The original concept of the camera dates from Grecian times, when Aristotle referred to the principle of the camera obscura [Lat., = dark chamber] which was literally a dark box—sometimes large enough for the viewer to stand inside—with a small hole, or aperture, in one side. (A lens was not employed for focusing until the Middle Ages.) An inverted image of a scene was formed on an interior screen; it could then be traced by an artist. The first diagram of a camera obscura appeared in a manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci in 1519, but he did not claim its invention.
The recording of a negative image on a light-sensitive material was first achieved by the Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niepce in 1826; he coated a piece of paper with asphalt and exposed it inside the camera obscura for eight hours. Although various kinds of devices for making pictures in rapid succession had been employed as early as the 1860s, the first practical motion picture camera—made feasible by the invention of the first flexible (paper base) films—was built in 1887 by E. J. Marey, a Frenchman. Two years later Thomas Edison invented the first commercially successful camera. However, cinematography was not accessible to amateurs until 1923, when Eastman Kodak produced the first 16-mm reversal safety film, and Bell & Howell introduced cameras and projectors with which to use it. Systems using 8-mm film were introduced in 1923; super-8, with its smaller sprocket holes and larger frame size, appeared in 1965. A prototype of the the digital camera was developed in 1975 by Eastman Kodak, but digital cameras were not commercialized until the 1990s. Since then they have gradually superseded many film-based cameras, both for consumers and professionals, leading many manufacturers to eliminate or reduce the number of the film cameras they produce.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.