A Collection of Cameras

This month we received a collection of cameras from the 1980’s,1990’s and early 2000’s. So we decided to go over a brief history of cameras as we look at those from the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

The First Camera

The first “camera” was the camera obscura. The Latin word for “dark room”, camera obscura is the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a room is projected through a small hole in that screen and forms an inverted image. There are early references to this in Chinese texts dating from about 400 B.C. and in the writings of Aristotle around 300 BC. However, the Arab scholar Ibn Al-Haythem, also known as Alhazen, is generally credited with inventing the camera obscura in the 11th century. He used it in his studies of how humans see to demonstrate how light can be used to project an image onto a flat surface.

The use of a lens in the opening of a wall or closed window shutter of a darkened room to project images used as a drawing aid has been traced back to circa 1550. This process became a portable device in the late 17th century. In 1685, Johann Zahn envisioned the first camera that was small and portable enough to be practical for photography. However, it would not be for almost another 150 years before this application was made possible.

The First Photograph

In 1816, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a French scientist, created the first partially successful photograph using a small camera obscura of his own invention and a piece of paper coated with silver chloride. Silver chloride darkens when it is exposed to light. With no means known to remove the unaffected silver chloride, the photograph eventually became entirely dark by overall exposure to light and thus was not permanent. In 1827, Niépce developed the first permanent photograph. He exposed an engraving placed onto a metal plate coated in bitumen to light. The shadowy areas of the engraving blocked the light and the whiter areas allowed light to react with the chemicals on the plate. The unhardened bitumen was dissolved away. There is one surviving photograph from Niépce’s experiments.

After Niépce’s death in 1833, his partner Louis Daguerre found a way to permanently affix photographs in 1837 and publicly unveiled this process in 1839. This process is known as the daguerreotype. Henry Fox Talbot perfected a different process in 1840 called the calotype. Both processes used a camera consisting of two nested boxes.

In 1857, Désiré van Monckhoven created the collodion dry plate process and in 1871 Richard Leach Maddox created gelatin dry plate process. In 1878 the discovery of heat-ripening a gelatin emulsion increased the sensitivity finally made “instantaneous” snapshot exposures practical. This made small hand-held cameras a possibility and increased the number of amateur photographers and the popularity of informal candid portraits.

Kodak Changes the Film Game

George Eastman pioneered the use of photographic film with the manufacture of paper film beginning in 1885 and then celluloid film in 1888-1889. His first camera called the “Kodak” was offered for sale beginning in 1888. This camera was a box camera with a fixed-focus lens and a single shutter speed. It came preloaded with 100 exposures and had to be sent back to the factory for processing and reloading. This and the relatively low price appealed to the average consumer.

In 1900, Eastman introduced the “Brownie” which was a simple and inexpensive box camera that intruded the concept of a snapshot. Despite the advances in low-cost photography made possible by Eastman, plate cameras still offered higher-quality prints and remained popular well into the 20th century.

Our featured Kodak Camera is the Kodak Advantix 3200AF manufactured from 1996 to 1999. This camera features autofocus, a tripod socket, and a self-timer. Similar to many of Kodak’s 1990s models, it has a flip-up “Sensalite” flash. This flash proved in tests to be very effective at reducing “red-eye” when compared to cameras with built-in flash.

35 mm Film Use

35 mm film for still photography was put into use between 1905 and 1913 by various manufacturers. The first 35 mm cameras available to the public were the Tourist Multiple in 1913 and the Simplex in 1914. In 1925, after World War I, Leitz put into production the Lecia I which was the first camera to use 35 mm cine film. The popularity of this camera spawned many competitors and cemented the position of 35 mm as the format of choice for high-end compact cameras.

All of our featured cameras use 35 mm  film except one which is digital. Featured below are the Nikon “Touch” Series of Cameras. The Nikon Sports Touch from 1992 had the features of being splash-proof and weather-resistant. The Nikon Fun Touch 2 from 1993 featured autofocus. The key feature of the Nikon Nice Touch from 1994 was a fixed focus 35-60mm f/5.7-9.3 zoom lens. The Nikon One Touch Zoom 90S from 2002 key features were listed as a stylish portable 35mm (135) format 2.4x zoom compact camera.

The Vivitar PZ7000 from circa 1999 is also a 35 mm film camera and is consider a point and shoot zoom camera.

TLR and SLR Cameras

The first practical reflex camera was the Franke and Heidecke Rolleiflex medium format Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) of 1928. Kodak introduced the Retina I in 1934 which also introduced the 135 cartridge used in all modern 35 mm cameras. In 1936, the first Western Singe Lens Reflex (SLR) camera to use 135 film was the Kine Exakta. The 35 mm SLR cameras gained immediate popularity with an explosion of new models and innovative features after World War II. Some of these post-war innovations include the eye-level viewfinder and the instant-return mirror.

Polaroid Changes the Film Game

In 1948, a new type of camera appeared on the market. This was the Polariod Model 95 and the world’s first viable instant camera. Invented by Edwin Land, it was also known as the Land Camera and used a patented chemical process to produce finished positive prints that developed in under a minute. The Land Camera came at a high price but the first Polaroid camera aimed at the popular market was the Model 20 Swinger in 1965.

Moving Towards Digital Cameras

The first camera to feature automatic exposure with the Super Kodak Six-20 was in 1938, but at the extremely high price of almost $4000 in present terms. By the 1960’s, electronic components were far less expensive and more common. Cameras were easily able to be equipped with light meters and automatic exposure systems. In 1960, the German Mec 16 SB became the first camera to place a light meter behind the lens for more accurate metering.

In 1975, Steven Sasson, an engineer at Estman Kodak attempted to build the first self-contained digital camera. It weighed 8 pounds, recorded black and white images onto a compact cassette tape, had a resolution of 0.01 megapixels, and took 23 seconds capture its first image in December of 1975. Not intended for production, this camera prototype was a technical exercise. In 1981, the first handheld electronic camera appeared. The Sony Mavica was an analog camera that was basically a video movie camera that recorded single frames. This camera type did not hit the market until 1986 with the Canon RC-701 however, several factors held back the widespread use of analog cameras: the cost, poor image quality compared to film, and the lack of affordable quality printers.

Digital Cameras Become The Norm

The first analog electronic camera marketed to consumers may have been the Casio VS-101 in 1987. The Fuji DS-1P was the first true digital camera that recorded images as a computerized file in 1988 but was not marketed to the public. The first portable digital camera to be offered commercially in the United States was the Dycam Model 1 in 1990.

The first consumer camera with a liquid crystal display (LCD) on the back was the Casio QV-10 in 1995. The Fujifilm Zoom Date 135V from circa 2004 features the LCD display and can display the battery condition, date and time, flash mode, frame counter, and self-timer mode.

Also made available in 1995 was the first camera that offered the ability to record video clips, the Ricoh RDC-1. The first camera to use CompactFlash was the Kodak DC-25 in 1996. The featured digital camera is the Ricoh RDC-5300 from c. 1999.

The digital camera market continued to flourish, driven by technological advances. Since 2003, digital cameras have outsold film cameras. The market is segmented into different categories including Compact Digital Still Cameras, Bridge Cameras, Mirrorless Compacts and Digital SLRs. One of the major technological advances was the development of CMOS sensors which made drive sensors less expensive and enabled the widespread adoption of camera phones. In fact, all the photographs in this blog were taken using a phone camera!

Do you have any items relating to Edmonds and South Snohomish County history that you wish to donate to the Museum? We would love to hear from you! Please fill out the Artifact Donation form, http://www.historicedmonds.org/artifact-donation/. For further information, please contact us at artifacts@historicedmonds.org.