A Brief History of Color Photography: 300 BC – 2000

By June 22, 2019 September 10th, 2019 Photography

History, Text on paper in Vintage type writer machine

The history of colored photography is extensive and would be difficult to cover in a single blog post.

Nonetheless, in this piece, we’ll touch on many of the scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs whose relentless pursuit to expand what is possible have brought photography to where it is today.

You will read about those who made photographic discoveries that changed the course of history. And those whose methods, though unsuccessful, brought us a step closer to finding the right answers.

Since light creates all images, that is where our narrative begins, all the way back in 300 BC . . .

Infographic

300BC – 500BC

As far back as 300 and 400 BC, Aristotle pondered the nature of light.

During a solar eclipse, he observed the patterns projected by leaves on the ground. This made him realize that light has the power to cast an image. Though this may not be the best example of photography, it was the genesis for photographic theory and thought.

Similarly, one of the first written records of someone using a pinhole device goes back to the Chinese philosopher Mozi in the fifth century. During this time, documents indicated that a dark room with a small pinhole acted as an early camera obscura.

The pinhole was said to “act as a treasure box that channels the power of the sun.” The pinhole created images on the opposite wall that appeared identical to the outside world. At this time, the only way to view the image was to be inside the room.

11th Century

Pages from The Book of Optics

In the 10th and 11th century, the study of light and camera leaped forward. In 1011 and 1012, Ibn Al- Hazeen, an Arab mathematician, artist, and physician, wrote a book titled “Book of Optics.”

The book expanded on many topics from perception, lens optics, and of course, the camera obscura.

He was the first to posit that our eyes see objects that light has been reflected off of. Before this, the common belief was that we could see because our eyes projected light onto objects.

This would prove helpful to many photographers and scientists in the future. It meant that we could harness the power of the sun to see and capture our surroundings.

Al-Haytham also concluded on the rule of magnification and the relationship between a light source, lens, and the resultant image.

Much of his work was groundbreaking and set the foundation for those who preceded him.

12th – 17th Century

In 1267 Roger Bacon published the Opus Majus, which was a book detailing the findings of his research. Bacon covered various topics, including philosophy, theology, mathematics, alchemy, and optics.

In the optics section, he discussed similar findings that Al-Hatham had written about. One of his most notable quotes about the potential of photography is:

“It is possible that some other science may be more useful, but no other science has so much sweetness and beauty of utility. Therefore it is the flower of the whole of philosophy and through it, and not without it, can the other sciences be known.”

While he did little to advance photography, he recognized its potential.

The Camera Obscura gained popularity in the Renaissance era.

In 1490 Leonardo da Vinci documented how the camera obscura worked. He detailed how a pinhole in a very dark box will direct the light and display an upside down image of the outside.

Leonardo da Vinci Sketch of a Camera Obscura

Leonardo da Vinci along with other artists used the camera obscura to create perspective in their paintings. Canaletto is also known for using the camera obscura in his paintings of Venice, Italy.

The camera obscura was the beginning of understanding photographic methods. The use of silver nitrate propelled the technique forward.

In the mid-1600s, Angelo Sala and Robert Boyle found that silver nitrate turned black when exposed to light. After discovering this, the evolution of photography began to press on in new ways.

18th – 19th Century

Thomas Wedgewood Shodowgrams

The work of Angelo Sala would be incorporated into the photographic process in 1727 by Johann Heinrich Schulze.

Using what he learned from Angelo Sala, Schulze created light-sensitive glass plates using silver salts and silver nitrate. Exposing the plates to light caused them to turn black. 

Unfortunately, after removing the plates from the light, Schulze was unable to stop the plates from turning entirely black.

Though his attempts to capture an image were unsuccessful, his experiments laid the foundation for later photographic experiments.

Later, Thomas Wedgewood and Humphry Davy built on the process that Schulze used in his experiments.

Wedgewood and Davy created a light-sensitive paper using silver slats. They would be the first to use a light-sensitive material to capture images using the camera obscura.

Wedgewood made several attempts to expose images using these silver salts, but more often than not,

these experiments ended in frustration. The problems likely stemmed from the fact that the paper’s level of sensitivity was not up to par for producing well-focused images. Wedgewood eventually tweaked his method, which finally led to some success.

This new method involved dissolving nitrate in water and dipping paper inside. The photosensitive paper was then placed in a ceramic pot and was pressed against flat objects such as leaves and insects.

When exposed to light, the area behind the object would turn black outlining the form and details of the object.

The impressions Wedgewood produced have become known as “shadowgrams” or “photograms” and were the first photo negatives ever produced using contact exposure.

1820- The First Permanent Photograph

The First Permenant photograph captured by Joseph Nicephore Niepce

The previous discoveries would provide the groundwork that would lead to the first photograph.

Joseph Nicephore Niepce is credited with capturing the first permanent photograph. Though the date is unclear on when the first image was captured, it was done sometime in the 1820s.

Joseph Niepce captured the first photograph from his window in Saint-Loup De Varennes in France. He did so by applying bitumen to a pewter plate and suspending it in lavender.

This created a photosensitive plate which he then exposed to the sun for 8 hours using a camera obscura. Although very faint and hard to discern, Niepce was able to produce an image that did not turn completely dark after.

He would call his process the heliograph, which represented drawing with light.

Despite financial limitations, Niepce was determined to continue improving his process. He requested that his cousin buy him a new camera obscura from Charles Chevaliers in Paris.

Little did Niepce know that his cousin’s trip would change the course of his work.

Charles Chevalier was friends with a man named Louis Daguerre. Daguerre was a painter, inventor, and physicist, who was also trying to improve the photographic process.

When Chevalier became aware that the two were working on similar projects, he encouraged Deguerre to contract Niepce and him Neipce’s address.

Resource: “The First Photographs.” Photography: The Definitive Visual History, by Tom Ang, DK Publishing, 2014.

1826 – Daguerre Contacts Niepce

After finding out about his rival,  Daguerre was eager to know more about Niepce’s experiments.

In January 1826, he wrote a letter to Niepce, informing him that he was also working on improving the photographic process.

In a desperate attempt to find out the details of Niepce’s work, Daguerre lied in his letter. He claimed he had obtained astonishing results and was very close to finalizing his process.

1829 – The Partnership Begins

In 1829, Daguerre was finally able to convince Niepece to form a partnership, promising that their partnership would bring great financial success to both of them.

Neipce realized that a partnership with Daguerre was the only option for solving his financial troubles.

Daguerre, on the other hand, was also struggling financially, and a partnership would benefit him as well. The main reason Daguerre wanted to partner with Niepce was to learn about his process.

Finally, in 1829, Daguerre and Neipce signed a 10-year contract to work with one another on a photographic process.

Following the signing of their contract, Daguerre spent two weeks with Niepce.

The two worked from morning to night during those weeks. Unfortunately, at the end of their time together, they made no significant improvements to the process.

Daguerre eventually returned to Paris with precisely what he needed, all the knowledge and instructions of Niepce’s process.

He would spend time trying to improve the heliograph but with little success.

Daguerre realized that although the process revolutionized photography, it would not be able to reach the marketability they desired.

First, the pewter plates produced faint images that required specific positioning to see. Also, the plates themselves were not very appealing to use or look at.

But, in his search to improve the heliograph process, Daguerre made a discovery that would be crucial to finalizing his process.

Daguerre discovered the sensitivity of iodized plates, and he would share his findings with Niepce,

From there, Niepce would divert his focus to Iodized plates for some time before he reverted to experimenting with bitumen.

Daguerre, on the other hand, would continue working with iodized plates. Daguerre truly believed that iodized plates would help them create a permanent photographic process.

1833 – Niepce Dies

In 1833, only five years after their partnership began Niepce died. After his death, his son continued his work and the partnership that he started with Daguerre.

Even after the death of Niepce, Daguerre continued his experiments with Iodized plates. 

1835 – William Henry Fox Talbot

Louis Daguerre wasn’t alone in his efforts to create a photographic process. English scientist, Henry Fox Talbot was also working on creating one.

Henry Fox Talbot was born into a wealthy family and received the best schooling that money could offer. He spent most of his time working and exploring new ideas.

Unlike Niepce and Daguerre, Talbot had no financial or commercial motivation. His desire to keep expanding scientific knowledge was his drive behind experimenting with different photographic methods.  

Talbot’s method involved a two-step process that made ordinary writing paper photosensitive.

The first step included painting a sheet of paper with a sodium chloride solution and letting it dry. Once dry, he would add a layer using a silver nitrate solution.

To enhance the sensitivity of the paper, he would apply multiple layers of the silver nitrate solution.

1835–The First Photographic Negative

First Photographic Negative - Lattice Window captured by Henry Fox Talbot

On a sunny day in 1835, he put his light-sensitive paper to the test. Talbot used a small wooden box with a microscopic lens on the front. Essentially, a homemade camera obscura. 

With the box facing a latticed window, he placed his light-sensitive paper, no larger than a postage stamp at the back of the box.

He then exposed the paper to light. The exact amount of time he exposed the paper to light is unknown but is said to be anywhere from fifteen minutes to one hour.

Once he removed the paper from the box, what he found was a paper which contained a perfect image.

Though it was small, with a magnifying glass, you could easily make the diamond-shaped panes of glass. The detail that the image had was remarkable.

The image Talbot produced that day is credited as one of the first photographic negatives ever created using light exposure.

Unfortunately, Talbot didn’t realize the significance of his discovery. He did not rush to publicize his findings but instead placed them away along with his other experimental notes.

Some say that Talbot’s inaction may have been because of his unhappiness with the effectiveness of his new process. Though his process did create clear and beautiful images, exposure times were long, the images where small, the subjects could not move and needed to be in direct sunlight.

Nonetheless, Talbot may have finalized a photographic process before Daguerre, but the world would not know until much later.

1837 – The Daguerreotype

Daguerreotype - Portrait of Daguerre

In 1837, Daguerre had finally created a photographic process that was capable of becoming a commercial product. It was faster and produced higher quality images than before.

The new process involved using a highly polished silver plate that he dipped in silver iodide. The addition of iodide made the plate more sensitive to light.

The plate is then exposed to light using the camera obscura, and the image was developed and enhanced using mercury vapors.

After, the silver plate was washed in a hot salt solution to remove any unexposed silver iodide. Finally, all that was needed was to dry and frame the resulting image.

Daguerre would make one final adjustment to his process. Though it has never been confirmed, this adjustment is said to have been spurred after meeting with John Herschel, a mathematician, and scientist.

Hershel had conducted his experiments, also trying to improve the photographic process.

Although his attempts failed, he made one major discovery. In 1819, he found that the best way to dissolve silver was to use hyposulphite of soda ( also referred to as “hypo”).

This discovery took Daguerre’s process to the next level.

Daguerre stopped using hot salt water to remove silver and began using hyposulphite of soda to remove silver.

With this final adjustment in place, Daguerre was ready to introduce his product to the public.

The images produced using Daguerre’s process became known as Daguerreotypes.

The daguerreotype dramatically reduced the exposure times previously required taking around 3 minutes to capture an imawhyage with proper lighting.

Resource: “Sir John Frederick William Herschel.” International Photography Hall of Fame, iphf.org/inductees/sir-john-frederick-william-herschel/.

1839 – Publication

January 1839

The First Photo with people captured using the new Daguerrotype method

With the process finalized, the only thing remaining for Daguerre to do was share his invention with the world.

On January 6th, a manual detailing the daguerreotype process was published in the Gazette de France. The official announcement came the following day, January 7th, 1839, at the French Academy of Sciences by Francois Arago.

Shortly after presenting his process, he would sell the rights to the Daguerreotype process to the French government. In return, Daguerre and Niepce’s son would receive lifetime pensions of 6,000 Francs and 4,000 Francs, respectively.

After purchasing the rights of the Daguerreotype process, the French government would make the process public, stating it was their gift to the world.

The news of the new photographic process quickly spread and reached Talbot.

Upon finding out that someone else published the same ideas that he had worked on in 1835, Talbot prepared his notes also to present his findings in public.

It’s believed that the fame and fortune did not motivate Talbot’s actions, but rather the integrity of his work.

He wanted to make it clear that his experiments had occurred in the past, and he did not imitate the findings of Daguerre. What he failed to realize was that their methods were different and could not be mistaken for the same process. 

On January 31st, 1839, Talbot officially published his photographic process, which he called photogenic drawing. He presented his findings to the Royal Institution in England.

Talbot process truly fell on deaf ears with the Daguerreotype receiving all of the attention.

But, this did not stop Talbot from working on his process. Though he was never in pursuit of any fame or accolades, he was determined to pursue the process for personal enlightenment and the advancement of photography.

Resource: Gustavson, Todd. “Eureka Moments: Niepce, Daguerre, Talbot.” A History of Photography From Daguerreotype to Digital, Sterling Publishing, 2009, pp. 3–23.

June 1839

By June of 1839, Daguerre and Isidore Niepce prepared for commercial distribution of their process.

They signed a contract with Daugerres brother in law, Alphonse Giroux giving them the right to sell the materials required to take a Daguerreotype.

Giroux Daguerreotype Camera

The Giroux Daguerreotype CameraThe camera they released was called the Giroux Daguerreotype Camera. It was sold fully equipped with all the necessary equipment to take a photograph.

The Giroux Daguerreotype Camera came with a camera, lens, plate holder, iodine box for sensitizing the Daguerreotype plates, mercury box for development, and several other tools required to produce an image.

To truly market his product Daguerre branded his camera with a metal plate on the side that read “No apparatus is guaranteed if it does not bear the signature of Mr. Daguerre and the seal of Mr. Giroux.”

The Giroux became the first mass-produced camera. By the end of 1839, it had been exported to Germany, and by 1840 it has made it to the U.S.

After the release of the Giroux, many people followed suit and released new versions of the Daguerreotype camera.

1841- The Calotype 

Calotype - Positive and Negative of a Tree

In 1841, Talbot introduced several improvements to his process.

First, he began using gallic acid, which made his negative sharper and more stable. Second, he introduced a method to produce positives from the negatives his process produced.

Using contact printing, he could create a positive image from his negative image. The contact would create an image on a new piece of paper with the white and dark areas inverted and corrected.

Talbot’s named his process the Calotype, though many, including his mother, encouraged him to follow the steps of his competitor and call it the Talbotypes.

The word Calotype finds its origins from two Greek words, which mean “beautiful” and “impression.” This negative to positive process is the same process that was used in photography for over 150 years.

Talbot patented his product, requiring anyone who wished to use his process for commercial use to pay a royalty fee.

The only issue is that Talbots royalty fees were extraordinarily high, and many refused to pay.

In addition to the high royalty fees imposed by Talbot the prominence of the Daguerreotype severely hindered the widespread use of the Calotype.

Though the Calotype was not as popular as the Daguerreotype, it did offer one major advantage.

Talbots process allows you to create hundreds of images using only a single negative. The Daguerreotype, on the other hand, only allowed one print.

Competition

Once Daguerre released his first camera, many competitors would follow suit.

Most competitors would try to improve the camera by adding new features or making it easier to use.

One of the first cameras released after the Giroux Daguerreotype camera was the Novel Appereli Gaudin.

The camera included a simple shutter, a metal disk to control exposure (similar to an aperture) and a much smaller plate to take photographs.

Other notable cameras that were released shortly after the Giroux Daguerreotype include the Chevalier Half-Plate and the Plumbe Daguerreotype.

1847- The Albumen Process

It would take nearly ten years from the initial release of the Daguerreotype process for any significant improvements to be made to the photographic process. The contribution would come from a familiar name.

In 1847 Nicephore Niepce’s cousin Abel Niepce made an important improvement to the process.  Abel Niepce began using starch or albumen from egg whites as a binder to suspend potassium iodide.

The process was quite cumbersome, but this is how it went.

It started with an application of the albumen solution to a glass plate. Once the glass plate dried the plate was then covered in the original nitrate solution.

This new process caused the nitrate solution to sit on top of the paper rather than being absorbed as it did previously. This additional layer produced images with improved glow and shite.

The new process made glass plates perfect for making negatives. The albumen process became the standard for printing photos and widely used for the next forty years.

1852 – Collodion 

The next improvement would come much sooner than the last one.

In 1852 Frederick Scott Archer published “A Manual of the Collodion Photographic Process.”

In it, Archer discussed implementing collodion,  a substance that is more sensitive than albumen, into the calotype process.

This had some major advantages. One, it produced crisper images with shorter exposure times. The process was also cheaper, more reliable, and easily replicable compared to the original process.

His process would later become known as the “wet-plate process.” It is so named because the photosensitive plate had to be wet and freshly created to take the image successfully.

The new process wasn’t perfect, however. Collodion is not a friendly chemical to use. It is sticky and thick, making it messy to use. It is also extremely pungent and unsafe due to its flammability and toxicity.

But, despite its obvious disadvantages, photographers still adopted the collodion photographic process.

1855 – James Clerk Maxwell 

In 1855, James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish Scientist specializing in math and physics, introduced the concept that would later be used to produce color photographs.

Building off his knowledge of the human eye and how we perceive color,  Maxwell proposed a three-way color system to capture light.

In particular, he postulated that you could successfully create a colored photograph by capturing the same image under red, green, and blue light.

The colored photograph will be the result of combining these three images into one. Maxwell’s theory would later become known as Additive Color Theory. This theory has become the foundation for all digital displays. 

In 1861 Maxwell, with the help of Thomas Sutton, would test the theory using a camera.

1861 – The First Color Photograph

First colored photo, Tartan Ribbon under different filters

Using Maxwell’s theory, Sutton captured the first official colored photograph in 1861.

The first colored image Sutton and Maxwell captured was composed of three different images of a tartan ribbon.

Each photo was taken with a red, green, or blue filter as an overlay. Using a projector, they displayed all three images in the same place. The result was a full-color image.

There is one catch, though. Sutton and Maxwell may have produced the first color photograph, but it was not the first single capture colored image.

To achieve a colored photo, they had to superimpose the three filtered images.

1871 – The Introduction of Dry Plates

Because of the many issues that developers had with the “wet-plate” process, they continued to look for additional ways to better improve their technique. One such problem was that the wet plates were messy and highly technical to handle.  

Luckily, a “dry plate” was developed by Richard Leach Maddox in 1871. His process involved suspending silver salts in gelatin-bromide. When the plates dried, the silver remained suspended in gelatin, which meant that the silver retained its sensitivity even after drying.

Unfortunately, the first dry plates introduced by Maddox were less sensitive to light than wet plates. As a result, the dry plates produced lower quality images than wet plates.

Regardless, the new dry-plate process meant that photographers could prepare their plates beforehand, eliminating the need to carry chemicals. The new process made photography easier, quicker, and much cleaner than before.

It also made photography much less difficult than before. Photography was once only an activity that professionals could do and now with the introduction of the dry plate, it could be done as a hobby by almost anyone.

1873 – Improving the Dry Plate 

In 1873, a discovery made by Charles Harper Bennett would revolutionize the dry plate process first introduced by Maddox in 1871.

Bennet determined that by heating the gelatin, he could increase the sensitivity of the dry-plate. This discovery would allow dry plates to produce higher quality images than dry plates.

The new dry and improved quality of dry plates would prompt many photographers to take advantage of the new dry plate process.

The improvement in the dry-plate would eventually lead to the downfall of wet-plates

1879 – The First Colored Print

First Single Capture Colored Print - Landscape photo of Agen, France by Hauron

Although Sutton and Maxwell produced the first colored photograph, they were unable to produce a print version of the photo.

But, in 1879, Louis Ducos du Hauron introduced a process called Heliochromy.

Hauron’s process pushed color photography one step forward by making it possible to produce colored prints.

Building on Maxwell and Sutton’s tricolor process, his process began by capturing three different exposures, one with a red, green, and blue filter.

Next, he printed the three images on pigmented paper of dichromated gelatin.  Finally, using the three prints, he combined them to create the first fully colored print.

While his method was long and extensive, it was the first to produce colored prints. Two of his most famous pieces include a heliochrome he created of a roster and the other a landscape photo of Agen, France with the St. Caprais cathedral in the distance.

1884 – Roll Film 

First Roll Film patent granted to George Eastman

In 1884, George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Dry Plate Company, was granted a patent for Roll film.

The history behind the invention of roll film is a bit convoluted. Nonetheless, its invention went on to revolutionize photography.

Roll film created negative on light-sensitive rolls of paper. This the need for heavy dry-plates.

Eastman was not content with his initial film roll. He hired Henry Reichenbach and tasked him with improving it.

1887 – Celluloid Roll Film

In 1887 Hannibal Goodwin invented a roll film that used celluloid film. Compared to Eastman’s paper film roll, Goodwin’s r0ll film was clearer, more photosensitive, and resistant to damage.
 
Goodwin would later apply for a patent and would be granted its ownership rights in 1889.

1888 – Eastman vs. Goodwin

Celluloid Film

In 1888, George Eastman and Henry Reichenbach improved his original paper film. But, to do so required they used Celluloid, the material that Goodwin had applied for a patent a year earlier.

Nonetheless, Eastman would begin producing the first roll film camera by the Eastman company. He would then apply for a patent for their new film in 1888.

The conflicting patents between Goodwin and Eastmen led to a long legal battle. But, in the end, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Goodwin.

The court would later order Eastmen to pay $5 Million to Anthony & Scovill, the company who bought the patent rights after Goodwin’s death.

Kodak’s First Film Camera

The First Kodak Camera - Flyer

In 1888, Eastman founded the Kodak company would go on to release the first roll film camera with celluloid film that year as well.

The Kodak Camera could capture one hundred pictures with a single roll of film.

But, the real genius behind the Kodak camera was its ease of use. It enabled even non-photographers to enjoy taking photographs.

And, for only $10 you could have your images developed and camera film reloaded by the Kodak company. The slogan was, “You press the button, we do the rest.”

This new product by Kodak allowed photographers to enjoy photography without dealing with the hassle of developing their images.

1892 – The First Single Capture Colored Print

The First Single Capture colored photo - Gabriel Lippmann

In 1891, Gabriel Lippmann announced to the Academy of Sciences that he captured the first single shot colored image.

Unlike his predecessors, he was able to produce colored images with a single exposure.

In 1892, he reported that he had captured several colored images. His first photos included a stained glass window, a bowl of oranges topped with red poppy, and a multicolored parrot.

Lippmann process relied on wave propagation to generate the colors in a photograph.

To capture his images, he applied two different solutions to the back and front of the printing plate.

On the front, he applied a mixture of silver nitrate and potassium bromide. On the back, he applied mercury.

During development, the incoming light interfered with the light reflected off the mercury. The result was a colored image.

Although his first images were of low quality, Lippman created the first direct-positive colored image.

Lippmann later wins a Nobel Prize of Physics award for his process.

However, his method would not become the standard for creating colored photographs.

1990 – The Kodak Brownie

Kodak Brownie Flyer

In 1900, Kodak released a revolutionary camera model, the Kodak Brownie. The new model is both user-friendly and cheap, costing only $1. 

The Brownie Eastman’s revolutionary camera model, The Kodak Brownie, would make his goal of placing a Kodak camera in every household a reality.

The camera proved to be an instant success. By the end of the first year, Kodak sold over 150,000 Brownie cameras.

The Kodak Brownie would become a staple in the photography world for years. With the Brownie, nearly every household would have a camera. The Brownie was so popular most people would take their first photo with it.

1903 – The Lumiere Brothers

Magnified Glass Plate with Dyed Potato Starch

In 1903, the Lumiere brothers patented the “Autochrome Lumiere” process. The Autochrome process would not be commercially available for another four years.

It involved using dyed grains of potato starch as randomly distributed light filters. They dye colors either red, green, or blue.

The grains were then were overlaid on a light-sensitive glass plate to act as a light filter. When exposed to light the grains would only record the light of the associated color.

The result was a colored image.

It’s important to note that autochromes were only visible with a light source. Using a light source you could illuminate the glass plate to see the image. Without a light source, the image would not be visible.

1907 – Autochrome Goes Public

Autochrome Photo - Christina O'Gorman Sitting Down by Mervyn O'Gorman

In 1907, the Lumiere brothers finally revealed the autochrome process to the world.

It gained popularity first in Paris and then in the United States. Many of the first color photographs displayed in popular magazines such as National Geographic were autochromes.

Autochrome became the most popular way of capturing color photos until the 1930s.

1915 – First Color Camera

The autochrome process prompted the release of many new cameras. Although film cameras were available they could not produce colored images.

As a result, the cameras created to capture colored images used the dry plate process.

In 1915 the Hess-Ives Corporation produced the first camera designed to take a colored photograph. They named it the Hiro Color Camera.

The camera made it much easier to capture three images using the colored filters. It had a special plate holder that allowed you to capture three images, one using each filter.

However, to print the images photographers needed a high level of expertise. Meaning, that only very skilled photographers could use it.

1935 – Kodachrome

 Kodachrome Photo - Buick in Yosemite

George Eastman invested much of his early earnings in research and development.

In April of 1935, the research and development team of Kodak released Kodachrome.

Kodachrome was the first film capable of producing color photographs. Unfortunately, George Eastman died in 1932, before the release of the Kodachrome.

Kodachrome had an immediate impact on photography. Photographers no longer needed to carry heavy glass plates to capture colored photos. Kodachrome images were vivid and sharp, unlike any other photo ever created.

The one downside of  Kodachrome film is that it was very complicated to develop. The process required many steps and the application of chemicals in meticulous order. Only Kodak labs could develop Kodachrome.

1942 – Kodacolor

Kodacolor Photo - Yosemite Falls

In 1942, Kodak would release a new type of color film called Kodacolor. It was distinct from Kodachrome in two ways.

First, the Kodacolor produced color negatives, while Kodachrome produced color positives.

Second, the new Kodacolor increased to  ISO 25 compared to ISO 8 of  Kodachrome. Kodacolor could capture a brighter image given the same lighting conditions.

1946 – Ektachrome

Ektachrome Photo - Yosemite Half Dome

In 1946, Kodak released Ektachrome, which produced positive transparencies of photos.

One major advantage of Ektachrome over Kodachrome is that it is much easier to develop.

Its developing process also did not require the film to be developed by Kodak. Any photography lab can quickly develop Ektachrome.

1948 – The First Instant Camera

Poloroid Land Model 95

Edwin Land released the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Model 95, with a built-in developing system, in 1948.

The new feature made it possible for consumers to have instant access to their photos.

Capable of producing 3×4 inch photos monochrome photos in sixty seconds, the Land Model 95 became an instant hit.

1963 – Kodak Instamatic 100 Camera

Kodak Instamatic 100

Beginning from its introduction till 1963, nearly all cameras used film.

But, the process of developing film left a lot of opportunities for errors. This is true even with professionals.

In 1963 Kodak introduced Instamatic 100, the first color camera built around a film cartridge. The cameras were a response to consumers who complained about the difficulty of loading film.

The film cartridge would prove revolutionary.

It enabled cameras to develop images even as the photographer continued to take photographs. It would make instant colored prints possible.

Before the Instamatic 100, you had to wait to develop your images. You would either develop them at home yourself or you could take them to a lab which could take days.

The Kodak Instamatic 100 was very simple to use. A camera with a fixed focal length, a pop-up flash, and a single crank film advance lever. The Polaroid would eliminate the need for photographers to learn how to load the film. These new features would prove beneficial, the Instamatic 100 sold an estimated ten million models.

1972- First Foldable Camera

Poloroid Sx-70 Foldable CameraIn 1972 Polaroid would release a camera that would shock the world. Referred to as the “most amazing camera ever produced”. The Sx-70s ability to fold and turn completely flat was unlike any other camera. 

The Sx-70 was an automatic, fully motorized, foldable camera capable of developing colored prints using the sunlight.

The wave of digitization would change the fate of film and instant cameras forever. As digital cameras became more popular, Polaroid officially stopped production of film in 2008.

1975 – The Digital Camera

The First Digital Camera by Steven Sasson

In 1975, Steven Sasson, an engineer, working at Kodak, built the first self-contained digital camera. Several years earlier in 1969, Willard S. Boyle and George E.  invented the charge-coupled device. This is what we now refer to as a sensor.

Sasson would be the first to use a charge-coupled device inside a camera. The sensor allowed it to convert the image into digital information and stored in on its external memory.

Sasson’s camera weighed approximately 8 pounds and captured 0.01 MP black and white images. Cannon did not initially attempt to commercialize digital cameras in the fear it would damage the sales of their film cameras. As a result, digital cameras were first used by the military and medical fields.

1982 – The Disk System

In 1982, Kodak revealed the disk system,  a new type of film that was enclosed in a flat circular disk. The disk was able to hold fifteen 10 x 8 mm exposures. The disk system would alter camera design moving forward.

Disk film was much smaller than the previous designs which caused an influx of small and compact cameras.

1990 – The Release of Photoshop

With the invention and accessibility of the personal computer and colored photography would evolve one more time. This time it was not due to an improvement in the design of cameras or photographic process. 

In 1987, Thomas Knoll would design a program using his Macintosh plus computer. Knoll would initially call his program  ImagePro. Adobe would eventually purchase the license from Knoll and would make it commercially available in 1990. Adobe would later change the name to “Photoshop” and it revolutionized the way photographers edited and process their digital images.

1991 – Professional Digital Cameras

First Professional Digital Camera – Kodak DCS 100
The Kodak DC 100

In 1991 the first professional digital camera would hit the market. In 1991, Kodak released the  Kodak DCS (Digital Single Lens.) The Nikon F3 body was the foundation for the Kodak DC 100. The DC 100 also came with a CCD sensor and digital storage unit (DSU). Also, able to capture both colored and monochrome images.

Due to its initial price ($20,000), Kodak only marketed it towards businesses.

Dycam Model 1

Dycam Model 1

In 1991, Dycam released the  Model 1 the first digital camera made for the average consumer. It could connect to a PC or Macintosh, equipped with a 1MP RAM it could store thirty-two compressed black and white images. It retailed for $995, a bargain compared to other cameras on the market.

Following the release of its initial digital camera, Kodak would release the DC series throughout the  1990s and would progressively get much smaller and begin featuring much of the typical features we associate with digital cameras today.

1994 – Quicktake 100

Apple Quicktake 100

In 1994, Apple would lease the Quicktake 100. The Quicktake 100 would go on to be the first successful consumer digital camera.

Apple’s camera was able to capture .31MP photos in 24-bit color. 24-bit color was revolutionary and has become an industry standard. 

This meant that the Quicktake 100 could capture 16 Million different colors.

The Quicktake 100 expanded the color range of colored photography while also making digital cameras much easier to use.

1995 – The First LCD Screen

Casio QV-10

In 1995, Casio introduced the QV-10, it was the first camera to have a built-in LCD screen.

While the LCD screen is a feature that most photographers have become accustomed to today at the time, it was revolutionary. The LCD screen now allowed photographers to compose their images more accurately and preview the images they had already taken.

This was a major improvement in the photographic process, especially considering that most new cameras could not hold more than 50 cameras at this time. The LCD screen allowed photographers to understand better the image they captured and what adjustments they wanted to make.

1997 – The Kodac DC Series

After the introduction of Digital cameras, many manufacturers would follow suit. Kodak released a series of digital cameras known as DC.

Considered to be the most memorable camera of the DC series was the DC210. Kodak released the DC210 in 1997, it was the first consumer camera to introduce two features. First, it was able to shot 1MP images. Second, it had a color LCD screen to preview images.

The 1MP produced higher quality images and the color LCD screen allowed photographers to see exactly what their images would look like.

2000 and Beyond

After the 2000s, cameras would continue to evolve in terms of portability and quality. They became more compact, enough to be eventually installed on the back of cell phones. At the same time, their image quality flourished. With even the smallest digital camera capable of producing high-resolution images and video recording.

Today, camera technology has made photography one of the most potent ways we communicate and tell our stories with the world.

About The Author

Photographer. Explorer. Story Teller. For the past 5 years, I’ve voyaged across the world seeking the next great photograph. If you’re anything like me, you love to travel, capture beautiful moments, and live life to the fullest.