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A camera is a device used to capture still or moving images focused by a lens and preserving those images on light-sensitive film, video tape, or in digital format.


Alphonse Giroux's Dagerrotype camera, 1839.

Arguably the first camera of any kind is the camera obscura, a Latin term meaning "dark chamber". In its original form the camera obscura was either a room or a box; a pin hole on one side allowed light to enter, and the laws of optics would transmit the image of whatever was outside to the interior, where it would be projected in true color on the opposite wall, albeit upside-down. About 400 B.C. a Chinese philosopher named Mo-Ti made the first mention of the camera obscura in history.[1] This was followed by unrelated experiments done by Aristotle (Greece, 384-322 BC) and Abu Ali al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham (Egypt, c.965 - 1039), who both recognized the optical qualities of the device; by 1544 Dutch scientist Reinerus Gemma-Frisius safely used it to observe a solar eclipse.[2] A convex lens was first placed on the opening about 1644, at which point it became a drawing aid for artists and an astronomical device, in addition to its attraction as a public curiosity which lasted to the end of the 19th century.

It was the small, portable box camera obscuras that were popular on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean which led to the creation of the first true camera. In 1827 Joseph Nicephore Niepce of France experimented with bitumen-coated metal plates to produce the first photographic images. Long exposure times (some eight hours in length) as well as the unreliability of the process led to a partnership with Louis Daguerre, who by 1839 was able to create much-shorter exposure times as well as replace the metal plate with light-sensitive coated glass, which was removable from the camera frame and replaced with another, speeding up the process. The daguerreotype was born, ushering the age of modern photography.

In 1888 George Eastman would take the young field of photography to the next level. Founder of the Eastman Kodak Company and inventor of celluloid roll film, he introduced the "Brownie" in 1900, a small box anyone could buy for a dollar, and which came preloaded with enough film for one hundred shots. Agreeing that these new novice photographers would be more interested in taking pictures of everyday life rather than worry about the technicalities of developing the film, the "Brownie" was made to be sent in to the factory after the picture-taking was complete; the developed and printed photos, as well as a fresh roll of film in the camera, were sent back to the customer. "Brownie" sales would skyrocket, and Kodak would go on to become the world's largest producer of photographic film.

The next step would take place in 1937, when Ed Land founded the Polaroid Corporation. Fundamentally different from the Kodak in its design, the Polaroid was made to use the new "instant film" of Land's invention, which was photographic paper drawn between two steel rollers that ruptured a small pod of developing chemicals immediately following the shot and prior to the ejection of the print from the camera; the amount of time from the snapping of the shutter to enjoying a new photograph was less than four minutes. Marketed to young teenagers and their parents as opposed to professional photographers, Land oversaw his Polaroids taking a large market segment away from Kodak.

The era of the hand-held camera didn't last long, though. In the mid-1990s the first digital cameras had appeared. Dispensing of film entirely, these new cameras were convenient, able to be plugged into a computer, and by 2000 were being attached to cell phones. Partially because of this many camera-makers - Polaroid and Kodak among them - have declared bankruptcy.

Types of cameras

When first manufactured in the 1830's, the original Daguerrotype camera was a large, heavy unit suitable for professionals only; the size of the glass or tin plates carried with the early photographers ensured very few pictures were taken on a given day. The Brownie allowed the concept of convenience with its smaller, lighter size. Since then the most sophisticated cameras can now fit in a handbag or shirt pocket, able to take thousands of photos that would fit on a space as small as a fingernail. Despite this, all cameras fit within three major groups: fixed-focus or "point-and-shoot"; manual-focus; and motion picture/video cameras.


"Hello Kitty" camera, an example of a fixed-focus camera.

Fixed-focus cameras consist of a single element lens that is "fixed"; i.e. the focus is set during manufacture. In addition the camera has pre-set controls and shutter speed, allowing the user to take a perfectly-focused image merely by peering through the viewfinder, pointing the camera at the subject and pressing the shutter button. The simplicity of action led to the name "point-and-shoot" as a common description for these cameras.

The best-selling camera of any type, fixed-focus cameras have been made to shoot celluloid roll film of differing sizes, the disk film of the late 1970's to 1980's, and instant film. The size of the cameras allowed them to easily slip into pockets when not in use, and the added convenience of digital format beginning in the late 1990's allowed the user to upload finished images to a computer, dispensing with the development process of celluloid film.

Fixed-focus cameras have seen a sales decline from 52 to 44 percent in recent years,[3] ironically from another, more convenient device with a point-and-shoot camera built in: the cell phone. Like the fixed-focus camera, the cell phone camera can be aimed at the subject and a picture taken at the touch of a button; however, the screen of the cell phone is the viewfinder, allowing the user to hold the phone comfortably away from him while aligning the phone for a good image. And since it is a cell phone, the image (or video, as cell phones have that capability) can be immediately sent to anyone worldwide, and advantage that fixed-focus cameras lack.

See also