The Short Version:

Johann Zahn designed the first camera in 1685. But, the World’s First Camera was built by Alexander S. Wolcott and patented on 8th May 1840. Our modern-day cameras are based on the camera design that Mr. Wolcott patented back in the day.The American inventor also set up the world’s first portrait studio in New York named as ‘Daguerran Parlor’


Drawing of a camera obscura by Johann Zahn

Everything begins with an idea.

-Earl Nightingale


The Long Version:

Considering the above quote, the idea of the camera can be traced back to years of Han Chinese Dynasty. In 400 B.C a philosopher named Mizo accurately asserted that the camera obscura image is inverted because the light travels in straight lines from its source.
Centuries later, an Iraqi scientist named Ibn al-Haytham a.k.an Alhazen invented the world’s first Pinhole Camera. To put simply, it was without any Lens. It was made of a light-proof box and a tiny aperture for the light to enter.
Once the light from the subject passes through the aperture, an inverted image is created on the opposite side of the box. With the help of this 1000 AD invention, it became easy to explain ”why the images were upside down?” This phenomenal invention widely became popular by the name of Camera Obscura.
Further continuing on the same track, during the mid of 16th century, creators started using a lens for pinhole. The size of this gigantic camera started compacting from a room to a tent, to a little box. By the time 17th century had arrived, the camera obscura with lens became quite popular as a drawing aid.


First Camera:

Alexander S. Wolcott

Alexander Wolcott developed a Daguerreotype Mirror Camera. Instead of an ordinary lens, this new version had a telescope-like mirror that concentrates light on the photographic plate. Meanwhile, Daguerre’s chemical formula remained unchanged. It significantly reduced the shutter time from 30 minutes to mere 5 minutes.
On, 8th May 1840 Mr.Wolcott, with the assistance of John Johnson Sr. received First American Patent for Photography.(U.S Patent No#1582). In the same year, an English entrepreneur named Richard Beard, who had already secured the only license for making Daguerreotypes in London; also secured the patent for the production of Wolcott & Johnson camera in Britain. Mr.Beard went on opening the first portrait studio in England.


Time for Plot Twist:

The person builds the World’s First Camera DID NOT click the World’s First Photograph.


First Photograph:

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

In 1827, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce clicked the first photographic image with camera obscura.
Niépce downfall gave rise to Modern Camera. Before the arrival of Niépce, camera obscura was mainly used for viewing purpose, drawing aid or as a projector. For an image, people used to trace the inverted projection formed by camera obscura. But none of this methods managed to produce actual photographs.

However, Niépce wasn’t good at tracing. Since then, he became obsessed with the idea, that image created by the camera obscura could be made permanent through use of chemical compund. In his early experiments, Niépce builds a small camera using silver chloride coating on a paper that darkened on exposure to light.

This was NOT a permanent method of preserving photographs.

In 1826, Niépce experimented with sliding wooden box camera made by Charles Louis Chevalier in Paris. This creates the First Permanent Camera Photography.

In 1826, Niépce experimented with sliding wooden box camera made by Charles Louis Chevalier in Paris.

In this method, a solution of powdered bitumen and lavender oil was spread on a pewter plate. This thin layer base made out of glass, copper, tin or silver was then inserted in camera obscura. The setting was exposed to light for a period of 8 hours. Even then, the image formed was non-visible.
Later, Niépce would dip the plate in a diluted lavender oil bath, which would dissolve the unaffected bitumen particles which were not exposed to light.
The resulting image was a fair occurrence, more like a negative. The image formed didn’t stood the test of time, and used to fade away in a short while

Later in 1829, a French photographer named Louis Daguerre formed an alliance with Niépce. The pioneers joined hands to develop the technique to create permanent photographs within limited time frame.

The duo first got Niepce’s camera time down from 8 hours to 30 minutes of exposure time. Still, the wait of half an hour was unacceptable. In the same year, Louis Daguerre invented first practical photography alongside Niépce.

After the death of his colleague and a decade-long wait, in 1839 Mr.Daguerre managed to develop a convenient and effective method of photography named as ‘The Daguerreotype’. Under this process, a permanent photograph was obtained by use of an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapour.

Once iodine coated sheet was exposed to the light, it generated an image within few minutes. The same plate was then bathed in a solution of silver chloride.

The final product was a Lasting Image, one that would not change if exposed to light.

The Daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process. This process was a commercial success and lasted for next 20 years. The Daguerreotype popularity hit the roof, and by 1850 there were over 70 Daguerreotype studios in New York City alone.

In the late 1830s, Daguerre kept forward his work in front of to the French Academy of Sciences. Later, in 1839, the same process was revealed to the world.

The French Government offered this new invention as a gift from France ”free to the world.”

Since then, the field of photography began to develop in a swift. Many photographers experimented with each type of emulsion, by use of numerous chemicals and techniques. By mid-to-late-1800s, many developments such as emulsion plates and wet plates were developed.

Until 1952, Niépce received less credit for his contribution to photography. The historians Alison and Helmut Gernsheim rediscovered Niépce’s original work.

The discovery enlightened the world, that it was Niépce’s Heliographic Process which formed an image created on a light-sensitive surface, by the action of light.

It was First Successful example of modern day photography.

”Rome wasn’t built in a day.” and neither was the Camera.”


Writer: Sid Parab

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