Here’s a modern philosophical question for you: if you didn’t take a photo of it, did it really happen? There have been more photographs taken in the last five years than in the previous 100 years. The growth of the number of photographs taken each year is exponential and the estimated number for 2017 is approximately 1.3 trillion…TRILLION…for one single year. I do not know about you, but this seems insane to me and I wonder how many of these shots are selfies for self-promotion on social media. This crazy statistic can be blamed on the smart phone; 75% of all photographs taken in this modern day are by a smart phone. But this blog is not so much about the smart phone but the evolution and highlights of the camera to its present day incarnations.
Our little story of evolution begins in the 15th century with our old friend and maestro, Leonardo da Vinci (I believe I have mentioned him before, a few times. It is amazing how often he actually shows up in history and science and art and, well, everywhere. I think he may have been the first six degrees of separation guy.) Although the concept had been expressed before him, da Vinci was the first to describe in detail the camera obscura, also known as a pinhole camera.
This design was a dark box with a pinhole at one end and a glass screen at the other end. When the light shines through the hole an image will appear on the screen. This contraption was more of a projector than a true camera and was used in the 16th and 17th centuries as a drawing aid for many artists to accurately portray perspective in their work. Before it received the moniker of camera obscura, it was used by many other expressions including cubiculum obscurum, cubiculum tenebricosum, conclave obscurum, and locus obscurus. I do believe Latin always makes things sound so much impressive and slightly dangerous; maybe because witches’ spells and religious ceremonies were once done in Latin, or maybe it is just me.
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce was a French inventor who is generally considered the inventor of the camera and a pioneer in the field of photography. He was the inventor of heliography, the photographic process that used Bitumen of Judea (a naturally occurring asphalt) as a coating on metal or glass. This asphalt hardened in proportion to the light that it was exposed to and then when it was washed with oil of lavender, only the hardened areas remained. Exposure times could be anywhere from hours to days. Who doesn’t have that kind of time to capture one picture? This process was used in 1826 or 1827 by Nicéphore Niépce to make View from the Window at Le Gras, the earliest known surviving photograph.
Daguerrotypes (designed by Louis Daguerre) were the first commercially successful photographic media utilizing silver-coated copper plates. His innovations using chemicals and plates paved the way for film cameras later to come. These were followed by many differing types of plates, smaller cameras with bellows for focusing instead of nested boxes for more flexibility and movability, and eventually shorter exposure times.
The later 1800’s saw great advancements in camera development with Thomas Sutton designing the first single reflex camera (SLR) which allowed the photographer to get an accurate view of what he is photographing through the use of mirrors. This was followed by the twin lens reflex and in 1888 the Eastman Company manufactured the Kodak. This was the first built-in roll-film box camera ushering a new era in modern photography and making the art of photography available to the masses. The Kodak “Brownie” introduced low-cost photography and the whole idea of the snapshot. The George Eastman Company was the leader in film (not surprising) with the first autographic roll-film camera. Autographic film has two layers, the front layer for recording the image and the back layer for writing information about the photo.
Oskar Barnack, the head of development at Leitz Camera, introduced the Leica A in 1925 at the Spring Fair in Leipzeig. This was first 35-mm camera to gain commercial success because of its portability, superior construction and advanced lens quality. He was one of the first photographers to capture with photography the relationship between man and his environment when he photographed the historic flood on the Lahn River in Wetzler.
Edwin H. Land was an American scientist, inventor and cofounder of the Polaroid Corporation. He is credited with inventing inexpensive filters for polarizing light and developing the retinex colour theory*. His Polaroid camera went on sale in 1948 becoming the first camera to capture an image and develop it in 60 seconds or less. I am sure that many of us remember having one of these when we were kids and furiously waving around the developing photo hoping that by doing so we would speed this process up. This style of camera has also made a bit of a come-back in the last decade and is a fairly inexpensive camera to purchase, although the film is another matter…. As a side note (which I always enjoy) Land was instrumental in the development of photographic reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and the equipment for such things. Photography and espionage? How exciting.
Further advances in the world of cameras and photography have continued through the decades including the auto focus, the first disposable camera (one thing this world does not need, is more single-use things. Just this person’s opinion), the first professional digital camera by Kodak that came out in 1991 and sold for the meager price of $13,000 (US), and the first camera phone another 9 years later.
Where will study and research take the camera business next? Imagine having the capability of a DSLR camera in the body the size of a coin. We may not be too far away from this idea. There is so much advancement in regards to cameras and photography and I have only hit upon the highlights that interested me. Billions of people capture trillions of photos every year and that will only continue to increase. People capture the moments of their everyday life, and more often than not will post it on the social media of their choosing for all to see. It is no wonder that photographers both amateur and professional change and upgrade their photographic equipment so often. There is just SO many possibilities!
If you are new to the world of digital camera and need some advice on what to choose, the following link has done the research and offers their take on what is what: https://www.reviews.com/digital-camera/
*The term retinex was coined by Edwin H. Land to explain his theory that full colour perception, with colour constancy, involved all levels of visual processing, from the retina to the visual cortex. The term is a combination of the words retina with cortex to convey this idea.