200 Years of Fascinating Facts About Cameras

The first mention of using the camera obsucura (Latin for “dark room”) to project images through a tiny hole and onto another surface dates back to 400 BC in China. The next significant advancement wasn’t until the 11th century, with the invention of the pinhole camera. This camera used light to project an image through a tiny hole onto the inside of a box, much like what people use to watch an eclipse today. But neither of these technologies allowed for a way to preserve the image unless you traced it onto another medium. It would be several hundred years until the first photograph was taken in 1816. Color photography would follow about 50 years after that. During these early years of photography, it was considered a professional endeavor, but it wasn’t all stuffy posed portraits. An English photographer realized in the 1870s that he could make more money taking pictures of cats is silly situations than he could taking photographs of people. Photography as a hobby did not take off until George Eastman invented rolled film and sold his first compact Kodak camera in 1888.


Kodak Leads the Way 

The company would dominate the camera and film market during the 1900s. That is not to say they did not have competition. Early cameras, like Eastman’s, used two lenses to operate, which was suitable for taking pictures at a distance, but close-up shots were difficult to focus. A rival company in Germany, Ihagee, put the first single-lens reflex camera, the Exakta, on the market in 1933. The SLR used mirrors to replace the second lens. Other companies followed suit, with Zeiss making the most massive SLR ever, for a wildlife photographer, which weighed in at 564 pounds!


Camera Popularity Takes Off

In addition to Ihagee and Kodak, other camera producers and collectors made their mark on the history of photography as well. In the early 60s, a camera enthusiast at the National Air and Space Administration recommended the Swedish-made Hasselblad 500C cameras be adjusted for use on NASA missions, during the Mercury missions. This trend continued, and during Apollo 11, twelve Hasselblads became the first cameras to be left on the surface of the moon to free up some weight so the astronauts could bring back geological samples. Another camera enthusiast, Dills Parekh in India, began collecting cameras in 1977, which would grow to the most extensive collection in the world with more than 4,425 units! Mr. Parekh was not the only one collecting, the most money ever to be spent on a camera was at a Viennese auction in 2012, when a camera buff bought a 1923 Leica O-Series, one of only 25 produced, for an astronomical $2.8 million!


Digital Becomes the Standard

SLRs remained the standard until Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975. It weighed eight lbs. and took pictures in black and white. The camera giant then joined forces with Canon to invent the digital single-lens reflex camera in 1986. Since then, competitors such as Fuji, Pentax, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony have developed their own DSLRs. Digital cameras became so ubiquitous that Kodak, who held 90% of the market share on film in the 19702, stopped making film by 2010.


Camera Phones

After digital, the next leap in camera technology was to remove the mirrors altogether. By doing so, cameras could include more image stabilization and autofocus functions. The lack of mirrors also makes the camera smaller and easier to integrate into other devices, such as phones. Although companies such as Olympus began working on the technology in the early 1990s, the first camera phone available to the public was sold by Kyocera in 1999. By 2008, another cell phone market leader, Nokia, sold more camera phones than Kodak sold film-based cameras!


From the camera obsurca to the present-day ubiquitous mobile phones, cameras have an interesting history of technological advances. It’s safe to assume that when George Eastman founded Kodak, he never thought that cameras would also be integrated into phones, especially since Alexander Graham Bell only patented the telephone about ten years earlier. Recent estimates are that people today people take as many pictures in two minutes than all the images taken in the 1800s, with more than 3.8 trillion pictures taken throughout history!