When Were Cameras Created: The Evolution of Cameras

When were cameras created and who invented them? You’ll find many confusing answers to these questions on the net. There are different dates and names mentioned in various articles. To clarify the camera history, I’ll define the main stages of camera development, name the people behind such inventions, and also provide vivid descriptions of the design. There are many interesting milestones that denote the evolution of plain boxes that took blurry photos to cutting-edge mini computers embedded in modern DLSRs and mobile phones.

1. Camera Obscura - First Camera Projection Device

when were cameras created camera obscura

Time period: 11th century

Referred to as the first pinhole camera, such a construction didn’t actually take photos, but projected them onto different surfaces. It was invented by Ibn Al-Haytham and delivered upside-down images. It happened that people traced projected photos not to lose them forever once a system was turned off. Nowadays, such a mechanism seems very primitive, but it denotes the beginning of the camera history.

At the beginning of the photography era, the camera obscura was used for observing solar eclipses. It was the main instrument for Reiners Gemma Frisius from the Leuven University in 1544. During the Renaissance epoch, different artists, including Leonardo Da Vinci, used its light projections to sketch added depth in artworks. 

2. Niépce - First Camera to Produce a Photo

when were cameras created niepce camera

Time period: 1826

If you google “When was the first camera invented”, meaning a device capable of taking shots, you’re likely to find articles about Nicéphore Niépce, a French inventor, who managed to modify the camera obscura in 1826. It was called View from the Window at Le Gras. The inventor focused the camera obscura on a 6.4x8.0-inch pewter plate coated with asphalt and received the first image.

The asphalt hardened in the brightly lit areas but could still be easily washed away in the darkened areas. This process is known as heliography as it involved exposing light to create photos.

Such an invention was groundbreaking but Niépce had to put up with some limitations. First of all, he had to spend about 8 hours to fully expose a photo. Besides, capturing a long-lasting photo required performing many chemical, complex processes, and if a photographer failed to do everything correctly, a picture was lost.

Though Niépce’s first photo was just partially successful, he is called the author of the first photograph ever taken that survived to our days. This is definitely the main reason why he is called the inventor of the camera. That image belongs to the group of rare historical photos and is now in the permanent collection of the University of Texas-Austin.

3. The Daguerreotype Camera - First Publicly Available Photography Process

when were cameras created daguerreotype camera

Time period: 1839

Nicéphore Niépce drew people’s attention to such a fantastic photography process, and several years after his first successful experiments, he teamed up with Louis Daguerre, who shared his passion. Together, they created the daguerreotype, a predecessor of modern film. Their construction was used for taking all Victorian era photos.

The Daguerreotype Camera by Louis Daguerre is one of the world’s most expensive cameras. He decided to attach (“fix”) images onto sheets of silver-plated copper that could be coated in iodine for better light sensitivity. After a short exposure and immersing a piece of copper into silver chloride, there appears a lasting image.

At that period, exposure times for first daguerreotypes ranged from 3 to 15 minutes. This was rather fast and the quality of the result was satisfactory, so the technique became popular worldwide. However, only wealthy people could afford to purchase their portraits produced with the help of daguerreotype cameras. The price was too high for the working class.

4. The Megaskop Camera - First Panoramic Camera

when were cameras created megaskop camera

Time period: 1844 

When were cameras invented? In fact, the dates vary depending on the type of camera we are talking about. For example, the Megaskop camera was a pioneering device for landscape shooting. It had lenses capable of rotating 110 degrees to 360 degrees, and the resulting landscape images were rather sharp. The camera was equipped with a handle and gears, and used the same copper plates as the Daguerreotype Camera.

However, using such a camera was quite dangerous as it relied on a very poisonous chemical (mercury) for image production. Besides, photographers had to spend approximately 3 hours to polish one plate.

In 1851, Frederick Scoff Archer, an English sculptor, invented the wet-plate negative. He created a viscous solution of collodion and coated the glass with light-sensitive silver salts. Since he replaced paper with glass, he received a more stable and detailed negative.

Similar to the daguerreotypes, tintypes used thin metal plates covered with photosensitive chemicals. However, in 1856, Hamilton Smith decided to use iron instead of copper to yield a positive image and patented his technology in 1856.

However, both photography methods required very quick handling of materials before the emulsion dried. At that period, photographers had to carry around a portable darkroom with many toxic elements in glass bottles, so not everybody dared to master the trade.

5. Kodak - First Film Camera

when were cameras created kodak film camera

Time period: 1888

The new stage in the history of cameras is dedicated to the invention of photographic film by George Eastman. He began to produce a paper film in 1885 and then switched to celluloid 4 years later. He called his film camera the “Kodak” and offered it for sale in 1888.

That camera was rather simple, resembling a regular box. It had a fixed-focus lens and single shutter speed. Eastman sold it for $25, so even people from the middle class could afford to buy it. His camera was pre-loaded with a film long enough for taking 100 exposures and when the roll was finished, an owner had to send it back to the factory for processing and reloading.

6. The Brownie - First Mass-Market Camera

when were cameras created brownie camera

Time period: 1900

1900 is another landmark in the camera history with Eastman taking mass-market photography one step further. He introduced the Brownie, a simple and budget-friendly box camera, which was designed for taking snapshots. It cost 1 dollar and became a go-to shooting device for any person striving to save important moments for the next generations.

The Eastman Kodak Company touted the Brownie as a great camera for children. Actually, in the first year after its introduction on the market, the manufacturer sold over a quarter of a million such small cameras.

7. The Reise Camera - First Portable Camera

when were cameras created reise camera

Time period: 1900

In the 1900s all cameras had one thing in common – they were bulky and heavy. That was a huge problem for many photographers, so they were very pleased when the Reise Camera was invented. It was the world’s first really portable camera and if you type a search query “When were camera invented”, adding a description “portable”, you are sure to see this model.

In addition to a space-saving design, it could also be folded even into a smaller unit. So, traveling photographers who wanted to capture the beauty and people in the most far-flung areas were delighted with such an invention. Frankly speaking, that was the most demanded travel camera among landscape photographers.

8. Leica I - First 35mm Compact Camera

when were cameras created leica i

Time period: 1925

The most famed representative of 35mm cameras was the Leica I, which appeared on the market in 1925. Oskar Barnack, a development engineer for Leitz, created compact 35mm cameras in 1913 with the desire to use 35mm film for still photography. Unfortunately, the production was postponed because of WWI.

Though it was initially popular in Europe, American photographers also yearned to test its capabilities, so in the 1960s it was available in many stores and gave rise to film photography and magazine photojournalism. Such cameras were used to take the most iconic photos.

9. Rolleiflex - First Single-Lens Reflex Camera

when were cameras created first single-lens reflex camera

Time period: 1929

The German firm Franke & Heidecke created Rolleiflex, a twin-lens reflex roll-film camera. The camera featured 2 lenses with identical focal lengths. The first lens was responsible for transmitting an image to the film, while the second one worked as a viewfinder and an element of a focusing mechanism.

It was possible to make 12 exposures, 6 cm square each, on a roll of 120-size film. Both amateur and famous photographers like the camera for its long-lasting design, compact size, and precision.

10. Polaroid - First Instant Camera

when were cameras created instant camera

Time period: 1948 

A regular holiday in Edwin Land’s family started another significant era in camera history. Land was together with his wife and daughter, and just after he had taken several shots, his daughter got curious why she couldn’t instantly see them.

That was a really thought-provoking question that made Land ponder on instant cameras. 5 years later such cameras were available in stores and people were amazed by the possibility to take images and develop film for themselves.

It was called Polaroid Model 95. Another name was the Land Camera, with reference to the inventor. Any person could snap a shot and get a ready photo in less than a minute thanks to a secret chemical film development process happening inside the camera. Of course, the price was high above average but the advantages the camera offered, were appreciated by many people.

11. The Kodak Digital Camera - First DSLR

when were cameras created kodak first dslr

Time period: 1975

The DSLR camera history started in 1975. Steve Sasson, a young engineer from the Kodak Company, created the first DSLR camera, using Motorola parts, several sensors, 16 nickel-cadmium batteries, a tape recorder and the lens from a Kodak movie camera.

It weighed 8 pounds and became a real finding for black and white photography enthusiasts. The device could take 0.01MP photos, spending 23 seconds to create each. All files were recorded on a cassette and photographers could look through images on a TV screen.

Although the company didn’t turn such a DSLR prototype into a commercial project, it definitely denoted a new direction in the development of photography equipment. In 1976 the US military figured out that digital cameras can be used for satellite technology and that practical application turned out to be extremely successful. Later, cameras were picked by scientists and the media for broadcasting events.

12. The Fujicolor QuickSnap - First Disposable Camera

when were cameras created fujicolor quicksnap first disposable camera

Time period: 1986

The Fujicolor QuickSnap disposable camera was an easy-to-use box camera with a roll of film. It initially was intended for one-time usage. It has no viewfinder, featuring just a hole to look through. This particular model came with an embedded flash, so photographers could work not only during the day but also at night.

The camera was in high demand among shooters mainly due to its straightforward operation. There was also a QuickSnap Marine version for underwater photography.

13. The Kodak DCS 100 - First Professional DSLR

when were cameras created kodak dcs 100 first professional dslr

Time period: 1991

By 1991, the photography community has seen the first Kodak digital camera aimed at professionals. It was called the Kodak DCS 100 and consisted of a back part of a digital camera (color and monochrome versions) and the Nikon F3 SLR body. It had a resolution of 1.3MP and featured a 200MB hard drive large enough for storing 160 uncompressed photos.

It was possible to connect a separate digital storage unit, known as DSU, to a camera using an interconnect cable. This system was specifically created for photojournalists who needed to transmit images to newsrooms without delays. At that period, there were 6 models available with price tags ranging from $20,000 to $25,000. The company sold 987 cameras from 1991 to 1994.

14. Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210 – First Phone Camera

when were cameras created Kyocera visual phone vp-210 first phone camera

Time period: 1999

The first cellphone with a camera was manufactured by Samsung and released in South Korea. The public got access to such portable devices with embedded cameras, which was a real revolution at that time. Such a device was advertised as a “mobile videophone” and has a 110,000-pixel camera located on the front side.

It had storage for 20 JPEG images and users could send them over e-mail or keep them in the phone cloud. The latter means sending files (up to 2 pictures/second) over Japan's Personal Handy-phone System (PHS) cellular network.