Brief History of Photography

History of electric photography and digital photography (1873-2004)

It is necessary to distinguish between "electric photography" and "digital photography". In traditional photography, the image is "captured" chemically by modifying molecules. Electric photography "captures" images as electric impulses; "digital photography" is a type of electric photography in which images are coded as numbers. For example, the simplest option is when you code a black dot as a "0" and a white dot as a "1".


How to convert light in electrical impulses using "selenium" was described in 1873. Thus, in a sense, electric photography was described more than a century ago, but only in 1907 did Russian physicist Boris Rosing build the cathode ray tube that would serve as basis for practical electric photography.


An electric photography camera was built by Russian researcher Vladimir K. Sworkyn in 1934 (the basis of modern television).The image could be transmitted but not recorded, albeit the technology for recording electromagnetic signals already existed in Germany, perhaps unknown to Sworkyn.


However, a commercial digital camera was not marketed until 1991: the Kodac DCS, actually a Japanese Nikon F3 camera with 1.3 Megapixel sensor. Soon the Japanese dominated the market and the 21st century has seen an expansion in brands, a great reduction in price and an increase rate of one Megapixel per year in the decade after the firts camera entered the market. The main qualitative developments in the early 21st century are: Intelligent cameras that can identify human faces and shoot when they smile, High Dynamic Range (HDR) cameras that produce better images of very light and very dark areas and the convergence of still photography and High Definition Video (HDV) in a single camera.


The final goal might be a camera that can reproduce the full range and detail that the human eye has. Recent developments in photography also include the Imago and Lytro cameras. The Imago 1:1 is a walk-in camera that produces an extremely detailed portrait directly on paper. The Lytro is a camera that captures additional information on light and produces the equivalent of an image with many layers that can be focussed individually after the image is taken.


No one knows how common these new approaches will actually become, but clearly, the early 21st century is characterized by cameras mounted in cell phones and by the daily production of an immense number of photographs.