175 Years of Photography - Technical Milestones

Riga MINOX, 1937
MINOX EL, 1974

As part of the anniversary activities of “175 Years of Photography”, the Imaging Assocaition “Photoindustrie-Verband” has compiled a photo database with over 500 technical milestones of the photo and imaging sector. Together with the explanatory texts, a timeline is created which is being expanded successively. This database can be freely accessed at www.photoindustrie-verband.de. Christoph Thomas, the chairman of Photoindustrie-Verband, comments: “In the above manner, we want to highlight the enormous innovation strength of our sector to all users – with developments stretching from the very beginnings of our industry to the present day. We are doing our best, but given the wealth of facets in the history of photography it is simply not possible for the database to claim completeness. The items of information gathered here were made available by the respective photo and imaging companies who are also in charge of the editorial aspects.”

Since the invention of photography – on 19 August 1839 all its technical details were officially announced in Paris – near-countless technical milestones have shaped the photography landscape. These milestones are not only about image capture; they cover the entire photo and imaging workflow – from picture processing and handling to printing on a large variety of media.

The technical novelties that ushered in the age of modern photography from around 1880 included dryplates, amateur cameras using rollfilm, enlargers and fast shutters. All further innovations wanted to make photography suitable for the mass market. From the end of the 19th century, amateur photography was typified by so-called box-cameras. In the 20s and 30s of the last century, photography experienced what were up to then its greatest successes: with the invention of 35mm film and colour film. Next, the run of achievement brought ever new image capture devices like pocket or disc cameras, ranging to APS cameras. The triumph of digital photography began with the development of the first CCD chips in 1970. Meanwhile, digitalization has revolutionised photography and created a completely new environment.

The first digital photo was shot on 8 December 1975 on a digital camera weighing 4 kg that was built by Steve Sasson, a 25-year-old Kodak staff member. The camera had 100×100 pixels and required 23 seconds to save the image to a cassette. From the middle of the 1980s, the first commercially available digital cameras appeared; they were known as still video cameras. With the introduction of the first pro-cameras from 1991 onwards, digital photography increasingly gained importance. Compact system cameras – which caused a sensation at photokina 2008 – were highly compact indeed, even though they involved changeable lenses.

In the years that followed, the resolution of digital cameras was continuously improved and new features, such as the integration of a video function, were launched. There was also the arrival of wireless data transfer. The multiple meanings of the word “connectivity” (the ability of being connected or connective, and the ability to make or maintain a connection) also express the technical and economic relevance of “connectivity” to the world of imaging where – in no matter what way and from what source, whether photo or video, low or high resolution – pictures can be displayed, processed and exchanged by the largest possible number of devices.

Mobile phone cameras were in the headlines for the first time in 1999 and smartphones attracted much attention in 2007. Both product types have not only resulted in a breathtaking rise in the number of capture devices; they have also taken image communication into a new dimension with the growing significance of social networks and services like WhatsApp. At the moment, the focus is on data glasses which should lead to another revolution in image communication.

Humanity is surrounded by a world of pictures, both in private and in public space. Pictures are the communications medium of our times and it is their power and their impact which fill each of us with joy and cast their spell over us. With photography, there are no language barriers. Humans with their visual orientation need pictures, because they think in pictures – and only through pictures can memories be permanently preserved.

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