Canadian Geographic Photo Club - Timeline - The evolution of the camera

Timeline - The evolution of the camera


15th century Although the concept is expressed much earlier, Leonardo da Vinci gives the first detailed description of the camera obscura, a dark box with a pinhole at one end and a glass screen at the other. When light shines through the pinhole an image appears on the screen.

16th - 17th centuries Giovanni Battista della Porta describes in his 1558 book, Natural Magic, the use of a lens instead of a pinhole in the camera obscura to make images appear sharper. Many artists use the camera obscura as an aid to accurately portray perspective in their work.

1826 Joseph NicÇphore NiÇpce experiments with pewter plates treated with bitumen, an asphalt type substance that changes colour when exposed to light, as a way of recording an image in the camera obscura. After failed attempts, NiÇpce produces the first permanent image, titled View from the Window at Le Gras, by treating the plates with oil of lavender post-exposure. However, this process is not easily recreated since it takes eight hours to get a proper exposure.

1840 Charles Chevalier constructs the first folding camera, with a sleeker and more portable design than the camera obscura. Its side panels can be unhinged from the body to fold flat and it is a daguerreotype camera, meaning it houses a film process in which highly polished silver-plated copper sheets are treated with light-sensitive silver-iodide.

1851 The wet collodion film process becomes very influential in camera design. Since the film needs to stay moist while making the exposure, the camera has to be fitted with draining channels for the negative material.

Mid 1850s Bellowed cameras are introduced to allow for movement and flexibility that the rigid designs did not allow. Advancements in the construction of the bellows allow for lenses with greater focal length and the ability for close-up photography, since the bellows adds distance to the camera.

1860 Thomas Sutton, a University of London photography lecturer, designs the first single lens reflex (SLR) camera. Through the use of mirrors inside the camera, the photographer can now get an accurate view of what will appear in the photograph.

1880-1900 As the construction of film evolves, dry-plate and roll-film versions of the SLR camera are created. Around this time, detective cameras, designed to be hidden in hats, watches and books, become popular but the fad doesn't last long since the small photos are not practical and the image quality is very poor.

1881 Thomas Bolas constructs of one of the earliest twin lens reflex cameras. The camera uses one lens for the viewfinder and the other for taking the photograph. Similar to the SLR, the twin lens reflex uses mirrors for both lenses.

1888 The Eastman Company manufactures the Kodak, the first built-in roll-film box camera, ushering in the era of modern photography. This camera is lighter and easier to use than it predecessors, helping to make the art of photography more readily available to the masses. The company's slogan is, 'You press the button, we do the rest.' 

1913 Oskar Barnack invents the UR- Leica, the prototype of the first 35-mm Leica camera. This is one of the earliest cameras to take 35-mm film and uses the 24x36mm standard image size.

1914 The George Eastman Company produces 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. Photographers write on the back of the film by opening a small door in the back of the camera. This is the first form of photographic data collecting.

1925 The Leica A is introduced and is the first 35-mm camera to gain commercial success because of its portability, superior construction and advanced lens quality.

1930 Johannes Ostermeier patents the first commercially available flashbulb, called Vacublitz. Around this time, General Electric makes its own version of the flashbulb, called Sashalite.

1936 Kine introduces the Exakta, the world's first 35 mm SLR. Its small design remains almost unchanged until 1949.

1947 Edwin H. Land creates the Polaroid camera. It is the first camera to deliver instant results, producing a positive image in 60 seconds.  

1959 The Nikon F, a 35-mm SLR camera, is introduced. Although many cameras come close, the Nikon F is said to be the first real professional 35-mm SLR and is used by photojournalists.

1963 Kodak announces the Kodak Instamatic, a camera that is fully automatic. All the user has to do is load the film cartridges. The camera is a mass-produced success.

1981 Although the technology is already being used for government purposes, Sony introduces the Mavica, the first commercially available electronic still camera. This camera does not use film. Instead, it records images onto a minidisk, which can then be connected to a computer for viewing. While this camera is not digital, its technology is the precursor to the digital revolution.

1985 Konica Minolta releases the Maxxum 700 AF SLR, the world's first true autofocus SLR. A variety of autofocus lenses are built for the camera.

1986 Fuji introduces the first disposable camera. The camera, called the Quicksnap, is box-shaped and can take about 20 pictures on 35-mm film.

1987 The first camera of the popular Canon EOS series is developed. The camera includes full electronic control throughout as well as an all-electronic lens mount.

1991 Kodak introduces the first digital camera. It is an updated version of the Nikon F-3 with a Kodak 1.3-megapixel image sensor. This camera is targeted at photojournalists, not mass-market consumers.

1994 The first digital camera for consumer use is the Apple QuickTake 100. This camera can be connected to a computer using a serial cable.

PresentDigital cameras continue to increase in quality and capacity as technology advances. A range of professional digital SLRs, like the 50-megapixel Hasselblad H3D11- 50, point-and-shoot digital cameras, like the Sony DSCW300 Cyber-shot, and models in between, like the Nikon D-40, are being produced.

View from the Window at Le Gras
Photo: Joseph NicÇphore NiÇpce, 1826

L'Atelier de l'artiste
Photo: Daguerre, 1837

Alice Liddell as a Young Woman
Photo: Julia Margaret Cameron, Print from wet collodion negative

An example of a bellowed camera
Photo: Stephen Coburn/

An example of a twin lens reflex camera
Photo: Dmitri Melnik/

The Leica A
Photo: Eugene Ilchenko

A Graflex Speed Graphic camera with flash from the 1940s
Photo: James Steidl/

The Kine Exakta
Photo: Eileen Hart/

An example of a later Polaroid camera
Photo: Adrian Assalve/

The Nikon F
Photo: Jeff Dean

The Kodak Instamatic
Photo: Henk Badenhorst/

The Sony Mavica
Photo: Rama

An example of a disposable camera
Photo: Jeff Gynane/

The Apple QuickTake 200
Photo: Jared C. Benedict

An example of a modern digital point-and-shoot and a digital SLR
Photos(L to R):, Jakub Semeniuk/


1 comment

emilyf3 posted 2014-05-13 2:17pm

this is really interesting! its neat to now what it started out as and has come to today.


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