A little history of the
camera

In the beginning...

The history of the camera can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks and ancient Chinese. These early civilisations used a very simple optical device, called a camera obscura, to project real-life scenes on a surface or wall. Despite its very basic design, the camera obscura stayed in vogue for thousands of years after. During the Renaissance, artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci used its light projections to sketch added depth to their ‘3D’ art. Later during the Victorian times, large camera obscuras became popular seaside attractions. Visitors flocked to them in droves to spy on nearby courting couples. Although the early cameras were a huge hit with artists and tourists, there was no way of ‘freezing’ an image in a photograph until the 19th century.

The first photograph

During the 1800s, Britain and France were neck and neck in the race to get early photographic technology off the ground. The French initially pipped the Brits to the post when Nicéphore Niépce took the first ever photo in 1827. Eleven years later, the French beat the Brits to another ‘first’ when Louis Daguerre took the first snap of a human being in his pic ‘Boulevard du Temple’. Daguerre won another spot in the history books for coming up with his revolutionary 'Daguerreotype' photographic processes. Around the same time British inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot, developed the calotype process and with it, the first ever photo on paper. Daguerre and Talbot both had relative commercial success with their methods. That was until an American company called Kodak changed the photographic process forever.

The birth of mass photography

In 1884, American inventor George Eastman came up with an idea that revolutionised the photography industry. Eastman’s ground-breaking invention was the photographic roll – one of the first ever to be used in a camera. The easy to develop photographic process helped his company, Kodak, create the first mass-produced cameras ever sold. But it was Kodak’s classic Brownie camera, launched in 1900, that really put the company on the map. The portable camera was a huge hit, sold millions and continued to be popular until the 60’s. And with slogans such as find a “Kodak moment” and “celebrate the moments of your life”, Kodak kick-started the birth of mass photography as we know it.

The SLR

Kodak can’t take all the credit for trailblazing early camera technology. After the Second World War, a new type of camera burst onto the scene - the Single Lens Reflex camera (SLR). Although SLRs had been around since the 19th century, the first cameras didn’t really catch on. But as technology developed and the cameras became smaller and smaller, scientists and journalists started to use them. And by the 50s and 60s, they’d become the go-to camera for expert photographers thanks to their more accurate viewfinders. Germany and the Soviet Union were the main brains behind the earliest cameras but Japanese SLR cameras soared in popularity after 1945. Brands like Nikon and Canon started to dominate the camera market and continue to be popular today.

Instant camera snaps

In 1943, Edwin Land was on holiday with his family when his daughter asked why she couldn’t see the picture he’d just taken of her. Her innocent question helped Land dream up the idea of an instant camera, the same day. And when his camera hit the stores only five years later, it was the first time in history that consumers could snap and instantly develop film for themselves. Although it was Land’s lightbulb moment that led to the instant camera, Polaroid had the most commercial success with the gadget. The 1965 Polaroid Swinger camera was a huge hit with consumers and helped make the Polaroid one of the best-selling cameras of all time.

The digital revolution

The first ever digital camera was a cobbled together invention by a young engineer from Kodak. His name was Steve Sasson and his first photo took a whopping 23 seconds to record onto a cassette. It wasn’t until 1976 that the US military found the first real-life application for digital cameras, in satellite technology. The cameras were next picked up by the scientific industry, and then the media to broadcast events like Tiananmen Square. By the 1990s, digital cameras had gone mainstream and the compact system camera (point-and-shoot camera) was everywhere. Around the same time, DSLR cameras started to take off. Highly sought out by expert photographers, they took razor sharp photos to a whole new level.

The camera phone

In 1997, a tech entrepreneur called Philippe Kahn sent an image of his new-born child to more than 2000 contacts using cellular radio. His was the first image ever to be sent via a phone and it sparked a new technology craze. Sharp was the first tech giant to release a camera phone with their first version in 2000. Other phone manufacturers, including Samsung and Nokia, quickly followed suit. Thus kicking off the never-ending race to produce the best high-end camera phone.

So what's next?

With over 1.8 billion photos uploaded onto the internet each day, camera technology really has come a long way. The advance of modern technology means you can now take a photo anytime, anywhere, using a super-sleek device that fits in your pocket. With the iPhone proving to be the world’s most popular camera, enabling us to take instant photographs and share across social, what comes next? We’re left to only wonder what the next two hundred years holds for the camera.

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