A camera is a device used for recording and storing photographic images, either by exposing light to photosensitive film through an aperture or using an electronic sensor to record visual information as digital data.
Stills cameras capture single frame images, whereas movie cameras capture a continuing series of frames to produce a moving image.
Cameras are the primary tools in both photography and film-making, and are also highly collectible as items of antique and vintage technology in their own right.
Many antique cameras are beyond repair and have no functional use; they are collected as antiques, for their craftsmanship, historic significance and aesthetic appeal.
The majority of 18th and early 19th century cameras were built using high-quality wood, brass and leather.
Many of the earliest cameras have interesting stories attached to them, and some have been owned by significant photographers of the period.
Antique camera collectors usually research the history of cameras and photography as an aid in finding interesting pieces for their collections.
Many collectors choose a specific area of cameras to focus on; some choose a particular time period, such as wooden cameras of the 19th century, whereas others concentrate on a specific manufacturer such as Kodak, Conley or the American Optical Company.
Some collectors prefer to collect a particular type of camera, such as Polaroid instant cameras or 16mm movie cameras, and others collect vintage cameras for the quality of image they produce, and look for functioning cameras which can still be used.
The Daguerreotype camera
The world’s first commercially-available camera was invented by the French artist and chemist Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre in 1839.
His Daguerreotype camera produced an image on a silver-coated copper plate, which was then exposed to light, coated with Mercury vapour and fixed with salt water to form a photographic image. The patent for the camera was acquired by the French government, who issued Daguerre a pension for life in return, and declared the invention free for the world.
The first model sold was the Giroux Daguerreotype Camera, designed by Daguerre himself, and produced by Alphonse Giroux in Paris.
The process spread around the world and many manufacturers built and further developed the cameras over the coming years.
In 1841 Alexander S. Wolcott invented a Daguerreotype camera that used a telescope-like mirror instead of a lens to concentrate light on the photographic plate. Wolcott licensed his camera design to a certain Richard Beard, who opened the first portrait studio in Europe. This design is also important because it is considered to be the first American photographic patent.
In 1851 the first camera to use an internal bellows from lens to glass plate was introduced by Americans W.H. and H.J. Lewis.
The Lewis Daguerreotype style became standard amongst many manufacturers during this period.
In 1871 the dry-plate process was developed by Richard Leach Maddox with his invention of the gelatine dry plate, and cameras could suddenly be produced in far smaller sizes.
The major breakthrough came with the development of photographic film by George Eastman in 1885.
The first commercially-available film camera was his Kodak model, which appeared on the market in 1888. It was a simple box camera containing film for 100 exposures which was then sent back to the factory for development along with the camera (which was then reloaded).
The camera and the development cost $25, and it became hugely popular. For the first time amateurs could take photographs without having to worry about the development process, and it revolutionised photography as both a hobby and an art form. In 1900 he produced the Brownie camera, an inexpensive model that helped popularise the snapshot and remained on sale (in various forms) until the 1960s.
The next development was the 35mm camera, a compact model capable of high-quality enlargements. The first on the market was the Leica 1, produced by the Leitz company in 1925. It was followed by both the Contax in 1932 and Kodak’s Retina 1 in 1938, and 35mm film became the most popular choice for high-end compact camera users.
Instant and digital camera
In 1948 the instant camera was invented by the American scientist Edwin Land, and the first model to appear on the market was the Polaroid Model 95.
The cameras, which used a new chemical process to produce and develop a picture within the camera itself in under a minute, proved popular despite their relatively high price and by the mid 1960s the Polaroid Model 20 Swinger was one of the most successful cameras on the popular market.
The later years of the 20th century saw camera technology develop further and faster, and the 1990s featured the first digital camera to hit the market, the Dycam Model 1 (also known as the Logitech Fotoman) in 1990.
Types and manufacturers
Main article: List of types of camera
Main article: List of camera manufacturers
Main article: List of camera collecting terms
The world’s most expensive camera
The most expensive camera ever sold at auction is a prototype of a very first Leica. It was sold by WestLicht Photographica Auction in Vienna, Austria in 2012 for 2160000€.
Not counting Leica cameras, the next most expensive camera sold at auction is the first ever commercially available model: the Daguerreotype Giroux, launched in 1839 and designed by its inventor Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. The camera, constructed from a set of moveable wooden boxes with brass fittings, appeared in mint condition along with its original instruction manual at the 17th WestLicht Photographica Auction in Vienna, Austria in 2010. It was sold for €732,000 ($996,025).