Capturing the Moment: A Brief History of Cameras

Imagine a world without cameras, photography, and pictures. For most people, until the 1800s, this was the reality of their world. Only in the past century or so have we been able to capture memories and events.

The history of cameras has evolved a long way to get to the accessible phone camera you carry around today. That device is a product of more than a millennium of development and innovation.

To find out where it all began, keep reading.

The First Camera

Kickstarting the history of cameras is the precursor to all modern cameras: the camera obscura. Han Philosopher Mozi, who lived from 470 to 391 BC, demonstrated this principle. An image beyond a barrier projected through a hole would give an inverted image replica.

These pinhole cameras could magnify and display immobile scenery for observation. This made it a hit with astronomers and artists alike. The camera itself consisted of a small box with a hole on one side to allow light to enter, then magnify.

While capable of magnifying distant images, the camera itself could not capture images. Unless people were willing to trace the image, pictures were impossible. People would have to wait a long time before true photography finally emerged.

Capturing Images

Photography began with the application of chemistry and lenses. To offset the disadvantages of the camera obscura, people used various light-sensitive chemicals. These chemicals, such as silver salts, darkened when exposed to light.

Early photographs consisted of black and white images with different shades of grey. But early photographers ran into a big problem. Chemicals on the images were not permanent and would dissolve!

It would take the efforts of Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce to create permanent pictures. Niépce succeeded in the first photo taken, which still survives today. Using a pewter plate covered in bitumen and chemicals, he was able to take a photo of a view outside his window.

This process he coined as “heliography” took him over eight whole hours to take. Today, people can take hundreds of high-quality images using their phones in a second.

Over the next hundred years, cameras would evolve to redefine how cameras work. This development is traceable to the first true photographic process: the daguerreotype.

The Era of Photography

Niépce would partner with another Frenchman named Louis Daguerre to improve heliography. The daguerreotype process would capture images permanently. It used a plate covered with salt water, mercury vapor, and silver iodide.

Years later, after Niepce’s death, the French government would get the process. Daguerre and Niepce’s son, Isidore, would continue and refine the process,

During this time, more prominent camera innovations would appear. These include a process for photoduplication along with dry instantaneous photography. Daguerre and Isidore would also partner with Giroux to create a fully functioning camera.

The process would also see developments in photo development time and quality. The daguerreotype or plate process produced sharp contrast images. This, coupled with the permanence of the photos, led to professional photography.

The 1800s would continue to be a hub for important developments for the camera. For the first time, people would know how cameras work and the science behind them. Included here was the camera lens, a product of optics, the science used to find out more about light.

Film and Kodak

The developments in photography became available for the masses using film. Unlike daguerreotype cameras, film cameras could take many photos at a time. This resulted in the Kodak, a camera that utilized film to take hundreds of photos.

Near the end of the 19th century, George Eastman developed both film and the Kodak camera. Everyday people could now take pictures of everyday life. Once they used up the film, they could mail it to a factory to develop pictures.

This innovation further supported the rise and development of photography in the 1900s. This allowed for the documentation of important events at instant speed. This rise in film would also lead to filmography and the first movies.

As film would continue to rise in popularity, plate cameras would follow. Between the two, film would produce more pictures, while plates gave better pictures. These would both see use well into the 20th century.

The Digital Age

Film and plate photography had served their use by the end of the 1900s. With the growth of electronics and software, a new camera was soon in the works. The digital camera soon began to take over and remains dominant even today.

The cameras functioned through the storage of photos on a digital chip. This chip could store more photos than film and could send them via satellite or telephone. This made digital cameras valuable to news sources who could cover events worldwide.

Digital photography would grow through the investment of governments and news agencies. From digital cameras, phone cameras would grow. The establishment of digital companies like Canon and Sony cemented the product.

Film and plate photography would soon phase out as digital cameras began to rise. Kodak, once the giant of the photography industry, filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Film and plate are now only taken up by a few photographers.

Today, digital photography is the norm for its high-quality, digitally enhanced images. Improved lens quality and camera size would lead to compact handheld cameras. Now, everyone can take a photo in less than a second, which years ago took eight hours.

Discover the History of Cameras

The history of cameras is interesting for both professional and amateur photographers. Capturing events and being able to look back and remember them feels almost like magic.

If you have a camera, take some time to grow your photography skills and put them to good use. Who knows, you might have a better eye than you think.

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