It’s easy to forget that cameras weren’t always defined by megapixels and the quality of their digital sensors. Once upon a time, photographers had to pay for every photo that they took, and they couldn’t see them for hours or even days after the shoot.
Today we’ll pay homage to the countless cameras that have come and gone, paving the way for our beloved modern DSLRs. Below we’ll take a look at modern images of over a hundred beautiful vintage cameras (along with a quick history lesson!)
A Brief History Lesson
Before we dive into the images, it’s worth taking a minute to learn about the origins of the art/science of photography. How did it all begin and what are some terms that you should know as you peruse the images below? Let’s find out.
The idea of pushing light through a hole to create an image dates all the way back to the 6th century and beyond. However, it wasn’t until the invention of photographic plates in the 1700s that photography was really born in the sense that we now know it with the imagery actually being saved in some fashion. These early plates weren’t so different than modern day film, with a silver coating being mixed up with various other ingredients to create a surface that reacted when exposed to light.
Once we made the discoveries above, the rest was history. Photography gradually advanced with significant improvements being made in the areas of exposure control, lenses, focusing techniques, light metering and photographic film; the latter of these was originally developed by George Eastman of Eastman Kodak in the late 1800s.
Eastman manufactured his first camera, the “Kodak”, in 1888. By 1900, Eastman had advanced his simple box camera idea significantly and released a legendary product that would come to define the market of inexpensive personal cameras in a similar fashion to how the Model T defined automobiles. This camera was called the Brownie. The model shown below, a No. 2A Brownie Model C, is my own and was manufactured around 1924 (watch for my tutorial on how to use it!).
If you look closely, you’ll spot a number of Brownies in the images below. These iconic devices evolved and stayed in production until the late 1960s. You can read all about them at The Brownie Camera Page. With that brutally brief history in mind, let’s discuss some terms that you might find interesting while scanning the images below.
Box Camera – A box camera is one of the simplest cameras in existence and consists of little else than a box with a lens and one end that lets light in to expose the film on the other end. Most box cameras are fairly rudimentary and lack anything but very basic controls for focus, shutter speed and aperture. The Brownie shown above is a box camera.
Folding Camera – A folding camera uses a bellows (that weird accordion thing) to accomplish the feat of allowing the user to carry around a rather large camera in a fairly compact manner. When closed, the folding camera is very thin and easy to throw in a bag. It then expands to add focal length when unfolded.
Twin-lens Reflex Camera (TLR) – A TLR, as its name implies, is a camera with two lenses on the front. The lenses share the same focal length and are often connected to focus simultaneously. The reason for the additional lens is simply for the viewfinder system, which brought about several benefits (over single-lens reflex cameras) such as a continuous image on the finder screen, and a less-noticeable shutter lag. For our purposes today, TLRs are important because they make particularly attractive photographic subjects!
Instant Camera – An instant camera is one that has a self-developing mechanism so that your images are ready to view right away. Polaroid was obviously the most popular manufacturer of instant cameras and released the first commercial instant camera in 1948. This model was called the Polaroid Land Camera and can be seen in several variations in the collection below.