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Who invented the camera?

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The first "cameras" were simple boxes that focused light through a pinhole, creating an image. By the 15th century, quality glass lenses could be used to focus these images, and by the 19th century chemicals such as silver nitrate allowed a permanent image to be preserved, establishing the modern science of photography.

In many respects, cameras were developed, rather than having been invented by just one person. In 1685, Johann Zahn described, but could not build, a magic lantern device that would capture images. Nicephore Niepce used bitumen to create the first actual photograph in 1825. The first practical portable camera was built by Louis Daguerre in 1837. The first camera that was practical for everyday use by ordinary people was invented by George Eastman in 1888.

The Camera Obscura

Some say the first 'camera' was designed before Christ. It was by simple deduction that an artist noticed a faint image on the opposing wall of a small building where a small hole let in light from outside of the building. He worked on a lens that could be placed in a similar hole of another building and he noticed that the image on the opposite wall was rather clear, color and all, although upside down. He then proceeded to use oil paints that were in use to paint portraits at the time. He simply mixed the oils to match the colors and painted directly onto the image he was looking at.
(Today's cameras do the same thing minus the oil paint. Film cameras have replaced the oils with both silver halide salts and dyes. Digital cameras simply use super miniature diodes, photo-etched onto silicon chips, to translate different ranges of the color spectrum into digital code.)

This "camera obscura" technique allowed artists to draw detailed images of scenes from real life, or of other still images.

Timeline of Inventions
Notable advances in the camera's complex history of invention:
  • 5th-4th Century BC Chinese and Greek philosophers describe the basic principles of optics and the camera.
  • 1021 AD Ibn al-Haytham (965 - 1039) The acknowledged father of modern optics, author of the greatly influential 'Book of Optics' gave the first clear description and correct analysis of the camera obscura and the diffraction of light.
  • 1664-1666 Isaac Newton discovers that white light is composed of different colors.
  • 1727 Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered that silver nitrate darkened upon exposure to light.
  • 1794 First "Panorama" opens, the forerunner of the movie house invented by Robert Barker.
  • 1822 Joseph Nicephore Niepce achieves first photographic image with camera obscura (photogravure)- however, the image required eight hours of light exposure and later faded. In 1825, he used bitumen to make the first photograph.
  • 1837 Daguerre's first daguerreotype - the first image that was fixed and did not fade and needed under thirty minutes of light exposure.
  • 1840 First American patent issued in photography to Alexander Wolcott for his camera.
  • 1841 William Henry Talbot patents the Calotype process - the first negative-positive process making possible the multiple copies.
  • 1843 First advertisement with a photograph made in Philadelphia.
  • 1851 Frederick Scott Archer invented the Collodion process - images required only two or three seconds of light exposure.
  • 1859 Panoramic camera patented - the Sutton.
  • 1861 Oliver Wendell Holmes invents stereoscope viewer.
  • 1865 Photographs and photographic negatives are added to protected works under copyright.
  • 1871 Richard Leach Maddox invented the gelatin dry plate silver bromide process - negatives no longer had to be developed immediately.
  • 1880 Eastman Dry Plate Company founded.
  • 1884 Eastman invents flexible, paper-based photographic film.
  • 1888 Eastman patents Kodak roll-film camera.
  • 1898 Reverend Hannibal Goodwin patents celluloid photographic film.
  • 1900 First mass-marketed camera - the Brownie.
  • 1913/1914 First 35mm still camera developed.
  • 1927 General Electric invents the modern flash bulb.
  • 1932 First light meter with photoelectric cell introduced.
  • 1935 Eastman Kodak markets Kodachrome film.
  • 1941 Eastman Kodak introduces Kodacolor negative film.
  • 1942 Chester Carlson receives patent for electric photography (xerography).
  • 1948 Edwin Land markets the Polaroid camera.
  • 1954 Eastman Kodak introduces high speed Tri-X film.
  • 1960 EG&G develops extreme depth underwater camera for U.S. Navy.
  • 1963 Polaroid introduces instant color film.
  • 1968 Photograph of the Earth from the moon.
  • 1973 Polaroid introduces one-step instant photography with the SX-70 camera.
  • 1977 George Eastman and Edwin Land inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • 1978 Konica introduces first point-and-shoot, auto-focus camera.
  • 1980 Sony demonstrates first consumer camcorder.
  • 1984 Canon demonstrates first electronic still camera.
  • 1985 Pixar introduces digital imaging processor.
  • 1990 Eastman Kodak announces Photo CD as a digital image storage medium.

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The history of the camera is long and complex. Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre invented the first photographic device in 1836. George Eastman popularized photographic film in 1885. However, camera like devices appeared years earlier.

The Camera Obscura
The first known instance of people being aware of photography theory was in 5th century China. A Chinese named Mo Ti observed the following effect. When light rays of an illuminated matter are reflected and go through a dark area, it will produce an inverted but otherwise identical copy.

In 1000 AD, Alhazen created the pinhole camera or camera obscura. The history of the camera indicates that the next important discovery was made in 1727. That was when Johann Schulze learned silver nitrate became dim when it was exposed to light.

Niepce's Image
Then in 1827, Frenchman Joseph Niepce managed to make a photographic image. He used the camera obscura for this task. Although the device had been around for a while, it was only used for illustration.


Niepce called it the sun prints. But they were the descendants of modern photos as they also used light to produce the image. However it took eight hours to produce the image and it eventually faded.

Niepce's experiment was followed by that of Daguerre. Daguerre played an important role in the history of the camera. The daguerreotype method helped preserved images and took less than half an hour to produce the image. A different type of camera called the calotype was invented by William Talbot in 1840.

By the 1880s, the success of Daguerre and Talbot spurned on other inventors. When gelatin dry plate was invented, it greatly helped in the quality of the output. As technology improved, cameras of all shapes and sizes started coming out.

Eastman Photographic Film
One of the many inventors was George Eastman. In 1885 he began making paper film. Four years later he came out with the celluloid film. Around the same time he started selling a camera which he called Kodak. It would become one of the most well known devices in the history of the camera. It was packaged with a hundred exposures and had fixed focuslens.

In 1900 Eastman came up with the Brownie, from which would emerge the idea of the snapshot camera. It would prove so successful that it became standard well into the 1960s.

Modern Cameras
But even though convectional cameras were popular, 1948 saw the arrival of the instant camera. The Polaroid Model 95 became famous for being able to make pictures in under a minute. It was made by Edwin Land. Even though it was costly, the camera became a commercial hit. In 1965, a cheaper version called the Polaroid Model 20 Swinger went on sale.

Other companies would also develop the instant camera. By the 1990s and 200s, digital cameras had become commonplace. It could be used with computers and photo enhancing software.

The history of the camera has come a long way since the days of Eastman. Today, technology has made it more powerful and affordable than ever before.
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