Cameras predate both film and photography. The earliest camera was the camera obscura, which used a small box and a light to project an image onto a wall or other solid surface. Next were daguerreotypes, an early type of photography that produced incredibly sharp pictures. Film and negatives both radically changed how people understood cameras. Kodak began selling small cameras during the 20th century that were affordable and portable, meaning that everyday people could take photographs for the first time. The 21st century has been notable for the rise of digital photography and smartphone cameras.
Pinhole cameras are a type of camera obscura. It is a basic type of camera that doesn't have a lens but instead uses a very small aperture, a pinhole, to reflect an image. Very small apertures create very sharp images, but larger apertures allow for brighter, clearer images. No matter the size, it works the same way. Light enters the pinhole and creates an upside-down image on the opposite side of the box. The dimensions of the resultant image are determined by the distance between the object and the pinhole.
French artist Louis Daguerre created daguerrotypes, which are named for him, in the early 1800s. Unlike other types of photography, daguerreotypes can't be reproduced. They are made by exposing a silver-coated copper plate to light and then developing it with mercury vapor, which results in a picture featuring a very sharp image with a mirror-like quality. Daguerreotypes were at the height of their popularity in the mid-19th century. Many images of the Civil War are examples of this type of photography.
Henry Fox Talbot created the first photographic negative in 1835 in England. Talbot's invention was known as the calotype. Unlike daguerreotypes, calotypes were reproducible. An American photographer known as Frederick Scott Archer created the wet-plate negative process in 1851. Wet-plate negatives required the use of a darkroom to develop the negative immediately after exposing it, but the result was high-quality photographs that required less exposure time. Dry-plate negatives were invented about 20 years later, during the 1870s. Dry-plate negatives can be used over and over again and can be stored before being developed.
George Eastman changed photography forever when he applied a light-sensitive emulsion to flexible celluloid and invented the first film to be used in photography. Suddenly, photographers could take multiple pictures at the same time, and taking photographs no longer required the use of glass plates. Soon, film became the default way people took photographs, and smaller cameras could be developed and sold to both professional and hobbyist photographers. Eastman's invention also paved the way for the invention of film used in motion pictures.
The timeline of photography can be told through the timeline of cameras. The first daguerreotype camera, which was invented in the early 1800s, truly created the field of photography. Box cameras were created later that same century and were the first to be mass-produced and sold in significant numbers. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the flashbulb was invented, and suddenly, photographers could take pictures in low-light situations, including at night or during bad weather. Before that, pictures had to be taken in bright light. During the 1920s, the 35 mm camera debuted, which made it possible for people to easily carry a camera with them in their daily lives. People still regularly use 35 mm cameras today. The Polaroid camera was introduced in the mid-20th century, giving people the ability to take a picture and see it almost instantly for the first time.
The first digital camera was invented in 1975 by Steven Sasson, who was working at Kodak. It required a cassette tape and computer to work, and Kodak thought it was impractical. It wasn't until the 1990s that digital cameras became both practical and popular. By the 2000s, they were the default camera for both professional photographers and the general public.
The first cell phone camera predated the first smartphone. The first cell phone camera appeared in 2000 on a Samsung flip phone. These cameras rapidly improved in quality, and the rise of smartphones radically changed people's relationship with photography. Today, practically everyone has a high-quality digital camera in their pocket or purse at all times. Now, people aren't just capable of taking photographs: They can also edit their pictures right from their phones and then share them with friends, family, or the world at large instantly.