To understand how a film camera works you have to look at how this technology has developed over the last century. The film camera has been an essential tool to the development of our modern world. Although most of us consider cameras an invention of the last century, it is ironic to see that the concepts that were used in the development of this device can be dated back to ancient times.
A bit of history to understand how a film camera works
The concept of photography is based off a concept called camera obscura. This states that if you poke a hole in a dark room, the light passing through the hole will be flipped upside down but retain its color and perspective. This theory was by no means new, with such ancient inventors such as Mozi, Aristotle, and Alhazen, all making note of this peculiar behavior.
Check out the youtube video below to understand how a film camera works:
It wasn’t until 1490 that an Italian inventor by the name of Leonardo DaVinci used this concept to create a tracing machine. This took the concept of camera obscura and projected the image onto a piece of parchment that the inventor could then trace. Camera obscura devices continued to gain popularity into the 1700’s. Some historians claim that Rembrandt used this technique on some of his most famous works of art.
In 1774 Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered that substances mixed with silver nitrate are photo reactive. This means they react to light. The modern camera was on the tip of inventor’s fingertips, but sadly, this knowledge was not capitalized on until 1826 when an inventor by the name of Joseph Nicephore Niepce developed a technique called heliography. This combined all of the previous camera obscura techniques and allowed the first photograph to be captured.
The first photographs took several days to develop and the clarity left much to be desired, but for the time it was remarkable. Niepce’s partner, Louis Daguerre, continued his experiments after Niepce’s death. By 1833, Daguerre had documented what would be known as the first working photographic process. This early camera was called the Daguerreotype and by 1839 the French government had purchased the rights to this device.
The photography craze can be traced to this point, with many photography firsts happening in quick successions, such as the first photograph of a human being. This person just happened to be getting his shoe polished on the street corner that was photographed. By pure luck, he was sitting still long enough to capture him in surprising clarity for the time. Shortly thereafter the first selfie was taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839.
Once people realized you could capture the beauty of humans on film, it didn’t take long for the first nude photographs to begin to emerge. In 1840 Henry Fox Talbot revealed his new version of the camera, the Calotype. What made this invention so critical to the evolution of photography was the use of negatives. This allowed paper copies to be made. This invention could have spawned another photographic revolution except for the fact Calotype tried to charge expensive licensing fees that eventually caused his invention to fall to the background. He spent the rest of his life fighting licensing lawsuits and eventually he gave up his quest to make money off of his invention.
A man named Sir John Hershel first used the term photography. He came up with the word photography by combining the Greek words light and drawing. By 1850, mobile photo studios began to become very popular. This is partly because exposure times had been dropped to around three minutes, which meant you had to stand perfectly still for three minutes to get a clear photograph. People would go to extreme measures to stay still even using braces and other forms of body support to keep them frozen in place.
As photography progressed so did the world of photo editing. One of the most famous examples of early photo editing is a picture of Abraham Lincoln where his head is placed upon another body to provide him with a more noble stature.
In 1861 the first color photograph was revealed to the world, which led to the invention of the Gelatin Dry Plate camera. What made this so revolutionary was the fact that it was small and portable. Up until this time, cameras were heavy and required a tripod. The film camera was well on its way to becoming the better-known versions we recognize today.
In 1885, a man named George Eastman decided to start a new company by the name of Kodak and he would later go on to change photography forever with the invention of roll film. The Kodak camera came preloaded with 100 exposures. These early cameras would need to be sent back to the factory to have their film developed. In 1900, Kodak unveiled its new box camera design which was smaller, lighter, and more affordable than its predecessors, opening the door for new photographers around the globe.
Although very close to our current 35mm cameras, they were still much larger and continued to require the entire unit to be sent back to Kodak for development. Another inventor name Oskar Barnack took notice to this and developed the first 35mm camera. This camera gave photographers unprecedented mobility. It also allowed for more photographers and quicker photo taking experiences which led to an explosion of iconic photographs around the world. A half century after Kodak released its box camera design another inventor develops the first SLR (single lens reflex) camera.
Understanding how a film camera works is much easier in hindsight. These early inventors spent years of their life improving upon the inventions prior to create our modern film cameras. It is hard to imagine the world without photography. Film cameras have literally changed the world and even though the first digital camera process was invented in 1975, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that people began to convert away from film cameras. Film has a very warm and traditional feel to it and that is why many people still prefer to use this technique of photography over digital options.