A Snapshot History of Cameras & Photography

The word “Photography” is derived from the Greek words fos (“light”) and grafo (“to write”) and was first used in 1839by the scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel.

This art form became publicly recognised ten years later and is  largest growing hobby in the world. Let’s take a look at how this fascinating technique was created and developed.

Camera Obscura – The First “Camera”Camera Obscura – The First “Camera”

Before photography was developed, people were familiar with an instrument called the Camera Obscura (which is Latin for the Dark Room). It is believed that Camera Obscura was invented around 13-14th centuries.

camera-obscuira-2Camera Obscura is essentially a dark, closed space in the shape of a box with a hole on one side of it. The hole has to be small enough in proportion to the box to make the camera obscura work properly. The way it works is that due, to optical laws; the light coming through a tiny hole transforms and creates an image on the surface that it meets, i.e. the wall of the box. The image was mirrored and upside down. It is believed that the photo principles were widely used by Renaissance artists like Leonardo, Michelangelo and others. Even though only few of the Renaissance artists admitted they used camera obscura as an aid in drawing, it is believed most of them did.

The Invention of the Camera

The first photo picture was taken in 1825 by a French inventor Joseph Niepce. It depicts a view from the window at Le Gras. There is little merit in this picture other than the fact that it is the first photograph taken and preserved.

Niepce,Louis Daguerre,Sir John Herschel, Alfred Stieglitz,F. Holland Day,Felix Nadar, and Felix Nadarwere all pioneers in the development of photography. Finally, after decades of refinements and improvements, the mass use of cameras began with Eastman’s Kodak’s camera.

 It was introduced in 1888 with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”.In 1901, the Kodak Brownie was introduced, becoming the first commercial camera available for middle class. The camera took black and white shots only, but still was very popular due to its efficiency and ease of use.

Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who was famous for his work with electromagnetism, took the first color photo in 1861. Despite the great influence his photograph had on the photo industry, Maxwell is rarely remembered for this. The reason for that is his inventions in the field of physics simply overshadowed this accomplishment.

Although each one of these inventors faced challenges, if it were not for their perseverance and foresight, photography, even on the most amateur level, would not exist today. From camera obscura to digital cameras to cell phone cameras, we are now able capture our world minute by minute and share those photos instantly via a variety of platforms.

A Timeline of Technical Advancements

  • All camera technology is based on the law of optics first discovered by Aristotle. By the mid-1500s a sketching device for artists, the camera obscura (dark chamber) was common.
  • Johannes Kepler was the first person to coin the phrase Camera Obscura in 1604, and in 1609, Kepler further suggested the use of a lens to improve the image projected by a Camera Obscura.
  • A Snapshot History of Cameras & PhotographyThe earliest cameras used in the daguerreotype process were made by opticians, instrument makers, and photographers. They utilized a sliding-box design; the lens was placed in the front box. A second, slightly smaller box, slid into the back of the larger box; focus was controlled by sliding the rear box forward or backwards. A laterally reversed image would be obtained unless the camera was fitted with a mirror or prism to correct this effect. When the sensitized plate was placed in the camera, the lens cap would be removed to start the exposure.
  • Invention of Kodak cameraGeorge Eastman, a dry plate manufacturer from Rochester, New York, invented the Kodak camera. After use, it was sent back to the company, which then processed the film. The ad slogan read, “You press the button, we do the rest.” A year later, the delicate paper film was changed to a plastic base, so that photographers could do their own processing.
  • Adolf Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke invented Flashlight Powder in Germany in 1887.
  • Austrian, Paul Vierkotter, invented the first flashbulb. Vierkotter used magnesium-coated wire in an evacuated glass globe. Magnesium-coated wire was soon replaced by aluminium foil in oxygen.
  • Filters-English inventor and manufacturer, Frederick Wratten founded one of the first photographic supply businesses; they sold collodion glass plates and gelatine dry plates.
  • In 1878, Wratten invented the “noodling process” of silver-bromide gelatine emulsions before washing.
  • In 1906, Wratten with the assistance of Dr. C.E. Kenneth Mees (E.C.K Mees) invented and produced the first panchromatic plates in England. Eastman Kodak purchased his company in 1912.
  •  35mm Cameras35mm Cameras-As early as 1905, Oskar Barnack had the idea of reducing the format of film negatives and then enlarging the photographs after they had been exposed. As development manager at Leica, he was able to put his theory into practice. He took an instrument for taking exposure samples for cinema film and turned it into the world’s first 35 mm camera
  • Polaroid or Instant PhotosPolaroid or Instant Photos- Polaroid photography was invented by Edwin Herbert Land. Land was the American inventor and physicist whose one-step process for developing and printing photos created instant photography. The first Polaroid camera was sold to the public in November 1948.


  • timeline-of-technical-advancements-5Disposable Camera- Fuji introduced the disposable camera in 1986. We call them disposables but the people who make these cameras want you to know that they’re committed to recycling the parts, a message they’ve attempted to convey by calling their products “single-use cameras.”
  • DIGITAL CAMERADigital Camera- In 1984, Canon demonstrated first digital electronic still camera.Digital cameras differ from their analogue predecessors primarily in that they do not use film, but capture and save photographs on digital memory cards or internal storage instead. Their low operating costs have relegated chemical cameras to niche markets. Digital cameras now include wireless communication capabilities (for example Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) to transfer, print or share photos, and are commonly found on mobile phones.
  • Analog electronic camerasAnalog electronic cameras-Handheld electronic cameras, in the sense of a device meant to be carried and used like a handheld film camera, appeared in 1981 with the demonstration of the Sony Mavica (Magnetic Video Camera).

Analog electronic cameras do not appear to have reached the market until 1986 with the Canon RC-701. Canon demonstrated a prototype of this model at the 1984 Summer Olympics, printing the images in the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

In the United States, the first publication to use these cameras for real reportage was USA Today, in its coverage of World Series baseball. Several factors held back the widespread adoption of analogue cameras; the cost (upwards of $20,000), poor image quality compared to film, and the lack of quality affordable printers.

The early adopters tended to be in the news media, where the cost was negated by the utility and the ability to transmit images by telephone lines. The poor image quality was offset by the low resolution of newspaper graphics. This capability to transmit images without a satellite link was useful during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the first Gulf War in 1991.

US government agencies also took a strong interest in the still video concept, notably the US Navy for use as a real time air-to-sea surveillance system.

The first analog electronic camera The first analog electronic camera marketed to consumers may have been the Canon RC-250 Xapshot in 1988. A notable analog camera produced the same year was the Nikon QV-1000C, designed as a press camera and not offered for sale to general users; Images were stored on video floppy disks.

  • The arrival of true digital camerasThe arrival of true digital cameras-The first true digital camera that recorded images as a computerized file was likely the Fuji DS-1P of 1988, which recorded to a 16 MB internal memory card that used a battery to keep the data in memory. This camera was never marketed in the United States, and has not been confirmed to have shipped even in Japan.
  • The first commercially available digital camera was the 1990; it also sold as the Logitech Fotoman. It used a CCD image sensor, stored pictures digitally, and connected directly to a computer for download.
  • In 1991, Kodak brought to market the Kodak DCS-100, the beginning of a long line of professional Kodak DCS SLR cameras that were based in part on film bodies, often Nikons. It used a 1.3 megapixel sensor and was priced at $13,000.

The move to digital formats was helped by the formation of the first JPEG and MPEG standards in 1988, which allowed image and video files to be compressed for storage.

  • The first camera to use CompactFlash was the Kodak DC-25 in 1996.
  • first megapixel cameras In 1997 the first megapixel cameras for consumers were marketed. The first camera that offered the ability to record video clips may have been the Ricoh RDC-1 in 1995.


  • 1999 saw the introduction of the Nikon D1, a 2.74 megapixel camera that was the first digital SLR first digital SLR developed entirely by a major manufacturer. It was introduced at a cost of under $6,000 and was affordable to professional photographers and high-end consumers.
  • This camera also used Nikon F-mount lenses, which meant film photographers could use many of the same lenses they already owned.

An Insight into Photographic Films & Prints

  • An Insight into Photographic Films & PrintsThe first flexible roll films, dating to 1889, were made of cellulose nitrate, which is chemically similar to guncotton. A nitrate-based film will deteriorate over time, releasing oxidants and acidic gasses. It is also highly flammable. Special storage for this film is required.
  • Nitrate film is historically important because it allowed for the development of roll films. The first flexible movie films measured 35-mm wide and came in long rolls on a spool. In the mid-1920s, using this technology, 35-mm roll film was developed for the camera. By the late 1920s, medium-format roll film was created. It measured six centimetres wide and had a paper backing making it easy to handle in daylight. This led to the development of the twin-lens-reflex camera in 1929. Nitrate film was produced in sheets (4 x 5-inches) ending the need for fragile glass plates.
  • Triacetate film came later and was more stable, flexible, and fireproof. Most films produced up to the 1970s were based on this technology. Since the 1960s, polyester polymers have been used for gelatine base films. The plastic film base is far more stable than cellulose and is not a fire hazard.
  • Today, technology has produced film with T-grain emulsions. These films use light-sensitive silver halides (grains) that are T-shaped, thus rendering a much finer grain pattern. Films like this offer more detail and higher resolution, meaning sharper images.
  •  Film Speed (ISO) Film Speed (ISO) — An arbitrary number placed on film that tells how much light is needed to expose the film to the correct density; generally, the lower the ISO number, the finer grained and slower a film. ISO means International Standards Organization. This term replaces the old ASA speed indicator. The slower the film, the more light is needed to expose it.
  • Photographic PrintsPhotographic Prints-Traditionally, linen rag papers were used as the base for making photographic prints. Prints on this fibre-base paper coated with a gelatine emulsion are quite stable when properly processed. Their stability is enhanced if the print is toned with either sepia (brown tone) or selenium (light, silvery tone).


Photographic PrintsPaper will dry out and crack under poor archival conditions. Loss of the image can also be due to high humidity, but the real enemy of paper is chemical residue left by photographic fixer. In addition, contaminants in the water used for processing and washing can cause damage. If a print is not fully washed to remove all traces of fixer, the result will be discoloration and image loss.

  • Fixer (Hypo)—A chemical, sodium thiosulfate, used to remove residual silver halides (grain) from films and prints when processing them.
  • The next innovation in photographic papers was resin-coating or water-resistant paper. The idea is to use normal linen fibre-base paper and coat it with a plastic (polyethylene) material, making the paper water-resistant. The emulsion is placed on a plastic covered base paper. The problem with resin-coated papers is that the image rides on the plastic coating, and is susceptible to fading.
  • At first color prints were not stable because organic dyes were used to make the color image. The image would literally disappear from the film or paper base as the dyes deteriorate.
  •  KodachromeKodachrome, dating to the first third of the 20th century, was the first color film to produce prints that could last half a century. Now, new techniques are creating permanent color prints lasting 200 years or more. New printing methods using computer-generated digital images and highly stable pigments, offer permanency for color photographs.







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