Cameras are an important part of modern culture, so much so that it’s hard to imagine a life without them. Without cameras, some of the most memorable events in history, both great and terrible, wouldn’t be available on film for future generations. Courtesy of pictures, one can share and always remember beautiful scenery and moments of great joy and accomplishment. Today, anyone can snap a picture of themselves or their surroundings by simply using the camera on their smartphone! Although it’s easy to take this technology for granted, it hasn’t always been this readily available, as cameras and photography have come a long way.
The Invention of Camera Obscura
The camera obscura gave rise to the earliest form of photography. Although the date of its invention is uncertain, it is thought to be ancient. While not technically a camera, the camera obscura is widely considered to be its precursor. It did not take a picture like a camera; rather, light would pass through a small hole in a darkened tent or box and project an upside-down image onto a surface inside.
A Chinese scholar named Mozi was one of the first people to document the camera obscura, back in the 5th century B.C.E. But it was not commonly used until the 11th century, when an Arab scientist named Alhazen published information regarding a light test using a camera obscura. From there, it became a popular method of viewing solar eclipses.
In the mid-1500s, there was a shift toward using the camera obscura for more artistic purposes. Artists would use it to create more realistic art, as it allowed them to improve their sketches by tracing images of objects.
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and the First Permanent Photograph
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce was a French inventor and a pioneer in photography. In 1827, he took a picture of the view from the studio window at his estate in France. He was able to make a photograph by using a process known as heliography. That photo is considered the first permanent photograph. His heliography process involved coating a polished pewter plate with a light-sensitive material, which was then put in the camera obscura and exposed to light for several hours. The image lacked detail and was crude and fuzzy, but it was still a crucial first step in photography.
Louis Daguerre and the Daguerreotype
Another important contributor to the invention of the camera was a French painter and proprietor named Louis-Jacques Mande Daguerre. In 1929, Niépce and Daguerre entered a partnership, as both wanted to create a better method of capturing images seen by the camera obscura. While unsuccessful at the time of Niépce’s death, their work led to the development of the daguerreotype.
The daguerreotype was an early form of photography that could create images that were more vivid and had greater detail than using Niépce’s process. It involved exposing a polished, silver-plated sheet of copper to light before treating it with chemicals to create a permanent image. The extremely detailed results were popular among photographers. They also caught the interest of scientists, who saw how the daguerreotype could be useful for scientific study.
Daguerre’s invention was a major breakthrough that inspired how people thought about photographic images. Unfortunately, most of Daguerre’s works, written records, and equipment were lost in a fire that destroyed his laboratory. Because of that fire, there are fewer than 25 of his photographs remaining.
Henry Fox Talbot and the Calotype
Henry Fox Talbot was an accomplished British inventor, photographer, mathematician, physicist, and Egyptologist. In 1841, Talbot applied for a patent for the calotype, which was also known as the talbotype. The calotype was an extremely important step in the advancement of photography, as it gave photographers the ability to make multiple prints from a single negative. This was possible because of several factors, starting with Talbot’s discovery of gallic acid, which allowed images to develop on paper and be fixed with sodium hyposulfite. One could then create multiple images by contact printing using paper treated with silver chloride. This discovery has led many photographers to see Talbot as one of the most important figures in the history of photography.
The Roll Film Camera
The transition from cameras using plates to cameras that used rolls of film began with an inventor named David Henderson Houston, who in 1881 filed a patent for a camera that would require the use of a roll of film. This patent came before the invention of the flexible film itself, which wouldn’t be patented until 1885.
Cameras that use rolls of film are all analog and capture images by exposing the film to light. This exposure causes a chemical reaction that reproduces the image onto the film. After taking the pictures, the photographer removes the film and develops it in a darkroom.
The Kodak Camera
In 1888, the man who invented flexible roll film, George Eastman, introduced the first Kodak camera. This box-like camera came pre-loaded with film and was specifically created for easy use by amateur photographers. Once a person took their pictures, the entire camera was sent back to the company, where it would be developed for a fee. The Kodak camera played a significant part in the popularity of cameras and pictures in the lives of average citizens.
The 35 mm Camera
Oskar Barnack invented the 35 mm camera in the early 1900s for the Ernst Leitz Company. The 35 mm film format allowed for better-quality images than earlier cameras, and the cameras were also smaller, which made them more portable and easier to use. Another benefit of 35 mm cameras was that they allowed photographers to take multiple exposures on a single roll of film, which was a major breakthrough in the field. Today, many professional photographers still use 35 mm cameras.
The Digital Camera
First introduced in the 1980s, the digital camera has revolutionized how people take and share photos. When a picture is taken using a digital camera, the camera uses sensors to capture the image and store it on a memory card. Images can then be transferred to a computer for editing and sharing with others. Digital cameras have made photography more accessible than ever and have made it possible to take pictures with a wide range of devices, including a cell phone or tablet. Because there’s no need to develop film and digital cameras can take high-quality photos, they have become the most popular choice for taking pictures.