silver nitrate, meant that the covered parts remained white and that which was exposed, turned black. However, over time, everything turned black.

Joseph Niépce, like Schulze, was not involved directly with the invention of the camera, but of what a camera could produce – a photograph. Niépce was able to create a photographic image with camera obscura, but it required 8 hours of light exposure and only lasted a few hours. Niépce described the camera as an ‘artificial eye, which is nothing but a small box six inches square’ and this metaphor is still true today; the camera we know, allows a recreation of the image we see in front of us, artificially creating the human eye.

Over the next 100 years, the camera progressed through shorter development times, the development of the negative-positive process which allowed for multiple copies, the first photograph advertisement in 1843 and forty years later the first Kodak roll-film camera was produced and patented by George Eastman. The camera was developed with a lens and was sold with film in order to appeal to the mass market.

Inventions of new technology allowed the camera to be honed and perfected; this meant that the camera was an invention of its time; being improved upon when technology permitted. Edwin Land marketed the Polaroid camera in 1948; this was followed by the integration of instant colour film in the 60s. After colour, all that was left was to improve upon was the speed in which a camera took a photograph, the digital screen to view photographs, the quality of the picture and the size of the camera. I don’t want this to sound derogatory by using the phrase ‘all that was left’, but these developments, in comparison to the 1800s and the technological hindrances the inventors faced, seemed simple and just needed a team of creative people in order to progress. For instance, in 1985, Pixar were the first company to ever create an animated feature-length film, and they had to invent the digital imaging processor in order to create ‘Toy Story’.

In today’s society, cameras have become an indispensable accessory, whether individually or as part of a computer or phone. We take advantage of the ease in which we can use this technology and it is fascinating to see how much we have progressed from the 18th century, when the interest in capturing an image really started, to the 21st century, when we cannot think about life without capturing parts of it.




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