In 1839, Frenchman Louis Daguerre developed the daguerreotype, a light-sensitive metal plate on which an image could be permanently fixed.
In 1840, Englishman Henry Talbot developed a process of recording a negative image which could be transferred onto chemically sensitised paper. This meant that many copies of an image could be produced and Talbot’s process quickly became predominant.
In the early cameras, the image was focused on a sheet of ground glass which was then removed and replaced with a wooden frame holding the light-sensitive plate. This was exposed by moving a slide or removing a lens cap.
The 1870s saw the development of dry plates and flexible film. These allowed George Eastman to produce the first Kodak camera in 1888. The Kodak camera was preloaded with film for 100 exposures. When these were made, the camera was returned to the factory where the film was developed and the camera was re-loaded with film.
In 1898, Kodak produced the Folding Pocket Camera, considered by many to be first modern camera. It produced 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inch negatives (more than five times the size of todays 35mm frames). The folding Pocket Camera was light and featured an easy-to-use lens and shutter assembly.
In 1900, Kodak created a mass market for photography by selling the Brownie #1 camera for $1 and film for 15 cents a roll.
By the 1930s, folding roll-film cameras had become the dominant design with German companies, like Zeiss Ikon and Voightlander, being among the leading manufacturers.
While folding cameras were the most popular for amateur use in the 1930s, the twin lens reflex (TLR) was chosen by most professionals because, although bulky and heavy, they provided the best viewing for photo composition. The market leader was the Rolleiflex, introduced by Franke & Heidecke in 1929. A les expensive version of the Rollieflex, the Rolleicord, was introduced in 1933. The first single lens reflex (SLR) Rollei camera, the Rollei 35, was not introduced until 1963.
In 1935, Kodak introduced Kodachrome, the first commercially successful colour film for amateur use. Initially for 16mm movies, 35mm slide film followed in1936. The first colour negative film for prints, Kodacolor was produced in 1942.
Three leading camera companies, Mamiya, Pignons (ALPA) and Hasselblad, began camera production during the Second World War.
Mamiya was founded in Japan in 1940. Its first product, the Mamiya 6, featured a unique back-focusing system which was focused by moving the film, instead of the lens. Shortly after the War, Mamiya received a massive order for cameras from the US Government which allowed it to greatly expand production.
In 1948, Mamiya produced the Flex Junior, the first TLR with front lens focusing and in 1957 the Flex C Professional, the first TLR with interchangeable lenses. In 1970, Mamiya introduced the RB67, a large-format SLR with a unique revolving film back, which cemented Mamiya’s position as the leading producer of cameras for the Press.
Hasselblad had been importing and distributing photographic products in Sweden since 1885. In 1940, the Swedish Air Force asked Victor Hasselblad if he could make a camera like one found in a German aircraft which had been shot down. Hasselblad said that he could make a better one and became a manufacturer of aerial cameras for the Swedish Air Force. The first civil Hasselblad camera was produced in 1949.
In 1942, a Swiss company, Pignons SA, which had originally been a supplier of precision mechanical parts to the watch industry, produced its first ALPA cameras including top quality Reflex models. In 1949, Pignons produced its first SLR with a pentaprism. A new die-cast body introduced in 1952 led to the ALPA models 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 being widely regarded as among the best camera designs ever produced.
Pignons continued to produce expensive ALPA cameras up to the gold-plated Model 11si, which sold for $US7,000, in 1976. Production declined through the 1980s.
After the War, the Allied Occupation Forces in Japan prohibited the sale of cameras to the general public in Japan except by those companies with sufficient exports to be classified as a “top camera exporter”. The result was a drive by Japanese camera companies, like Nikon, Canon and Asahi, for exports.
Japan Optical Company was formed in 1917 to produce optical products including Nikkor camera lenses. Its first camera, the Nikon Model One rangefinder, was produced in 1948. This was replaced by the Nikon SP in 1958. The next year, Nikon’s first SLR, the classic Nikon F, was released. The Nikon F was succeeded by the F2 in 1971, the F3 in 1980, the autofucus F4 in 1988 and the F5 in 1996.
In 1932, Seiki-Kogaku Kenkyusho was formed to produce to produce a high quality 35mm camera, comparable to the German Leica and Contax cameras. The result was the Kwanon camera (named after the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy). Only prototype models were made before the name was changed to Canon. The Company’s production came during the Second War.
After the War, production recommenced and the Company changed its name to the Canon Camera Company Canon’s first new product was the S-11, which had a built-in rangefinder combined with the viewfinder. In 1949, Canon produced the model 11B, followed in 1951 by the Canon 111, Japan’s first camera with 1/1000 sec shutter speed. The Canon 1V followed in the same yet. This was followed by the 111A, 1VF, 11A and the 1VSb which was the first camera to have Z-sync for flash. In 1954, the 1VSb2 was released twice the sync flash speed of its predecessor and is regarded as a classic camera.
In 1961, Canon released its first mid-priced camera, the Canonet. A million Canonets were sold in its first three years.
During the 1950s, twin-lens reflex cameras had dominated the upper end of the market but by the late 1950s 35mm SLR cameras were taking over. Canon released its first SLR, the Canonflex in March 1959; Nikon released the Nikon F in the following month. The Canonflex was superseded by the FX in 1964.
In 1971, Canon produced its first truly professional quality SLR camera, the F-1, and a mass-market version of the same camera, the FTb. It was Canon’s most popular SLR until the AE-1, the first fully automatic electronic SLR cameras, was released in 1971.
The first Japanese 35mm SLR was the Asahiflex 1 produced in 1952 by the Asahi Optical Company (which had been manufacturing lenses for spectacles since 1919). The Asahiflex has a waist-level viewer and, initially, a very limited range of interchangeable 37mm lenses and accessories. Production of the Asahiflex line ended in 1955 to be replaced by the Asahi Pentax in 1957. The Pentax had an eye-level penta-prism viewfinder and interchangeable 42mm lenses. The original model was quickly followed in 1958 by the Pentax S and the Pentax K with 1/1000 sec shutter speed and in 1959 by the Pentax S2. Asahi introduced computerised manufacturing to keep up with the demand for the Pentax S2. The S-series continued from until 1965 with the S1, S3, S1a and SV models. (In North America, the S was replaced with a H.)
The Pentax S/H series was followed by the Spotmatic series which introduced through-the-lens metering to mass market cameras. The series includes the SP, SP1000, SP500, SL, F, Electro-Spotmatic, ES and ES11 and ran from 1963 to 1975. They are generally considered to represent the peak of Asahi technology and success.
Until 1954, the price of film included the cost of processing; in that year the US Government forced Kodak to “unbundle” the two products and allow independent photofinishers to operate.
In 1957, Kodak introduced a new low-cost camera, the Brownie Starmatic. This was replaced in 1963 by the Instamatic which had a cartridge loading system. More than 50 million Instamatics were produced by 1970. In 1973, the Pocket Instamatic, using a new 110 film, was produced.