Say cheese! Our minds know we must look into the camera when we hear this term. Cameras have become such an essential part of our lives today that thinking about life before the camera seems impossible. Don’t you ever wonder how people of earlier times had no concept of capturing their sweetest moments through some device? Their memories were all that they had.
All this makes us question, when was the first camera invented? Who invented the first camera? Why was the first camera invented? And many more such questions arise when we think of the camera.
Today’s cameras are highly modified versions of the first camera. This device underwent many technological changes to make the kind of camera we hold in our hands today. They weren’t this easy and simple to use and not even this abundant. We shall go through the camera’s journey over the years and answer the question, “when was the first camera invented?”.
1. History of the Camera
The camera we use today can be said to have its origin in the camera obscura concept.
The camera obscura can be called the initial point in the history of the camera. An 11th-century Arab physicist named Ibn al-Haytham or Alhazen is credited for the camera obscura concept, who presented the idea around 1000 A.D. He extensively wrote works regarding optics and experiments with lights, such as the little amount of light in a darkened room which can be regarded as the concept behind camera obscura. His works inspired even Leonardo da Vinci and Johannes Kepler.
You must be thinking that the camera obscura was the first camera people started using to click pictures, but that was not the case. It was not a camera as we know it today. The camera obscura aided the artists in their drawings around 1550.
The growing popularity of the camera obscura led to more inventions and even modifications in the camera obscura to make it more portable for the artists to carry it around for their paintings or drawings.
It can be said that camera obscura technology has existed for a long time, from ancient times. It can be dated back to the 4th century BCE, with some observations made by Mozi, a Chinese philosopher. Cameras can trace back history to ancient Greek and Chinese civilizations. These civilizations might have the answer to the question, “when was the first camera invented?”.
It was used earlier to view solar eclipses during the 13th century safely.
2. How did Camera Obscura Work?
These early cameras were not of the size we know today. In fact, to our surprise, they were the size of a room with only one or two people being able to stand at a time.
The word camera obscura stands for “dark chamber” in Latin. It is typically a dark room devoid of light with only a small wall hole. So, during the day, when there is abundant light, the light travels straight through that small hole and creates an upside-down image of the scene outside on the opposite wall of the darkened room.
Because of this small hole, the camera obscura is also known as the pinhole camera. To experience the working of the camera obscura, you can simply make its smaller version from a cardboard box with some very easy steps.
With the pinhole camera, one could not click and store a scene but only view a particular scene upside down, which was made vertically with a mirror later. The actual photographic camera evolved later.
3. History of Photography
We have a history of photography only because we invented cameras. Without cameras, there would have been no such concept. A key name in the history of photography shall be Johann Zahn. In 1685, this man envisioned a small portable camera, but he was ahead of his time. His thought lacked the technological support to back his idea up of the portable camera until 150 years later.
The 17th century was a prime time for the history of photography. Many studies were done to understand the working of light for this purpose. Around 3 general forms of the camera, namely, the American box camera, Lewis type camera, and Robert’s type camera, took birth within a decade after the introduction of the camera to America. This gave a new way to the history of photography.
So we can say that the history of photography and the camera are intertwined. Without this invention and its modifications, we would not have the vision of photographic processes such as roll film and wet plates.
4. When was the First Camera Invented?
The photographic camera was first developed in the year 1839 by Alphonse Giroux. It was invented for commercial purposes and was mass marketed. It was a daguerreotype camera, about which we shall read further.
This can be regarded as the answer to when was the first camera invented. It was a double-box camera. The inner box served as a holder for the picture plate and glass focusing screen, with the outside box housing a landscape lens.
It was sold for 4oo francs. The technology this camera used still prevails in most cameras we use today with many modifications. In 1839, a photo took about 5 to 20 minutes to develop. This consumer camera had an exposure time ranging from 5 to 3o minutes with standardized plates in various sizes available for purchase.
5. First Photograph
The first photographic image can be credited to Joseph Nicephore Niepce. He used the camera obscura to generate a photographic plate in either 1826 or 1827. He experimented with several plates and named his experiments “heliography” or “sun writing.” The pewter plate he used at the base of the camera obscura helped him provide a permanent image. This idea has survived till today.
The image produced by Joseph was blurry and clear as it was taken without fixing the focus. It was a view from a window which a little difficult to decipher. Nonetheless, Joseph’s contribution was groundbreaking for the history of photography and cameras.
5.1. Color Cameras
The inventors’ dream to present the world with images as humans see in color was fulfilled after much experimentation. They developed a plate that could capture the hues. By 1935, Kodak was able to produce the “Kodachrome film.” This technology was expensive and, therefore, out of the reach of middle-class people. It was in the middle 1960s that color film became accessible to the general public.
5.2. First Photograph in Color
The credit for the first colored photograph goes to Thomas Sutton, the inventor of the single lens reflex cameras. This first photograph was made by him using three monochrome plates. The images of the first photographic camera were in monochrome, with black and white images being the final form. However, the photos were not necessarily black and white. It was the monochrome feature that was main. They could sometimes be in blue, gray, or silver.
6. Types of Camera
We all know that the cameras had a long history from their inception to what we see today. Various types of cameras developed over the years, each slightly better and different from the other, using each other’s concepts. In this section, we shall look at the various types of cameras that the world has witnessed through the years from pinhole cameras.
6.1. #1 – Daguerreotype Camera
The daguerreotype invention by Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre in France was made public on 19th August 1839 at a French Academy of Sciences meeting in Paris. American photographers did not leave this chance and immediately capitalized on it, an invention capable of capturing “truthful likeness.” There were over 70 daguerreotype studios alone in Paris by 1850.
This one of the earliest cameras gained so much popularity that the French government purchased its rights in exchange for a life pension for Louis and his son. France decided to provide its groundbreaking invention as a gift to the free world. And the mid-19th century was defined by this box camera. It contained copper plates coated with silver inside a box camera.
The daguerreotype camera soon got a variant known as calotype, invented by Henry Fox Talbot and gained fame. However, not as much as its French counterpart, Henry Talbot’s name remains pivotal in the history of the camera.
The process of daguerreotypes required great care. This process is a highly direct positive response. It creates a highly detailed image on a sheet of copper plated with a thin coat of silver without using a negative.
Cleaning and polishing the silver-coated copper plate until the surface resembled a mirror was necessary. The plate was then exposed to iodine in a confined box until it developed a yellow-rose color. It was then moved to the camera while held in a light-proof holder.
The plate was exposed to light before being developed until an image appeared over hot mercury. It was then submerged in sodium thiosulfate or salt solution to correct the picture. Then it was toned with gold chloride.
In short, coating a copper plate with silver, sensitizing it with iodine, and finally developing over a hot mercury plate took 3 to 5 mins earlier and much lesser time later.
6.2. #2 – Mirror Camera
The pictures that developed through Daguerre’s process vanished quickly, which can be regarded as a flaw. This flaw was rectified by Alexander S. Wolcott, the inventor of the mirror camera. This camera created a positive impression, not a negative image with reversed colors.
6.3. #3 – Kodak
The history of photography was going to witness a significant change with this invention by American George Eastman. Mr. George perfected roll film cameras, leading to analog photography’s peak.
By 1888, a new box camera named Kodak was marketed by George. This camera initially used paper film, but soon, the paper film was replaced by celluloid. Kodak came with 100 exposures which had to be developed at the Eastman Kodak plant in New York. These cameras cost 25 dollars and had a catchy slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.”
Kodak’s brownie cameras soon replaced these earliest cameras using paper film. These cameras, launched in 1901 by the Kodak camera manufacturers, were much less expensive. These were very simple and high-quality cameras available to the middle class.
The availability of this camera technology to the middle class made them extremely popular as people started to use the cameras for various functions without any occasion. It can be regarded as one of the first consumer cameras due to its wide range of use.
Kodak dominated the camera market until the rise of digital camera technology in the 1990s. The popularity of Kodak’s brownie cameras and the introduction of other portable and film cameras made image plate processes obsolete.
6.4. #4 – 35mm Film Camera
A German inventor and photographer named Oskar Barnack are credited for introducing the 35mm or the 135mm film cameras between 1905 and 1913. The camera manufacturers made freestanding rolls of 35mm film available during these years that could be easily inserted and taken out of the owner’s camera.
The 35mm film cameras were popularized by Oskar’s Leica camera, which he made for the Leitz firm. Soon, Kodak became the leading supplier of photographic film for the 35mm cameras, with firms such as Fujifilm providing tough competition later.
These 35mm are now the most commonly used film for analog photography, and many photographers still use them despite having difficulty finding a nearby processor.
6.5. #5 – Mirrorless Camera
The mirrorless camera was introduced by Epson in 2004 and is called so because it does not use a reflex mirror. In this camera, the light flows directly to the digital sensor and displays the image on the camera’s LCD screen.
This allows you to make adjustments and preview images before shooting. Gradual changes paved the way for more mirrorless cameras to earn their place in customizable photographic camera areas.
6.6. Instantaneous Exposures
Richard Leach Maddox invented a gelatin dry plate producing instant exposures.
This discovery in 1871 can be regarded as the parent of the polaroid cameras that made their way in the 20th century. We can see the camera technology progressing fast now.
6.6.1. #6 – Polaroid Cameras
Polaroid cameras can be called instant cameras because the photo develops instantly within these cameras. Edwin Land invented the first camera that gave instant pictures in 1948. It allowed his Polaroid corporation to corner the market for the next 50 years.
Many people refer to the instant cameras as Polaroids, but it is the company that produced the instant cameras. They provided you with permanent images and did not create images that faded within minutes.
These cameras were most famous during the 70s and the 80s, but with the rise of digital cameras and digital photography, they experienced less demand. Though Polaroids are again back in fashion in the age of digital cameras, it is merely for aesthetic and decorative purposes. These cameras’ most popular photographic film was the ones with a broad white border, approximately 3 inches square.
6.7. The Digital Cameras
The coming of digital photography changed the way people clicked pictures. The modern camera and other cameras we hold in our hands today altered the history of photography. Contemporary photography is nothing like the earlier times. It is much more convenient, quicker, safer, and hassle-free, all because of the digital camera invention.
The theory of the digital camera was theorized as early as 1961, but the working prototype digital camera came in 1975. A Kodak engineer named Steven Sasson and his team created the first digital camera that weighed up to 4kg. This camera captured black and white images on a cassette tape.
It required a screen for the photo to be looked at and could not print the pictures themselves. This was when the first digital camera was invented. This device had a resolution of 0.01 megapixels and took 23 seconds of exposure to record the image, unlike modern camera phones, which are a thousand times clearer and give results instantly.
The first commercially available digital camera was the 1990 Daycam Model 1, created by Logitech. It used Sasson’s original design but stored data on internal memory, which could be connected to the computers and then could be viewed and printed from it after downloading.
Digital camera sales increased when digital manipulation software was made available for personal computers in 1990. The images could now be manipulated at home without costly materials or a dark room.
6.7.1. #7 – Twin-Reflex Cameras
The creation of lens reflex cameras marked a significant advancement in the history of photographic cameras. The first of these cameras was sold in the 1920s by a German company. It offered features such as a camera lens, variable shutter speed, and removable camera lens. These twin lens reflex cameras quickly faded as the single lens reflex cameras favored them.
6.7.2. #8 – Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLR Cameras)
The digital SLR camera, or the DSLR camera, was introduced to the world in 1999. It replaced the single lens reflex cameras only within a few years. The digital SLR camera is popular among professionals and amateurs as it produces high-quality camera images.
The digital SLR gives you the actual appearance through the viewfinder. When the first DSLR camera was launched, it became the next big thing, with the Japanese companies, particularly excited.
Nikon and Canon dominated the market with these single lens reflex cameras that produced high-quality pictures with viewfinders, allowing you to look at the previous images.
6.7.3. #9 – Phone Camera
The coming phones with digital cameras were a very big advancement for humankind. It changed the meaning of the way earlier photographic camera. The first camera phone was the Kyocera VP-210 which came in 1999 with a 110,000-pixel camera and a 2-inch screen to view photos.
The new phones being launched are powerful and equipped with the latest technologies within just 6 inches of metal pieces. For example, the iPhone 13, with its multiple lenses, works as a video camera with motion picture technology. It is even possible to use this phone camera as a movie camera or a film camera to make short films on the phone without having to use elaborate setups.
7. Final Thoughts
We have now finally seen that the camera has traveled a long road through various experiments and modifications to be what we see it as today. Today, we can barely imagine our phones without cameras, as they have now become a necessity. We are dependent on them for various purposes, and even some big and small online businesses solely run smartphones with cameras.
From taking pictures and making a separate folder named family photo album in your phone gallery to scanning Q.R. codes to pay for groceries, we have to agree cameras are one of the greatest inventions that the world has witnessed over time.
Being able to ask “when was the first camera invented” is a privilege because the ones asking this question haven’t experienced a life without this essential device. Having your life memories stored up so beautifully would not have been possible without the geniuses mentioned above and many more unnamed ones who were a part of this long journey.