Thanks to advanced technology, photography is part of our everyday life, but this activity has a rich and long history as an art form. Some of the oldest photos in the world are around 200 years old, capturing and preserving periods lost to time. Since then, cameras and photography have evolved immensely, giving way to modern cameras with various features and performing all sorts of functions.
Today, mirrorless cameras are some of the latest innovations in still photography, incorporating cutting-edge tech and software in a compact body—something unthinkable decades and centuries ago. Cameras like the Canon EOS R5 showcase how cameras can now provide exceptional image quality with rich detail and low noise and offer features like impressive autofocus, deep learning tech, wireless transfer, and more. Others, like the Nikon Z series, also showcase how cameras can support various camera lenses, which have also advanced and can be interchanged to suit photographers’ needs.
While these examples of cameras and gear are constantly pushing the limits of modern photography, they wouldn’t have been possible without the pioneering models of older ages. Looking back at the most important cameras in the history of photography can help develop a sense of appreciation for photography and its potential. Here are a few examples of these groundbreaking cameras:
1. Sanderson full-plate camera, 1896
Large-format cameras are fairly common today. Major films including Oppenheimer have used cameras like the IMAX cameras and the Alexa 65 to enhance their visual language. However, before large-format cameras turned digital, they started from burly analog devices. One such device was the Sanderson full-plate camera. Introduced into the market in the late 1890s, it was a model that used the classic folding-bellows design to produce 8.5 x 6.5-inch exposures.
Frederick Sanderson’s cameras were all categorized under a patent for a lens board design held by two slotted struts. This allowed the camera to be mounted horizontally on a tripod while the lens board could shift vertically to fit taller structures like buildings into the frame — all without adjusting the height and angle of the camera itself. This made it easier to take photographs without distortions and cemented the Sanderson full plate camera as an essential in photography and film production history.
2. Rolleiflex, 1928
The Rolleiflex stands out even today because of its twin-lens reflex (TLR) design. Reinhold Heidecke of Voigtländer designed the camera to solve the issue of focusing an image by using “viewing” and “taking” lenses for the correct exposure.
Unfortunately, Voigtländer didn’t recognize Heidecke’s creation, so he partnered with a businessman named Paul Franke to create the iconic Rolleiflex, the first production TLR. Similar models have since then appeared on the market, including the Mamiya C330 and the rare Yashica-B. Apart from its efficiency and ever-popular waist-level viewfinder, the novelty of a double lens has captured the attention of many photography enthusiasts and professionals alike.
3. Hasselblad 1600F, 1948
Medium-format cameras use 120mm photographic film, which produces images that are richer in detail with less grain. One notable model was the Hasselblad 1600F; it was used in studios across various industries and was actually used by astronauts in space, such as in the moon landing. When digital photography adopted the medium format, it was a hit for discerning photographers.
Brands like Hasselblad have successfully taken these cameras from analog to digital. In fact, they’re now being used in professional commercial photography alongside full-frame systems. They not only allow photographers to take higher-resolution photos but also make it possible to have a wider dynamic range, better focal blur, and a slew of other upgrades, both on digital and film. Medium format cameras were arguably the first models to capture more details, closer to what the eye sees. They’ve elevated image quality, revolutionizing photography forever.
4. Kodak Digital Camera, 1975
In 1974, Kodak electrical engineer Steve Sasson took images using electric signals rather than photosensitive chemicals. He fashioned a camera that could capture 0.1-megapixel images in black and white. This was a huge leap in photography’s history because it transformed how people took photographs.
While Sasson’s model took 23 seconds to capture the photo and another 23 to display it on a TV screen, this 8-pound camera changed photography as we know it. It paved the way for today’s cameras, from DSLRs to mirrorless cameras and even phone cameras.
5. Canon AE-1, 1976
Single-lens reflex cameras were still the most popular type of consumer camera in the late 20th century, but one camera changed that by introducing a battery compartment. The Canon AE-1 is historically significant due to its microprocessor-equipped mechanism, differentiating it from the mechanical cameras of the era.
The Canon AE-1 replaced many of its mechanical, metal, and machined components with electrical ones, which lowered manufacturing costs while keeping the quality of photographs sharp and clean. It still has a near-legendary status in the world of film photography, and it is known for blazing the path for future electronic cameras that shifted from all-mechanical functions to electronically controlled operations.
Are there some extremely vital cameras to the history of photography we missed in this post? Let us know!