Early cameras of the 16th and 17th century were able to project images onto paper or glass but the study of capturing, processing and printing the images took many more years. Up until the 17th century, scientists believed that light was composed basically of the ‘white’ that is perceived by the human eye. It took the research done by famous physicist Isaac Newton to discover that light is actually composed of a spectrum of colors. While he made a big contribution to the study of optics (that is at the core of camera advances) with this discovery, Newton did not actually have anything to do with camera development per se.
The early camera that first became a phenomenon was a little more than a pinhole camera and can be traced back to 1558. It was called the Camera Obscura. The Camera Obscura was seen as a drawing tool for a clearer and realistic portrayal of objects. It was in the early 19th century that an invention named the Camera Lucida was introduced by Cambridge scientist William Hyde Wollaston that consisted of an optical device that could help an artist view a distant scene or person or object on a paper surface that he or she was using to draw. In other words the artist gets to view a superimposed image of a subject on paper and this image could be effectively used to attempt to draw, trace or paint it. Both the Camera Obscura and the Camera Lucida provided an image that was temporary, which could not be lastingly captured on to paper for later reference.
Studies however continued well into the 1800’s on how to actually capture the image onto material. It was during this time, around 1822 that French researcher Joseph Nicephore Niepce, created the first photograph by using paper that was coated with a chemical. The image would not stay permanently on the paper and would disappear after a short while. Even so, despite the short-lived nature of the image, the concept of photography was born with this experiment and paved the way for further study and development in this field.
Capturing images to retain them longer and permanently became the next big quest for researchers. Another Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre partnered with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1829, to develop the process of creating permanent photographs. Joseph Niépce died in 1833 but Daguerre continued with the work and succeeded in 1837 after many long years of experimentation. The process of capturing photographic images that would not fade away, introduced by Daguerre came to be known as the ‘daguerreotype’.
The word ‘photography’ was coined by scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel in 1839 and it is actually is derived from two Greek words ‘photos’ meaning light and ‘graphein’ meaning draw.
A slightly more advanced version of the daguerreotype called the Calotype process that makes multiple copies possible using the negative and positive method became available very soon after. In fact, it was during the 1840’s that the use of photographic images in advertisements first started and cameras made their mark on the power of visual communication. It was not much later, in the 1850’s that photographers first started experimenting with underwater photography of seascapes.
Up until 1850, the process of capturing images was cumbersome requiring upto half an hour of light exposure. The discovery made in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer was a blessing since the new method termed the Collodion process called for just 2-3 seconds of light exposure to capture an image.
Prior to 1871, photographers went through a development process where they had to coat the plate with wet chemical each and every time and process the image immediately. With the invention the gelatin dry plate silver bromide process by Richard Leach Maddox, negatives did not have to be developed immediately. This was an important discovery since up until then the captured image had to be processed instantly.
Kodak created in 1888 by George Eastman has been a modern day pioneer of sorts in cameras and photography for the masses. George Eastman and the scientists who worked with him at Kodak developed the photographic film in 1889 and made it available in rolls for the mass use of consumers. An important milestone in our entertainment and communication history was the development of transparent roll film by Eastman. This development led to another key invention – the motion picture camera by Thomas Edison’s in 1891.
During the 20th century the pace of technology development in cameras and photography continued at an accelerated pace much like many other key technology developments. While several key inventions like car, telephone and the gramophone record happened in the later half of the 19th century, it is the last 100 years that saw major developmental work in many areas of communications technology and as well as in other fields – TV, aircrafts, PCs, digital technology, digital cameras, mobile phones, fax machines and the internet, to name a few.
In the case of the camera, the developments simplified the whole process of photography, making it accessible to one and all at affordable prices and the camera industry denizens of our times made it into a mass phenomenon. The first mass use camera became available at the turn of the 20th century and can be traced back to the year 1900. There are hundreds of models of cameras available today both for the amateur as well as the professional and the camera is an important part of any family’s repertoire of must have gadgets.
20th century chronology in the history of the camera:
1913: 35 mm still-camera created
1927: The flash bulb introduced by General Electric Co. (The concept of camera flash existed much before but was based on the use of a flash light powder that was invented by German researchers)
1935- 1941: Kodak starts marketing Kodachrome film and subsequently launches Kodacolor negative film. Canon released the Hansa Canon in 1936, the first 35mm focal-plane shutter camera.
1948: The concept of the Polaroid camera is introduced in the market. American scientist Edwin Land developed the process for instant photography. Later Polaroid Corporation developed the ‘instant color’ film around 1963.
1957: Frenchman Jaques Yves Cousteau invented the first waterproof 35mm camera for underwater photography named the Calypso Phot. The actual camera was developed by the Belgian airplane technical designer Jean de Wouters based on the blueprint and suggestions given to him by Cousteau.
1972: The electronic camera that does not require film was created and patented by Texas Instruments. This is however not the same as a digital camera though you don’t require film in digital cameras as well. The launch of the digital camera is still many years away.
1975: Kodak’s experiments with digital imaging kicked off around the mid seventies but it will take another 20 years before a digital camera for the home consumer market is launched.
1978 – 1980: Asian players like Konica and Sony begin to make their mark. The ‘point and shoot’ automatic focus camera is launched by Konica while Sony starts talking about the camcorder and demonstrates a prototype.
1981: Sony launches a commercially available electronic still camera. Similar to the 1972 invention by Texas Instruments, the Sony electronic camera came with a mini disc on which images were recorded and stored. The recorded images could be later printed or viewed on a monitor using a reader device.
1985: Digital processing technology makes its entry. Digital imaging and processing is introduced by Pixar.
1986: The camera industry becomes even more consumer focused and taps the fun and travel connotations behind camera usage, with the launch of the concept of the disposable single use cameras. Fuji is credited with the development of this concept.
Also in 1986 – 1987, Kodak started taking giant strides in digital development. Digital means, the photographic image is divided into tiny units of dots or squares known as pixels. Pixels are the programmable units of an image that can be processed by computers. Each image could be made up of millions of pixels. The use of pixels in digital technology allows storing large volumes of pixels to deliver high definition print quality.
1990: Kodak introduces Photo CD’s. It is a system of storing photographic images on CD and then viewing them on a computer. With this development the user-friendly approach of the camera industry began to take concrete shape.
1991: Kodak introduces a digital camera targeted at professionals and journalists. Kodak is credited with the invention of a pixel based camera technology known to us as the digital camera. Digital cameras don’t use film similar to their predecessor electronic cameras but the storage method is entirely different and the final photograph is of much higher resolution. In a digital camera photos are recorded and stored in digital form. This digital data can be transferred to a computer and processed for printing. Kodak and Canon are well known digital camera manufacturers and there are also several other key brands as well.
1994: The Apple QuickTake camera, a home use digital camera is launched. This is followed by the launch of a clutch of home use digital cameras by Casio, Kodak and others in quick succession during 1995 -’96.
The digital era:
The development of digital camera technology is considered to be linked to the development of TV and Video technology. The principles of transmission and recording of audio-visual images using digital electrical impulses finds use in camera imaging as well.
Through the 1990’s the developments continued in camera technology, the focus now shifting to the field of digital imaging which is where the future lies. Use-friendly features like software that can download digital images directly from camera onto home computers for storing and sharing on the internet is the new norm in the market place.
The camera, the computer, the software industry and the worldwide web are today irrevocably interlinked to empower the user in experiencing the benefits of camera usage to full potential. The innovation that sparked many an invention in the camera industry found its way into the digital world as well and continued among digital camera manufacturers. During 2001, the Kodak and Microsoft partnership ensured that digital camera manufacturers could use the power of Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP) standard through Windows. The digital photo experience is a key visual driver in the Internet era. Many of Kodak digital camera models with EasyShare capabilities are compatible with Windows XP. The Kodak EasyShare software enables users to transfer digital camera pictures directly from camera to their computers and then print the pictures or even email them.
Manufacturers in a related industry like the printing industry have adapted their products to be in sync with the images created by digital cameras. Cell phone manufacturers have tied up with digital camera manufacturers to develop new age camera phones in recent years. These camera phones can capture images and share the images through the cell phone.
Among the 21st century digital developments are the advanced product offerings from digital cameras manufacturers and these are sure to occupy an important place in the ensuing history of camera development. For instance, the Kodak Professional DCS Pro SLR/c is a high-end digital camera and the Kodak website calls the DCS Pro SLR models the most feature-rich digital cameras on the market. It has an image sensor that can handle 13.89 million pixels and this makes it the highest resolution digital camera available. High resolution determines the sharpness or level of detail in photographic images. This is just a glimpse of the capabilities that digital technology places in a user’s hands. Digital camera sales figures for 2003 show that the two key players Kodak and Canon have recorded impressive growth.
What does the future holds for camera users?
The features offered by digital cameras can be quite mind-boggling for the average user and pretty exciting for most pros. Four key ongoing camera developments that are likely to further improve the process of photography:
1. Greater resolution from even the simplest, low cost camera models
2. Usage in any type of lighting conditions,
3. Compatibility across a range of software, hardware and image types
4. Rich colors and tone
While the higher-end digital evolution continues, the prices of the simple camera have crashed to such an extent that even children and teens are proud owners of uncomplicated cameras. The camera and photography interest starts young and this creates a truly large audience base for the camera industry.
And throughout history, it is evident that the endeavor of researchers and developers has been to make the camera available to a wide section of society. Without camera technology and photography, the other key developments of cinema and TV would have been delayed and what a boring place the world would have been without TV and films.