The History of the Camera

The Birth Of Photography

Photography as we know it was just another stage in the evolution of the camera. The cameras used in modern photography evolved from the camera obscura and changed through generations of photographic technology, including daguerreotypes, calotypes, dry plates, film, and digital cameras.

Photographic Cameras

Photographic cameras were a development of the camera obscura, a device dating back to the ancient Chinese and ancient Greeks, which uses a pinhole or lens to project an image of the scene outside upside-down onto a viewing surface. The device was used by artists to make preliminary sketches for paintings. Scientist-monk Roger Bacon also studied the matter. Bacon’s notes and drawings, published as Perspectiva in 1267, are partly clouded with theological material describing how the Devil can insinuate himself through the pinhole by magic, and it is not clear whether or not he produced such a device. On 24 January 1544 mathematician and instrument maker Reiners Gemma Frisius of Leuven University used one to watch a solar eclipse, publishing a diagram of his method in De Radio Astronimica et Geometrico in the following year. In 1558 Giovanni Batista della Porta was the first to recommend the method as an aid to drawing.

The Photographic Processes

Before the invention of photographic processes there was no way to preserve the images produced by these cameras apart from manually tracing them. The earliest cameras were room-sized, with space for one or more people inside; these gradually evolved into more and more compact models such as that by Niépce’s time portable handheld cameras suitable for photography were readily available. The first camera that was small and portable enough to be practical for photography was built by Johann Zahnin 1685, though it would be almost 150 years before such an application was possible.