Chinese and Greek philosophers describe the basic principles of optics and the camera

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5th-4th Centuries B.C.
Chinese and Greek philosophers describe the basic principles of optics and the camera.

The first casual reference to the optic laws that made pinhole cameras possible, was observed and noted by Aristotle around 330 BC, who questioned why the sun could make a circular image when it shined through a square hole.

989 AD The first evidence of any kind of mechanical visual reproduction, however, comes from Saudi Arabia, where unknown caravan riders noticed, at a time now lost, that a hole in their tent projected the inverted image of a passing camel onto the opposite wall. the Arabian scholar Hassan ibn Hassan described this accidental invention and gave it a name: the camera obscura

Alhazen (Ibn Al-Haytham), a great authority on optics in the Middle Ages who lived around 1000AD, invented the first pinhole camera, (also called the Camera Obscura} and was able to explain why the images were upside down. (Show 1519 drawing of a camera obscura by leonardo da vinci.)

Leonardo da Vinci wrote the first detailed description of camera obscura in his Atlantic Codex, a 1,286 page collection of drawings and writings. The principle of camera obscura involves punching a hole in a dark box and putting a piece of light-sensitive material on the other side thereby providing a photograph. The first picture of a pinhole camera obscura is a drawing by Gemma Frisus' De Radio, an astronomer (above photo on the left). He used the pinhole in his darkened room to study the solar eclipse of 1544.

Giovanni Battista della Porta illustrated camera principles in his book "Natural Magic".



Daniello Barbaro fitted the  camera obscura with a lens and a changeable opening to sharpen the  image.



Johannes Kepler  coined the phrase Camera Obscura . 


Kepler further suggested the use of a lens to improve the image projected by a Camera Obscura.


Isaac Newton discovers that white light is composed of different colors. He used a prism to split sunlight into its constituent colours and another to recombine them to make white light.
A drawing Isaac Newton made of the prism experiment he conducted in his dormroom in Cambridge.
Johann Heinrich Schulze  discovered that silver nitrate darkened upon exposure to light.

Thomas Young Suggested that the retina at the back of the eye contains three types of color sensitive  receptor, one sensitive to blue light, one to green and one to red. The brain interprets various combinations of these colors to form any other color in the visible spectrum.

Thomas Wedgewood is the first person to attempt to record the camera image by means of the action of light  (he is successful in recording the image in organic substances such as the darkening silver nitrate on white leather or paper when exposed however he is unable to find a way to make these images permanent or "stop" the darkening permanently)

Joseph Niepce achieves first photographic image with camera obscura - however, the image required eight hours of light exposure and later faded.


First Photograph

This photograph was only discovered in 2002 and is now known to be the very first permanent photograph ever taken by Nicéphore Niépce – the father of photography. It is an image of an engraving of a man walking a horse and it was made using a technique known as heliogravure. The method involves a piece of copper covered with light sensitive bitumen. This metal plate is exposed to light and creates an image which is then transferred to paper. The image has been declared a national treasure by the French government and it sold for $392,000 at auction to the French National Library.

Animated photos start to be viewed in the phenakistascope and similar devices (animations using successive images or drawings)

Invention of the Paper-Negative Process

The inventor of the first negative from which multiple postive prints were made was Henry Fox Talbot, an English botanist and mathematician and a contemporary of Daguerre.

Talbot sensitized paper to light with a silver salt solution. He then exposed the paper to light. The background became black, and the subject was rendered in gradations of grey. This was a negative image, and from the paper negative, Talbot made contact prints, reversing the light and shadows to create a detailed picture. In 1841, he perfected this paper-negative process and called it a calotype, Greek for beautiful picture.

Louis Daguerre's first daguerreotype - the first image that was fixed and did not fade and needed under thirty minutes of light exposure.

Sir Charles Wheatstone described the theory of stereoscopic vision and his invention of the stereoscope to the Royal Society.

First use of the term "Photography"

"Photography" is derived from the Greek words photos ("light") and graphein ("to draw") The word was first used by the scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel.

Invention of the Daguerreotype

After several years of experimentation and Niepce's death, Daguerre developed a more convenient and effective method of photography, naming it after himself - the daguerreotype.

Daguerre's process 'fixed' the images onto a sheet of silver-plated copper. He polished the silver and coated it in iodine, creating a surface that was sensitive to light. Then, he put the plate in a camera and exposed it for a few minutes. After the image was painted by light, Daguerre bathed the plate in a solution of silver chloride. This process created a lasting image, one that would not change if exposed to light.

First lens designed specifically for photographic purposes by Petzval

Ackermann & Co., (the leading print seller and purveyor of "Colours and Requisites for Drawing" advertised a "Photogenic Drawing Box" (was not called a camera) complete with chemichals for sensitizing paper and an instruction booklet for making prints.

First American patent issued in photography to Alexander Wolcott for his camera.

Invention of the Wet Plate Negative Process

Frederick Scott Archer, an English sculptor, invented the wet plate negative. Using a viscous solution of collodion, he coated glass with light-sensitive silver salts. Because it was glass and not paper, this wet plate created a more stable and detailed negative. Called the Collodian Process.

Invention of the Tintype Photographic Process

Tintypes, patented in 1856 by Hamilton Smith, were another medium that heralded the birth of photography. A thin sheet of iron was used to provide a base for light-sensitive material, yielding a positive image.

Panoramic camera patented - the Sutton.


Oliver Wendell Holmes popularizes the stereoscope with his "Holmes-type" stereo viewer..

First Color Photograph

The enormously influential Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell creates a rudimentary color image by superimposing onto a single screen three black-and-white images each passed through three filters—red, green, and blue. His photo of a multicolored ribbon is the first to prove the efficacy of the three-color method, until then just a theory, and sets the stage for further color innovation, particularly by the Lumißre brothers in France.

Richard Leach Maddox invented the gelatin dry plate silver bromide process - negatives no longer had to be developed immediately.

First Color Landscape

This photograph was taken by Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron who invented the subtractive (cyan, magenta, and yellow) color method of taking photographs. Louis was a French pioneer in color photography and he worked in both subtractive and additive (red, green, and blue) color. This particularly photograph is called “Landscape of Southern France”.

First High Speed Series

English photographer Eadweard Muybridge, using new emulsions that allow nearly instantaneous photography, begins taking photograph sequences that capture animals and humans in motion. His 1878 photo series of a galloping horse, created with 12 cameras each outfitted with a trip wire, helps settle a disagreement over whether at any time in a horse's gait all four hooves leave the ground. (They do.) It also causes a popular stir about the potential of cameras to study movement. Muybridge goes on to create hundreds of image sequences with humans and animals as subjects. These photo series are linked to the earliest beginnings of cinematography.
Zopraxioscope image

Dry Plate Negatives and Handheld Cameras

In 1879, the dry plate was invented, a glass negative plate with a dried gelatin emulsion. Dry plates could be stored for a period of time. Photographers no longer needed portable darkrooms and could now hire technicians to develop their photographs. Dry processes absorbed light quickly so rapidly that the hand-held camera was now possible.

George Eastman invents flexible, paper-based photographic film.

Flashlight Powder
Blitzlichtpulver or flashlight powder was invented in Germany in 1887 by Adolf Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke. Lycopodium powder (the waxy spores from club moss) was used in early flash powder.


First Motion Picture

Historic films are very popular and they all attempt to recreate the period in which they are set. This film is the first celluloid film created and it gives us a true look at how people looked and, more importantly, carried themselves (in the case of the women in full corseted gowns). The film only lasts for two seconds but it is enough time to see the characters walking. It was recorded at 12 frames per second by French inventor Louis Le Prince. It was filmed at the home of Joseph and Sarah Whitley, in Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England on October 14 and the people who appear are Adophe Le Prince (Louis’s son), Sarah Whitley, Joseph Whitley, and Harriet Hartley. Ten days after filming, Sarah Whitley (Le Prince’s mother-in-law) died. Two years later Le Prince vanished mysteriously from a train traveling between Dijon and Paris. Another two years later, Alphonse was found shot dead in New York after testifying at a patent trial against Edison by the American Mutoscope Company.

Eastman patents Kodak roll-film camera.

The term "Snapshots" was born (from an expression used by hunters to describe shooting a firearm from the hip without taking careful aim)

Lumiere Brothers successfully project the first motion picture film as a "magic lantern" type presentation (followed by Edison in America and the explosion of the motion picture film medium)
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The first X-Ray photo is taken when Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen noticed that a bit of barium platinocyanide emitted a fluorescent glow. He then laid a photographic plate behind his wifeÕs hand. Previously, physicians were unable to look inside a personÕs body without making an incision. Roentgen was the recipient of the first Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901

Reverend Hannibal Goodwin patents celluloid photographic film.

First mass-marketed camera—the Brownie. The Brownie is given credit for creating the hobby of photography as an American national pastime early in the 20th Century.  The film was loaded into a removable film carrier/exposure chamber that slid into the back of the camera.

First 35mm still camera developed. (Ur Leica)

The flashbulb is patented by Paul Vierkotter to replace flash powder (noisy and smoky stuff)

Vierkotter used magnesium-coated wire in an evacuated glass globe. Magnesium-coated wire was soon replaced by aluminum foil in oxygen.

General Electric invents the modern flash bulb. (Sashalight??)

On September 23, 1930, the first commercially available photoflash bulb was patented by German, Johannes Ostermeier. These flashbulbs were named the Vacublitz. 


Modern 35mm Film Invented

All those years after the first experiments in photography, Kodak in 1934 invented 35mm film which quickly became the most popular film type and continues to be so to this day. This film was pre-loaded into rolls with perforated edges and it made it possible to load the films into cameras in broad daylight. The film size was already in use in movie films, but it was not until Kodak made the still version in 1934 and Leica the first cameras to use it, that is moved into the world of still photography. The first 33mm still camera cost $175 (equal to around $3,000 today).


Chester Carlson invents "electron photography," which later comes to be known as xerography, or simply photocopying.

Electrophotography (Xerography) was invented by Chester F. Carlson.  While others sought chemical or photographic solutions to instant copying problems, Carlson turned to electrostatics and in 1938 succeeded in obtaining his first dry-copy, and the first of many patents two years later.  It took presentations to more than 20 companies before Carlson was able to interest the Battelle Development Corporation in his invention in 1944.  In 1947 the Haloid Company, later renamed Xerox Corporation, negotiated commercial rights to his xerographic development.  Eleven years later, and just 10 years before his death in 1968, Xerox introduced its first office copier.

First High-Speed Photography Images

Harold E. Edgerton of MIT invented the gas filled tube
Dr. Harold "Doc" Edgerton, a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, works with National Geographic to perfect high-speed stroboscopic photography, freezing on film the rapid movements of nature that elude the eye. National Geographic publishes several of the images, including bullets frozen in mid-flight and stilled hummingbird wings. Nicknamed "Papa Flash," Edgerton's techniques are later used to illuminate the ocean's deepest abysses.

Zoomar introduces the zoom lens, the invention of American Frank Back.

Polaroid Cameras

Polaroid photography was invented by Edwin Herbert Land. Land was the American inventor and physicist whose one-step process for developing and printing photos created instant photography. The first Polaroid camera was sold to the public in November, 1948. (Polaroid Land Camera Model 95)

First Digitally Scanned Photograph

Technically, this is the very first digital photograph – all these years later, digital cameras are only just beginning to have the full capabilities of film cameras. Russell Kirsch was a computer pioneer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the USA when he developed the system by which a camera could be fed into a computer. The photo is of Kirsch’s three month old son Walden and it measured a mere 176×176 pixels. Baby Walden now works in communications for Intel.


Lennart Nilsson begins using an endoscope to photograph the inside of the human body.  His most provocative image was the first ever photograph of a human fetus in the womb. At first, no one was able to believe this image was a real photograph.


Kodak introduces the Instamatic line, the first point-and-shoot cameras.


George Smith and Willard Boyle invented the  charge-coupled device (CCD), the image sensor that's the heart of all  digital cameras, at Bell Labs. Smith and Boyle were attempting to create a new kind  of semiconductor memory for computers. At the same time they were looking  for a way to develop a solid-state camera for use in video phones. It took  just an hour for them to sketch out the CCD's basic structure, define  the concept of its operation, and outline the applications for which it  would be best suited.

(Image at bottom of page)

The  first CCD flatbed scanner was introduced by Kurzweil Computer  Products using the first CCD integrated chip, a 500 sensor  linear array from Fairchild.

Eastman Kodak created the prototype for the world's first digital camera. Created by Steve Sasson, the device was never intended to be mass produced and used CCD image sensor technology.

Konica introduces first point-and-shoot, autofocus camera.

Sony demonstrates first consumer camcorder. (To be sold as the Sony BMC100p)

Sony demonstrates Mavica "still video" camera which recorded images as magnetic impulses on a  compact two-inch still-video floppy disk. The images were captured on the  disk by using two CCD (charge-coupled device) chips. One chip stored  luminance information and the other separately recorded the chrominance information. This camera provided a 720,000-pixel image. The images could  be stored on the floppy disk either in Frame or Field mode. When the  photographer selected the Frame mode, the sensor recorded each picture on  two tracks. Up to 25 images could be recorded on each disk.

A version for consumers, the MVC-C1 Hi-Band Mavica, followed in 1988. The same year, Fuji unveiled (but never sold in the United States) the first fully digital camera, the DS-1P, which recorded images to a 2MB internal memory card.

Kodak introduces Disc camera, using an 8x11mm frame (the same as in the Minox spy camera). In one way or another, these Disc cameras formed the basis for digital  imaging as they are not entirely considered as conventional film-based cameras.

Digital Camera

In 1984, Canon demonstrated first digital electronic still camera. (Canon RC-760, sold in 1987)

Disposable Cameras

Fuji introduced the Quicksnap disposable camera in 1986. We call them disposables but the people who make these cameras want you to know that they're committed to recycling the parts, a message they've attempted to convey by calling their products "single-use cameras."

Eastman Kodak announces Photo CD as a digital image storage medium.

Adobe releases Photoshop 1.0, an image manipulation program for Apple Macintosh computers

The Hubble's workhorse instrument is the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) and captured most of the most famous Hubble pictures.  It observes just about everything, recording extremely sharp images of faraway objects in relatively broad views.  Its 48 filters allow scientists to study precise wavelengths of light and to sense a range of wavelengths from ultraviolet to near-infrared light.  WFPC2 doesn't use film to record its images.  Instead, four postage stamp-sized pieces of high-tech Charge-Coupled Devices (CCDs) collect information from stars and galaxies to make photographs.  These detectors are very sensitive to the extremely faint light of distant galaxies.  They can see objects that are a billion times fainter than the naked eye can see.  Less sensitive CCDs are now in some videocassette recorders and all of the new digital cameras.  CCDs are electronic circuits composed of light-sensitive picture elements (pixels).  Each of the four Hubble CCDs contains 640,000 pixels.  The light collected by each pixel is translated into a number.  These numbers (all 2,560,000 of them) are sent to ground-based computers, which convert them into an image. NASA

Images taken with the camera at right:

First Digital Still Camera Sold

Kodak releases the first commercially available, professional digital camera in 1991. This device, extremely expensive and marketed to professional photographers, uses a Nikon F-3 camera body fitted with a digital sensor. Over the next five years, several companies come out with more affordable models, and today, the market is overwhelmed with thousands of digital still camera models.

JPEG, a compression becomes standard for storing and sending photographic images over the Internet, is described in a paper published in "IEEE Transactions on Consumer Electronics."

Apple Quicktake digital camera announced (developed jointly with Kodak). It was the first consumer level digital camera It boasts 640x480 (0.3 MP) resolution, a built-in flash, and could store 8 photos in its internal memory. It connected to an Apple Macintosh computer via a serial cable. It was 'not intended to replace film' and is notorious for devouring AA battery power quickly.

The world's first camera phone released by Sharp (the J-SH04) in November: "The J-SH04 was the industry's first mobile phone to feature an integrated 110,000-pixel CMOS image sensor for taking digital photos. It was followed by the industry's first application of a 65,536-color semi-transmissive TFT LCD on a flip type phone (J-SH05). Both models were supplied to J-Phone Co. Ltd., and raised Sharp's presence in the mobile phone market".

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