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Then & Now: Evolution of Photography

by Rob Boston Photography is a fascinating medium. The ability to artificially and accurately preserve a moment in history, capturing reality as if it were literally frozen in time, is an amazing achievement in human ingenuity. Photography began as a series of science experiments centered on capturing light as physical images, and subsequently evolved into a medium through which the average consumer could record important moments in their lives. Although traces of attempts at photography can be found as far back as 400 B.C., most historians agree that true photography got its start in the early 1800s. A man by the name of Nicephore Neipce built a camera that involved exposing a sheet of pewter coated with bitumen for several days. The resulting image was created by the bitumen hardening due to exposure, leading to darkened areas on the pewter sheet. Neipce’s partner, Louis Daguerre, advanced the medium drastically when he invented the daguerreotype process, which was publically introduced in the mid-1800s. The exact year, 1839, is widely known as the birth of photography. Fast forward to 1901. Kodak introduced the first point-and-shoot camera, the Kodak Brownie. Hundreds of millions of these cameras were sold in various versions throughout the early and mid-1900s, and it was due to them that photography entered the consciousness of the general population. Digital photography came about as a combination of a series of technological breakthroughs, but it again changed photography forever. The first commercially available digital camera was the Dycam Model 1, released in 1990. This camera allowed users to take digital photos, which they could then transfer to their computers via a specialized software. It held 32 photos, and users had to transfer them to a computer before the battery died, or the photos would be lost. While the Dycam was an interesting camera, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that digital cameras became appealing to the average consumer. Nikon released two 2 megapixel cameras in 1999, and their ability to capture and store quality images led to massive sales. In 2003, Canon launched the first affordable DSLR camera, and in doing so gave birth to legions of amateur photographers around the world. For the first time, the average consumer had affordable access to a camera capable of taking professional quality photos. In 2007, photography was jolted forward again with the introduction of the iPhone. While phones prior to the iPhone had included cameras, the iPhone’s launch led to an era of fierce competition and innovation amongst cell phone manufacturers, which continues to this day. One of the key differentiators among smartphone manufacturers since the launch of the iphone has been the built in camera. Today’s smartphones have up to 12 megapixels, and offer HDR and optical zoom. Today, photography is a part of daily life for billions of people around the world. Entire social networks are built around the medium (Snapchat, Instagram), and nearly everyone has a high-quality camera in their pocket. For enthusiasts, DSLR cameras are more affordable and powerful than they ever have been. We’ve come a long way from early cameras that took days to record a single image.

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