Photography: Early and Modern Cameras - Lecture 3

Photography: Early and Modern Cameras


We know that the desire to record a permanent image began with the pin hole and camera obscura. The first efforts were made in the 5th century BC and continued till 4th century BC. However the real success was achieved in 1826 when Niepce took the first permanent image. And further in 1839 it was Daguerre who managed to get the first image of a person. While these two people succeeded in their mission there were others also who were experimenting with the physics and chemistry of photography. For example Chevalier’s collapsible wooden camera came up in 1829.
Daguerre’s camera known as Daguerreotype had its own characteristics. It had a lens in front covered by a disk and it had two boxes. The inner box had the glass plate at the back. These two boxes could slide in and out, you could say to move forward or backward and when you wanted to expose all that you had to do was to remove the disk and take the exposure as long as you wanted. The outer box contained the lens while the inner box which had the ground glass fixed could move forward or backward and was used for focusing the image. The disk in front worked as a shutter. By removing the disk one could take the desired exposure. The focal length of the lens was 15”, the aperture 14, the film size the plate size was 6.5”x8.5” and the duration of exposure 20-30 minutes.
Similarly there were others who made their own cameras and used their own processes. There was no standardization and therefore these cameras came to be known as ‘Freak Cameras’. The favorite subject was landscapes as these cameras required a great amount of exposure time. However over the period of time there was a need felt by all to bring it into a kind of smaller size cameras and with the faster shutter speed. Besides these cameras were heavy, they carried glass plates and they were very fragile and could break at any time. Therefore they had to carry more glass plates. That means they had to have more equipment to carry. In addition to this these people had to carry tents, dark room equipment so that they could process the film there only or make the film plates there only. They even had to experiment with exposures. Now all these were packed into proper equipment and even porters were used to carry them and it looked as if they are going to conquer them rather than to take pictures.


Among the other Streak cameras were Walcott's mirror camera in which the image was formed on the concave mirror and later transferred on to the sensitized material. This reduced the exposure from 3 to 5 minutes.
Voigtlander’s all metal camera invented in 1941 had a 3.5 inches diameter picture.
Specialized Cameras:
As I said earlier there was a need felt for standardization and gradually new cameras and modern cameras were starting to come on to the picture. While the process of
standardization was going on, there was some specialized cameras which were invented during the period of time and we will look at them one by one.
Lucida Camera: Lets first take camera Lucida. It was induced in 1674 and it was used for seeing virtual image.
Chronographic Camera: Next is the Chronographic Camera, which was used to take the picture of sun.
Detective Cameras: Then we have Detective cameras, or concealed cameras. These were hidden in hats, pocket watches, and the like. In one case this camera was tied to the ankle of a person who was sent in to the ‘Sing Sing Jail’ in United States of America where a woman was, for the first time in 1928, was being electrocuted. Press was invited but the camera men were not invited. This man carried the camera and tied to his ankle and he had the camera cable release in his pocket. He quietly exposed three times and got one of the pictures which is a lifetime picture and it is being used in the Life magazine as the story of the detective cameras being used.
Flat Bed Camera: Among the other specialized camera is Flat Bed camera which is used for copying. We also have a half frame camera in which a 35mm film can be divided into halves and shot accordingly.
Instamatic Camera very popular which could get 28 by 28mm negative.
Plate Camera: It was designed to take glass plates and could be used with sheet films.
Stereo Scopic Camera with this camera you could take 2 pictures at the same time.
Studio Cameras: These are heavy cameras with the film size of 15inches by 12 inches and this could move on a rail.
Subminiature Cameras: It was a camera which was used for taking pictures of smaller size than 35mm.
Technical Camera: It's a large format camera which offers camera movement.
With that exhaustive list of specialized cameras, let us now move on to the modern cameras and before we discuss them let us see what are the three formats of cameras which are available in modern world.
Miniature Cameras: these are the cameras which have the size of 35mm or below. Mostly 35mm is used and the other ones are outdated.
Medium Format Camera: Then we have Medium Format Camera which uses a 120mm film and the negative size in 6cm on one side and on other side it can vary from 6 x 6 to 6 x 7 to 6 x 8 to even 6 x 70.
Large Format Camera: Then we have Large Format Cameras which start with 4” x 5” and go up to 20 x 24” also. But the most popular ones are 4” x 5” and 8” x 10”.


Having seen the three formats of the camera let us now see as to what are the cameras available to us in these formats.
We first have the view camera, then we have the view finder camera, then we have the TLR camera, SLR camera, and of course the most modern and the most useful DSLR camera.
View camera
View Camera is basically ‘Light Tight Seal’ which means to say that no light can enter into the camera unless it is planned for. The bellows are something like the bellows of an accordion or a harmonium, which can move up and down and forward and backward. It was first introduced in the 19th century and over to the period of time it is being refined and over refined and today it is particularly one of the top cameras which is being used simply because of the large size of the negative. Though cumbersome looking this camera has its own advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is it has a high quality picture. -

1. It permits you to use a picture in the ground glass before it is clicked.
2. The front holding lens and the real ground glass can be moved to ensure proper focus, perspective and depth of field.
3. The camera being heavy is in bearably placed on a stand thereby avoiding camera shake. However 4 x 5 inches camera that is to say large format 4 x 5 inches camera can be used hand held with practice.
4. Some view cameras has the movement facility in front and also in the ground glass. However in some cases still there is a limited movement available.

Rise and Fall facility – In the case of architectural photography the lines at the top look converging with this facility the lines look parallel and in the case or SLR cameras in this there is a perspective distortion.

Shifts – This helps move lens horizontally rather than vertically, can control shine from a reflective surface.

Tilt – This facility enables the lens to move up and down. It is the best for getting the greatest depth of field and is used for landscape photography. The greatest advantage of this facility is that the aperture can be fixed by the photographer which may be the best aperture for this particular lens and get maximum depth of field. Now this is quite against the SLR camera in which the cameraman does not have the facility to fix this and he has to go by the preview button, see as to where he can get the maximum depth of field and accordingly shoot at the aperture which may not be the best for taking this kind of a picture.

Swing – This facility enables swinging the bellows along the horizontal line to get the entire horizontal picture into focus.


First it must have a front lens element. It must have a shutter which could be operated manually through cable release or electronically. Secondly, it also has a cap in front of the lens because in some cases the exposure is long, the cap can be removed when the exposure is complete the cap can be put back. I remember it use to happen when we were in school for a group photograph.
The third thing is that the lens must have an aperture. And the next thing is that the camera should be secured properly on heavy stand.

Lens – A view camera can take a normal lens, wide angle lens, or even a tele lens but it cannot take a zoom lens. As I said earlier view cameras are heavy and combustion but they can also have a facility like a large number of sizes are available as far as negative is concerned from 4 x 5 inches to 6 x 8 inches to 8 x 10 inches to 20 x 24 inches. So there’s a huge range available as far as view cameras are concerned and one more facility that is they can also take large format sheet films.

Types of View Camera

There are two types of view cameras, first the Monorail Camera – This camera moves on a single rail and both the ends the front end and the rear end are mounted on a same rail. This provides movement and flexibility while shooting. It's a very useful camera used in the studio.
Field Camera – This is resting on two rails and is very steady. This camera can be folded and made into very portable equipment. However this is not as flexible as the monorail camera.
SINAR is the most popular brand as far as view cameras are concerned. It is available right from 4x5 to 8x10 inches.


We will now see View finder cameras. First of all let us understand as to what a view finder camera is? A view finder is primarily a facility available for the photographer to look through the eyepiece and see what is the composition going to be like? He can manipulate, he can move up and down, He can move right and left to get what he wants in his frame. He can see all this clearly and there after proceed with the next action.
View finders are found in both single lens reflects and twin lens reflects cameras. You would have seen the cameraman looking through the eyepiece trying to focus the subject also trying to compose the picture and ultimately pressing the shutter.

The effect of a view finder in the SLR or TLR varies where the lens is common to both of them even then there is a difference when it comes to taking picture. Besides the view finder carries lot of information which is very useful for the cameraman it could be the aperture, it could the shutter speed, it could be the exposure, it could be the focus, even the flash lighting available or not available or required or not required. All this is available to the cameraman to make a good picture.
In the case of digital SLR cameras, even greater information is available like ISO, auto, histogram, number of pictures taken and so on.

As mentioned earlier, both SLR as well as TLR have a view finder system. It can happen that in some cases SLR scores over the TLR and vice versa. In the case of TRL camera there is a viewing lens and a picture taking lens. We view through the viewing lens and we take the picture through the picture taking lens. The examples are Rolleiflex cameras and Yashica Electro35 camera. I as a beginner used elctro35 camera and the biggest advantage in this is that while you are taking the picture you can view till the end as to what is coming in to the picture taking lens.

But the disadvantage is that with the TLR camera when you are shooting or you are looking through the view finder you are not sure whether the lens cap of your picture taking lens is open or not. I’ll give you an example of a great editor who went all the way to Nepal to visit that country and also had a good safari. He took lots of pictures and when he came back home he sent the film for processing and the entire rolls came unexposed. He did not open the lens cap and nobody had ever advised him to do so.

The other disadvantage of a TLR camera is that what you see through the view finder and what you actually record, there is a parallax. Now this parallax may not be very visible if the subject is at a distance but when you take a close up or when you go closer to do the subject, this parallax is rather evident and may be you will get a very different picture from what you had planned.
This problem is completely overcome when you use a Single Lens Reflex camera in which the view finder looks through the lens itself. What happens is that the light passes through the lens goes on to the mirror and from there it goes to a pantaprism where it is reflected three times and ultimately gives the correct picture through the view finder. The disadvantage in this is that when you shoot the picture the mirror lifts, it goes up and it covers your view, therefore when you are shooting you do not know exactly at that point in time where the subject was, whether it was a correct picture or not. It is called TTL i.e. ‘Through The Lens’ view finder – In this the cameraman can compose the picture, can arrange his technical data like the shutter speed, the aperture, and when he fires the shutter his view is obstructed because the mirror lifts up and therefore in the end he is not sure whether he got the right picture or not. But in most cases it happens that he gets the right picture.

The other disadvantage in case of a Single Lens Reflex camera is that the view finder does not present a 100% view in the case of, say amateur cameras or lower grade. It can be 92% of the actual picture or may be more but 100% view is available only in the case of professional cameras.
We will learn more about single lens reflex cameras when we will see their parts and their functioning. Single lens reflex cameras are made by many companies particularly the miniature format for example Nikon, Canon, Leica, Minolta, and so on.

In the medium format SLR camera the examples are of Hasselblad and Mamiya.
The technical system, whether it is the miniature format, or medium format, is exactly the same, only thing is since the negative size is bigger in the case of medium format cameras, the quality of picture is very high as compared to the miniature cameras.

DSLR: Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera

Having seen the film cameras, let us now have a look at the latest and the most modern in the photographic technology. The Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras – The digital camera is a system which permits recording an image on an image sensor. An image sensor is a device which enables recording of a visual in digital information.

Image sensors are of two types – CCD i.e. the charge couple device and the CMOS. Of the two, CCD are preferred simply because they have been used over a period of time, they are been time tested, lot of improvement has taken place, development is taking place and they are therefore first choice as far as recoding an image is concerned.

The picture taking system in the case of the digital SLR camera, is generally the same as that for any other SLR camera except that in this there is an image sensor used and there are two shutters which are operating. When the light passes through the SLR camera it goes on the mirror lifts and also one shutter lifts and the image is formed on the image sensor and as soon as the exposure is over the second shutter comes in front and the picture is taken. There after the first shutter also comes back and one can view the picture again for the next shot.

The other point to note is that the components of Digital SLR are different from the normal SLR and it has certain advantages which are as follows: –

1. First of all it is an SLR camera and therefore it gives the same view as that of the other SLR cameras, that is, what we see is what we get.
2. Secondly it gives a high quality result though not as good as that of a film camera.
3. It is a versatile camera which can be maneuvered easily.
4. One can take large number of pictures without waiting for another roll or another film. There’s a greater scope depending upon the format that you use you can take as many as thousand pictures in one go.
5. Like any other SLR camera it has the interchangeable lens facility.
6. It is quick to shoot and it is built for speed.
7. It is easy to focus and it has a brighter view finder.
8. It can operate even in low light without flash.
9. The automatic settings in this camera provide you facility to compose a picture, to be more creative, and do not get bogged down with the aperture and the shutter speeds.


In the end, there is a huge variety of cameras available in the market. There are cameras for anyone who wants to shoot a picture; they are available for the amateurs, they are available for the professionals. There are a large number of brands may be more than a thousand brands which are available to choose from whether you want to buy a Cyber Shot (compact camera) or whether you want to buy a high end camera, it is available to you depending upon the price that you want to pay. You have the view camera for high end result, the view finder camera to make sure that what you get is what you are shooting and you have the SLR cameras for quick shooting and above all you have the digital SLR cameras which are becoming most popular and are likely to overtake with technology even the film cameras in fact some companies have stopped producing film cameras and are switching over to digital SLR cameras.

A digital camera has many advantages over the other cameras. For example, it can take more pictures, it can be viewed immediately, the results can be seen immediately in the monitor, you can shoot much faster, and it is very versatile and you can exercise full creativity when it comes to shooting through digital SLR cameras.

However, whichever be the camera whether you are an amateur or a professional it is always necessary to understand the technological aspects, the creative aspects of a particular equipment so that you can get the best out of it to your capabilities. A camera, whether it is made for an amateur or for a professional it is not so important as the man behind the camera and I would like to give you a quote in the end and it goes like this – “Beauty can be seen in all things seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from a photograph.”

Post a Comment