From the earliest successful experiments involving ‘writing with light’, (the actual meaning of the term ‘photography’), and capturing on paper, images that wouldn’t fade away within minutes, the race was on to bring these exciting new developments to the public on a commercial basis. The camera had arrived.
The earliest cameras were large, cumbersome, temperamental and produced images that nowadays would result in the camera owner marching back to the shop and demanding a refund. At that time, however, the black and white, grainy results astounded the public and gave birth to a whole new industry: commercial photography.
Improvements in camera technology continued at a moderate pace at first. Advances in lens design enabled sharper images, and mechanical improvements enabled faster shutter speeds and more reliable operation. Meanwhile, advances in film manufacture and processing technology resulted in the long-awaited dream of producing images in colour.
By the end of the first half of the twentieth century, cameras were small enough and affordable enough to be considered a ‘must have’ item for every family. At the other end of the scale, precision engineered professional cameras were now capable of image quality that to this day hasn’t been bettered. Functionality, however, was about to receive a major boost.
As the latter half of the century got underway, improvements from a new source arrived: micro-electronics. Electronic components were being produced that were not only more efficient but hundreds of times smaller. These components could easily be incorporated into the design of cameras and many new functions became available. These included: electronic flash, light metering, auto-focus and auto-exposure.
With the introduction of micro-electronics, it was only a matter of time until cameras were able to capture images digitally on an electronic light-sensor. Photographic film was no longer a necessity, and neither was waiting around for days wondering how the images would turn out after being developed and processed by a photo lab. With digital cameras, we can now pick and choose pictures worth keeping, transfer them to any computer and, with Internet access, send multiple copies of them to others around the world in a matter of minutes – even faster if our camera is incorporated into a smartphone. What’s even more attractive is that we can take as many pictures as we like without worrying about the costs of film and processing. For most people nowadays, the only real expense associated with digital photography is the cost of the camera itself.
As for the future, we can only guess at the advances digital technology will make but, given the current rate of progress, we can look forward to many more exciting new camera features coming our way.