Many people believe the camera began with those bulky entities resting on a tripod with a photographer huddled under a black curtain. This isn’t the case at all. It all started before anyone even managed to create a working camera. The principle of photography first arose in the 5th century BC when Mo Ti, a Chinese philosopher, discovered how a pinhole could create a focused, inverted image. Of course, he couldn’t take any pictures, but through the centuries, figures like Aristotle and Roger Bacon spoke of this phenomenon and attempted to explain it.
It wasn’t until the late 17th century when people could begin to retain the images they took. In 1685, Johann Zahn made the first major breakthrough since the 5th century BC when he created a practical camera obscura. Sadly, the only way to actually preserve the images was by tracing them out. Regardless, figures from the age combined existing knowledge on bleaching and darkening to craft and manipulate images to continue their work.
The 17th-century version of the camera still made photography as we know it today inaccessible to all but the most skilled practitioners, although it didn’t take long for scientists to create the first photographic camera.
During the early 19th century cameras developed the distinctive box shape we commonly see today. They were much bigger, in the form of nested boxes, and a separate lens with a focusing screen made from ground glass enabled users to sharpen their images like never before. Once the photographer was happy with their image they would cover the lens and use a light-sensitive material to form the image. These early cameras were highly inefficient and it would sometimes take days for the photograph to fully form.
After much experimentation, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce created the first-ever permanent image from one of these sliding box cameras in 1826.
Soon after, photographers perfected the first permanent image similar cameras worked to expose copper Daguerreotype plates. These silver-covered plates became a commercially viable method of photography in 1839. For the first time, ordinary people could take practical mementos of their lives; although the quality was still questionable when compared with today’s standards.
Once photography became a commercial pursuit for many, the Daguerreotype players were soon replaced by the more efficient collodion wet plate process. Developing photographs involved coating the plates before use and keeping them wet whilst in use. Plates which dried before being used weren’t sensitive enough to create a sharp image.
In 1884, George Eastman patented the first roll film (and set up Kodak) and finally, the way was paved for the camera to move into the mass public realm.
From Film Glory to the Digital Age
Film cameras became a regular fixture all over the world from the mid-1860s when models like the Dubroni allowed users to develop their snaps inside the camera without the help of a darkroom. At this point, the necessary exposure time had decreased to a matter of minutes and photographers could use their experience to the time when their image had finished developing.
The digital age soon overcame the pinnacle of the film camera, though. A higher demand for quality images and the endless pursuit for photographers to attempt to capture real life moments in the same quality led to digital cameras bursting onto the scene. From the beginning of the 21st century, the cameras we use today can capture images of a quality never before imagined. Manufacturers continue to improve image quality, but the focus of the camera moved towards making them smaller and more portable for all.