Early Cameras, a Timeline

This timeline of early cameras describes significant photographic milestones and early cameras representative of their year of introduction between the inception of photography and 1900. I’ve also provided an overview of the most important developments decade by decade from 1840-1900 as an introduction to the timeline.

If you are interested in the development of 20th century cameras there is also a timeline from 1900 to the present day on the site whilst the article From Chemistry to Computation provides an overview and timeline of the development of cameras, lenses, and photographic processes from the 1840s to the present day.

The Genesis of Photography 1826-1839

The Daguerreotype

Early Photography timeline
Susse Frere Daguerreotype, 1839 (Wikipedia Commons)

The first cameras were smaller versions of the camera obscura, a simple viewing device based on a sliding-box design that had been in use for several hundred years. By the 19th century this was commonly employed by landscape painters to achieve proper perspective. French artist Louis Daguerre built upon the work of Nicéphore Niépce, who had produced what is widely regarded as the first photograph in 1826, by designing the first camera to be commercially produced. This was the Daguerreotype, which was announced to the world in 1839.

Daguerreotypes followed the sliding-box design of the camera obscura, and used two boxes, one slightly smaller than the other.  The lens was placed in the front box. The second, slightly smaller box, slid into the back of the larger box. Focus was achieved by sliding the rear box forward or backwards until the image was sharp on the ground glass focusing screen. The image was laterally reversed unless the camera was fitted with a mirror or prism to correct it. When the image was sharp the lens cap was put on the lens and the screen was replaced by a plate holder loaded with a sensitised plate to make an exposure. The lens cap was used as a shutter.

The daguerreotype used a direct-positive process, which created a unique and highly detailed positive image on a sheet of copper plated with a thin, highly polished coat of silver. The photographic process made use of a number of hazardous chemicals. Before sensitisation, the surface would be wiped with nitric acid to remove any organic matter. The plate was then sensitised by exposing the silver surface in darkness or under safelight first to iodine fumes, and then to bromine fumes, resulting in a silver halide coating. After exposure, the plate was carried to a developing box, where it was exposed to fumes from heated mercury. Finally, the plate was fixed by removing the remaining silver halide with a mild solution of sodium thiosulfate.

As there were no camera manufacturers at the time, Daguerreotypes were manufactured by opticians, cabinet makers and instrument makers.

Fox Talbot and The Paper Negative

A few years earlier, during the mid-1830s, the British gentleman scientist and polymath William Fox Talbot, had been keen to make a permanent record of what another draftsman’s aid, the camera lucida showed. The camera lucida’s purpose is to superimpose a refracted image of the landscape onto the artist’s sketchbook. It consists of an adjustable metal arm fastened at one end to the artist’s sketchbook and a glass prism at the other.

Talbot’s frustration with the camera lucida led him to recollect his previous experiences with the camera obscura and start to experiment to see if he could capture a permanent image to make nature record the image. He referred to these experiments as ‘photogenic drawing’.

Talbot found that a sheet of writing paper, coated with salt and brushed with a solution of silver nitrate, darkened in the sun, and that a second coating of salt impeded further darkening or fading. Talbot used this discovery to make tracings of botanical specimens. He would place the specimen on a piece of sensitized paper, cover it with a sheet of glass, and expose it to the sun. Wherever the light struck, the paper darkened, but wherever the plant blocked the light, it remained white. He called his new discovery “the art of photogenic drawing”, and it is still in use today in the salt print process.

Talbot’s salt print process evolved into the Calotype photographic process, where a sheet of paper coated with silver chloride was exposed to light in a camera obscura yielding a negative image. The image was “developed” on the paper, which was actually the acceleration of the silver chloride’s chemical reaction to the light it had been exposed to. The developing process permitted much shorter exposure times in the camera. The developed image on the paper was fixed with sodium hyposulfite. The negative could yield any number of positive images by contact printing on another piece of sensitized paper.

To minimise exposure times Talbot made use of much smaller cameras with short focal length lenses which would concentrate light on a smaller area. The best made lenses available to him were microscope lenses, which he fitted to small cameras his wife referred to as ‘mousetraps’ as he had so many of them around the house. It was with one of these small cameras, measuring only 2.5 inches each side that was used by Talbot to take his first successful photograph in 1839. Though the ‘mousetraps’ are the most well known Talbot made and commissioned many more sophisticated cameras during his research which are now distributed in museums throughout the world.

Similar Cameras, Different Images

Ottewill sliding box camera c. 1856 (Coeln Cameras)

Creating a Calotype used much of the same basic equipment as found in Daguerreotype making. A similar camera type, though there were many variations for both methods, similar ways to expose the image and similar way of preparing, although the Calotype offered a somewhat safer process.

However, the difference between the images they produced was vast. While both created a monotone image, the Daguerreotype created pictures that recorded very fine details across the whole range of tones and appeared to produce a glow from within the image due to the reflective properties of the metal, which of course had no grain.

The Calotype images had higher contrast because the chemicals were absorbed into paper fibres, which reduced detail in the highs and lows. Because of those fibres, the image also offered a grain that would diffuse detail, rather than preserve it. As it was a paper to paper positive negative process, further detail would be lost in the transfer.  This resulted in a less detailed but highly atmospheric image. 

Cameras of the 1840s

Faster Lenses

The earliest daguerreotype exposure times ranged from three to fifteen minutes, making the process fairly impractical for portrait photography. This was due to the slow Chevalier lenses used by Daguerre. Accordingly, with few exceptions, daguerreotypes made before 1841 were of static subjects. Josef Max Petzval, a professor of mathematics at the University of Vienna, changed this with the design of a new lens, though it took nearly a year to design and manufacture it. It was the first lens to be designed using optical principles and mathematical computation – previously they had previously been ground and polished according to experience. In 1841 the first camera fitted with this lens was introduced by Voigtländer and Sons, an Austrian maker of telescopes and other optical equipment. It was the first  portrait lens and had a 160mm focal length and an achievable aperture of f/3.6. Exposure times were many times shorter than with the previous generation of lenses.

Faster Exposures

In 1841 Franz Kratochwila freely published a chemical acceleration process in which the combined vapours of chlorine and bromine increased the sensitivity of the plate by five times, greatly reducing exposure times from minutes to between fifteen and thirty seconds in bright lighting conditions.

Early Camera Manufacturing

Early cameras
Marion & Co. advert, 1852 (Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)

Gradually the opticians, cabinet makers and scientific instrument makers, as well as chemists familiar with the chemical process required for early photography evolved into photographic supply shops and camera manufacturers. French optician  Noël Paymal Lerebours was one of the first, and used his skill in optics to manufacture and sell a sliding box whole-plate Daguerreotype camera, working from the instruction manual for Daguerre’s pioneering instrument. W. Butcher and Sons of London started as a pharmacy but evolved into a magic lantern supplier, then a camera importer and finally a manufacturer. George Hare was a joiner, like his father, before he started producing the high quality cameras he became renowned for in London. Frank Brownell, of Kodak Brownie fame, started as a cabinet maker in the 1880s. Another start point was stationery – Marion and Co Ltd, originally an offshoot of Auguste Marion of Paris, started in fancy stationery but widened their business to papers, prints, plates and then onto cameras.

These small firms were economically quite vulnerable. Thomas Ottewill, one of the leading British camera makers, was made bankrupt on several occasions during the 1860s. This was despite his claim in 1856 of ‘having now the largest manufactory in England for the making of cameras’ and having an incredible talent pool. Camera makers George Hare, T. Mason, Patrick Meagher, T. Garland and A. Routledge all worked for Ottewill before establishing their own businesses. Ottewill and brought in partners William Morgan and a Mr Collis after bankruptcy. A partnership arrangement offered greater protection for the business and this model was often adopted by the emerging photographic firms.

The 1850s

A Faster Chemistry Set

The wet plate collodion process of 1851 invented by Frederick Scott Archer was many times faster than previous methods and enabled photographers to make glass negatives combining the sharpness of a daguerreotype with the replicability of a calotype. However, wet plates needed to be processed wet which required photographers to carry around a portable darkroom as well as the camera.

A commercially viable method of producing a photographic print on paper from a negative was already available for wet plate collodion photographers in the form of the albumen print. This was published in January 1847 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard. Thin paper was coated with a layer of egg-white (albumen) containing salt and sensitized with a silver nitrate solution, then printed using daylight under a negative. The prints could be toned with a gold solution which gave a purple-brown tint to the image and reduced the risk of fading. This process would became the dominant form of photographic positives from the mid 1850s to the start of the 20th century.

The wet plate collodion process offered an alternative to the Albumen print in the form of glass-based positive made by taking an underexposed negative so that it could be viewed as a positive using a dark backing. This was known as the Ambrotype and was introduced in the early 1850s. The ambrotype quickly grew in popularity because it maintained the image clarity of the earlier daguerreotype —but was faster and cheaper to produce. The finished plate was usually mounted in a decorative presentation cases just as daguerreotypes had been. Also like the daguerreotype, which it replaced, each image was a unique original that could only be duplicated using a camera.

A second collodion-based positive emerged in the form of tintype, or ferrotype, which replaced the Ambrotype’s glass plate with a thin sheet of japanned iron. The process was first described by Adolphe-Alexandre Martin in France in 1853. This type of photography survived well into the twentieth century because of its continued use by street photographers.

Bellows

In the late 1850s sliding-box gave way to a leather bellows with a lens plate at one end, and the light-sensitive plate holder at the other. First came a square design and then a more compact tapering version. In 1856 Captain Francis Fowke patented a compact concertina-pattern pleated bellows camera of his own design, which was the first to use cloth bellows, rather than a wooden body between the lens and plate. The tapering design invented the following year by C.G.H. Kinnear, and proved extremely durable. It is still in use in large format cameras today.

The 1860s

First Steps Towards Industrialisation

By the 1860s the medium had started to become industrialized. Instead of mixing chemicals according to their own recipes and hand coating their papers, photographers could buy commercially prepared albumen papers and other ready made supplies. The market was moving increasingly towards the middle-class, which required photographers to produce a greater quantity of cheaper prints. In this new market, the photographers original artisan processes and refined techniques became less important.

The quest for a larger volume of prints gave rise to the he carte de visite (CdV) which was patented by André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854. His camera featured a moveable chassis and multiple lenses, with which he could make eight exposures on a single glass-plate negative, print the entire plate at once, cut the sheet into eighths, and paste the individual photographs on mounts the size of visiting cards. The carte de visite was slow to gain adoption until 1859, when Disdéri produced CdVs of Emperor Napoleon III’s which caused a sensation a triggered a craze that would last throughout the 1860s as ‘cardomania’ until it was supplanted by the larger ‘cabinet card’ of the 1870s.

The cameras that took multiple images at once were known as “Multiplying Cameras.” The number of lenses varied with some cameras having 4 lenses others 8, 9, 15 or a few a even 36 lenses, but regardless of the number of lenses the multiple images were exactly the same.

The Fast(er) Distortion Free Lens

By 1865 photographers had three types of lenses available to them: the simple landscape meniscus, the Petzval Portrait lens, and the wide-angle Globe lens or the Ross Doublet. What they needed was an intermediate lens with minimal distortion. The Rapid Rectilinear lens which fulfilled this requirements was introduced by J. H. Dallmeyer in 1866. Most previous rectilinear (i.e., distortion less) lenses had been slow (f16), and Dallmeyer was therefore justified in calling his f8 lens rapid. Lenses of this type were fitted to most better quality cameras for nearly sixty years.

Ernemann Alex Tailboard Camera, introduced c. 1895, this example c. 1901 (Coeln Cameras)

The 1870s

The Tailboard Camera

The tailboard camera gradually became more popular – a camera with bellows and rear focusing. Focusing with a tailboard camera is carried out by adjusting the ground glass back’s position forward or backward until the image on the matte screen is sharp. The design goes back to the 1850s but adoption accelerated in the 1860s. A good example is the Hare Tailboard of 1878. Tailboard cameras were still available into the 1890s and 20th century, as typified by the Ernemann Alex shown left.

The End of the Portable Chemistry Set

Dry plates, glass plate coated with a gelatin emulsion of silver bromide, superseded wet plates in the 1870’s. These could be stored until exposure, and after exposure could be brought back to a darkroom for development at leisure. This was far more convenient than the wet collodion process, which required the plate to be prepared just before exposure and developed immediately after. The dry plate could be factory produced. It was still important to have a camera which could fold down to increase portability size even though the photographer no longer required a portable darkroom.

The 1880s

Hand and Detective Cameras

In the 1880s the hand camera, also known early on as the ‘detective camera’ was introduced. The terms ‘detective’ and ‘hand’ camera were used interchangeably during the 1880s. The Oxford English Dictionary records the former term in the British Journal of Photography in 1881 and the latter term in the Photographic News in 1889 and meaning a hand camera adapted for taking instantaneous photographs. Compared to larger bellows cameras, the design was unobtrusive. Many manufacturers introduced their own designs, including Rouch with the Eureka and Fallowfield with the Facile. The Eureka’s back incorporated a built in changing bag so that the photographer could move an exposed plate and insert an unexposed on ready for his next shot without the need for separate plate holders.

Modern Bellows

The 1880s also saw an evolution of the bellows design with George Hare’s New Patent Camera of 1882, a front focusing model which built on the Kinnear design with a back hinged to the baseboard and a front which pulled out on rails for focusing. The British Journal of photography described the camera as ‘the model upon which nearly all others in the market are based’ – despite Hare’s patent.

The Quest for Flexible, Lightweight Media: Celluloid Plates

A number of photographers experimented with celluloid as a replacement for their heavy and fragile glass plates. John Carbutt, an English photographer who had emigrated to America, was the first to gain some success. He persuaded the Celluloid Manufacturing Co. to produce a thin celluloid film which was sufficiently transparent for photographic purposes around 1884 and started to manufacture cut film using this material in 1888, but it was slow to catch on.

Paper and The Roll Film Holder

In 1883, George Eastman startled the trade with the announcement of film in rolls, with the roll holder adaptable to nearly every plate Camera on the market. His first approach was to coat the photographic emulsion on paper and then load the paper in a roll holder. The holder was used in view cameras in place of the holders for glass plates.

Flexible, Lightweight Roll Film

Eastman was well aware, however, of the serious drawbacks associated with using paper as a photographic support and began experimenting to find a flexible, transparent base from about 1884 onwards. It was not until early in 1888, however, that he began seriously considering celluloid as a possible medium. He set a young research chemist, Henry Reichenbach, to work on the problem, which Reichenbach duly found. The first successful roll-film hand camera, The Kodak, was launched publicly in the summer of 1888, followed by an improved model in 1889. This second Kodak was the Kodak No 1 and featured an easily removable lens board, and an improved shutter.

Independently, the Rev. Hannibal Goodwin had also devised a process for making celluloid film and applied for a patent in 1887. However, due to an unclear patent submission (Goodwin was not a chemist), the patent was not granted until 1898. By this time George Eastman had started production of rollfilm using his own process. It was not until after Goodwin’s death that it was ruled that Kodak had infringed Goodwin’s patent.

Roll Film Processing

Although the Kodak was made possible by technical advances in the development of roll film and small, simple cameras, Eastman’s real genius lay in his marketing strategy. By simplifying the operation of the camera and the processing the film for the consumer, he made photography accessible to the casual amateur, coining the memorable slogan: “You press the button, we do the rest.”

The 1890s

The Dry Plate Tintype

The dry plate process came to tintype or ferrotype photography with the manufacture of the gelatin tintype in 1890. This was followed by the introduction of packaged dry ferrotype plates the following year. This was popularly adopted and was popular into the the 1920s when the widespread use of the roll film camera by the amateur photographer greatly reduced the need for street, country fair and beach vendors.

The First Fast Shutter

Early Cameras
Dallmeyer New Naturalist, c. 1896 with focal-plane shutter stamped ‘Ottomar Anschütz’, vertical reflex viewfinder and red leather bellows (Coeln Cameras)

In the 1890’s the first fast shutter appeared, patented by Ottomar Anschütz in 1888 in Germany and 1889 in Britain. It was capable of exposures as short as 1/1000 of a second, which at the time was considerably faster than other shutter designs. It was incorporated into the Goerz Anschütz camera, including a collapsible version, which proved both popular and durable. This fast, portable camera made the medium capable of capturing activities such as cycling races, rowing and other sports. These were featured in illustrated periodicals and newspapers that started to incorporate photographs during the 1890s.

Daylight Loading Film

Kodak introduced its first daylight-loading camera, the Daylight Kodak, in 1891 which meant that the photographer could now reload the camera without using a darkroom. Film for the Daylight Kodak had a black paper trailer at the beginning and end of the film which covered it during loading and unloading.

Camera Movements

In 1895 Fredrick H. Sanderson patented a mechanism for swinging the front lens panel, resulting in Sanderson’s Universal Swing Front Camera. This was a bellows camera with a variably movable lensboard and the first highly flexible view camera which introduced large format camera movements which include include rise and fall, lens shift, swing and tilt, and are still in use today. The field camera, a term suggestive of portability compared to heavier studio cameras, was one of several types of cameras available in the late nineteenth century including hand and stand and reflex models. There were as yet no rangefinder cameras, which would not be introduced until 1916 with the Kodak 3A Autographic Special.

The Pocket Camera and the Snapshot

In 1895 The Pocket Kodak was introduced, which was the first mass-produced snapshot camera. The Pocket Kodak was one of the first cameras that use front roll design, daylight film spools and a red window to see the number of the exposure on the back of the film. In a front roll design the feed and take up film spools are located in the front of camera, where there is enough room to the left and right of the incoming light rays. Before this design was introduced, the spools were located behind the plane of focus, making the camera about one third longer.

This small compact camera was also was easy to use: “one button does it” was the Kodak slogan . Photography was no longer restricted anymore by heavy equipment supported by with tripods and casual amateur photography, characterised by the snapshot was born. The term snapshot was coined earlier, in 1860, by Sir John Herschel, based on the hunter’s term for a quick shot made without careful aim, although it took until the 1890s to be matched to a technology. The associated term ‘snapshotter’ was noted by The Oxford English Dictionary from 1899, ‘snap-shottist’ from 1891 with the term ‘snap-shot’ from 1894. 

early cameras Kodak Autographic
A 1916 Kodak No 2 Folding Autographic Brownie

Folding Cameras

The Folding Pocket Kodak of 1897, was a significant milestone in camera development as it was to establish the principals of the folding roll film format, which would continue to dominate camera design from the 1890s to 1930s. This design offered the photographer a camera that would fold up into a compact package that was light and easy to carry via a lens standard panel that pulled out on sprung struts with collapsible bellows. A classic example is the Kodak No. 2 Folding Autographic Brownie which is reviewed on this site.

The Turn of the Century

The Rise of Personal Photography

By the turn of the twentieth century Kodak had introduced the first of the Brownie series which brought the snapshot to the masses in the form of an affordable cardboard box camera that took pictures on roll film.  

Timeline of Early Cameras

Early cameras
Marion & Co ad, 1896, (Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)
  • c. 1826 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce uses bitumen of Judea for photographs on metal and makes the first successful camera photograph, View From My Window at Gras
  • 1827 Niépce addresses a memorandum on his invention to the Royal Society in London, but does not disclose details
  • 1829 Unable to reduce the very long exposure times of his experiments, Niépce enters into a partnership with Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre
  • Charles Chevalier creates a compound achromatic lens to cut down on chromatic aberration, a failure of a lens to focus all colours to the same plane, for Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s photographic experiments
  • 1832 Robert Hunt’s Researches on Light records the first known description employing platinum to make a photographic print, but does not succeed in producing a permanent image
  • 1835 William Henry Fox Talbot makes his first successful camera photograph or “photogenic drawing” using paper sensitised with silver chloride.
  • 1839 The public birthday of photography, from three inventors – Daguerre, Fox Talbot and Bayard
  • Susse Frères manufactures a daguerreotype camera which is one of the first two photographic cameras ever sold to the public
  • The first camera to be manufactured in any quantity is the Giroux Daguerreotype
  • c. 1840 The Voigtländer Daguerreotype is the first camera made of metal. It is the fastest camera lens of its time, with an aperture of f3.6
  • 1840 French optician and daguerreotypist Noël Paymal Lerebours uses his skill in optics to manufacture and sell a sliding box whole-plate camera, copied from the instruction manual for Daguerre’s pioneering instrument
  • Alexander Wolcott patents the daguerreotype reflector camera which uses a concave mirror to focus the available light onto a photosensitive plate
  • 1841 Charles Chevalier creates a double-box camera that uses a half-sized plate 
  • William Henry Fox Talbot patents the calotype, or paper negative process
  • The Nouvel Appareil Gaudin camera uses a metal disc with three differently-sized holes mounted on the front of the lens to provide variable f-stops
  • 1843 Joseph Puchberger patents the first hand crank driven swing lens panoramic camera
  • Two French Physicists, Fizeau and Foucault develop the first recognisable shutter mechanism in order to photograph the sun
  • 1845 The Bourquin of Paris camera is the first camera with the lens in a metal tube using a rack and pinion mechanism for focusing
  • 1849 David Brewster develops the lenticular Brewster Stereoscope.
  • 1851 English sculptor Frederick Scott Archer invents the Collodion process, or collodion wet plate process, which is 20 times faster than all previous methods and is free from patent restrictions
  • The Great Exhibition transforms stereoscopy from a minor scientific interest to a craze which will not wane until the 1870s
  • 1851 W. and W.H. Lewis introduces the first commercially produced bellows camera in the US, the Lewis-type daguerreotype
  • 1853 Thomas Ottewill and Company registers a double folding sliding camera
  • The Tintype process is first described by Adolphe-Alexandre Martin – an inexpensive direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel
  • 1854 Andre Adolphe Disderi is the first to devise a way to make multiple Carte de Visite images on a single photographic plate, which requires a new type of camera with a shifting back. Each time the back is moved, a different portion of the plate is exposed allowing a set of several images to be printed at the same time. These cameras soon become known as Multiplying Cameras
  • James Ambrose Cutting takes out several patents relating to the Ambrotype process, underexposed or bleached wet collodion negatives that appeared positive when placed against a dark coating or backing 
  • 1856 Captain Francis Fowke patents a compact concertina-pattern pleated bellows camera of his own design. It is the first to use cloth bellows, rather than a wooden body between the lens and plate. It will be produced the following year by Ottewill & Co. for the British Government
  • 1857 The folding camera with tapering bellows is invented by C.G.H. Kinnear, forming the basis for subsequent bellows designs
  •  David Acheson Woodward patents the solar camera, derived from the earlier solar microscope, using sunlight to make enlargements from glass negatives
  • c. 1857 Horne & Thornthwaite produces a sliding box wet-plate camera featuring a sliding box movement and a rack and pinion lens movement
  • 1858 John Waterhouse invents Waterhouse stops, a system using plates with different aperture diameters that could be inserted into a slot in the lens barrel which are the earliest selectable stops
  • 1859 The Excelsior Wet Plate Camera is invented by August Semmendinger, one of the first US manufacturers of wet plate photography equipment.
  • 1860 P. Meagher introduces an improved version of the Kinnear design called the Improved Portable 
  • 1861 The first photographic single-lens reflex camera (SLR) is invented by Thomas Sutton
  • 1862 The Pantoscopic camera is produced by Johnson and Harrison in England. It is one of the first designed to take panoramic photographs (110º view) on glass plates. It produces 7½ x 12 inch images on flat collodion plates
  • 1864 The Dubroni No. 1 is the first successful self-developing camera
  • 1873 Charles Harper Bennett improves the gelatin silver process by hardening the emulsion, making it more resistant to friction
  • 1866 The Rapid Rectilinear lens is introduced by John Henry Dallmeyer, reducing distortion, coma and lateral colour
  • 1874 The Scénograph, an early collapsible strut camera ideal for use in the field, is designed by Dr. Condèze of Belgium
  • 1878 G. Hare introduces Improved Portable Bellows Camera, with bellows and rear focusing. It is focused by adjusting the ground glass back‘s position forward or backward until the image on the matte screen is sharp, an approach which characterises the tailboard camera
  • 1878 Heat ripening of gelatin emulsions is discovered by Charles Harper Bennett, making possible very short exposures and paving the way for the snapshot
  • W.W. Rouch & Co. produces the Patent Portable, a light weight bellows camera which takes 6 ½” x 8 ½” plates held in slides
  • 1879 The Lancaster’s Gem Camera (Carte Apparatus) is manufactured by J. Lancaster & Son. Gem cameras produce multiple small images, although there is no standard size for ‘gem’ images.
  • c. 1880 The Photographic Artists’ Co-operative Supply Association introduces the PACSA tailboard camera
  • 1881 Thomas Bolas patents a hand-held, box form camera he calls a detective camera
  • 1882 Etienne Jules Marey perfects a chronophotographic gun, a device capable of taking 12 exposures a second
  • G. Hare introduces the influential New Patent Camera or ‘1882’ pattern with a back hinged to the baseboard and a front which pulled out on rails for focusing
  • c. 1882 Transitional wet-plate cameras, which can take both wet and dry-plate slides are sold by companies such as J.H. Dallmeyer
  • 1883 Ottomar Anschütz designs a camera with an internal roller blind shutter mechanism in front of the photographic plate – the first focal-plane shutter in recognisable form
  • William Schmid patents the first detective camera to be widely sold
  • 1884 The first production SLR with a brand name is Calvin Rae Smith’s Monocular Duplex
  • The McKellen Treble Patent marks the boundary between the older Kinnear pattern and the newer field camera design that will remain popular to the end of the Edwardian period
  • 1885 The London Stereoscopic Co.’s Carlton may be the first off-the-shelf twin-lens reflex TLR camera
  • The Waterbury View Camera is offered by the Scovill Manufacturing Company. Its is a light and compact popular camera that becomes available in numerous sizes from 4 x 5 to 8 x 10 inches
  • 1886 The first single use camera, the Ready Fotografer, is introduced, using a dry plate, though it appears to have enjoyed very limited success
  • Thornton-Pickard Manufacturing Co. introduces the Jubilee in readiness for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee incorporating a rotating lens panel able to hold up to four lenses
  • C.P. Stirn patents the Stirn Concealed Vest Camera (or waistcoat camera in the UK) which becomes a popular and much copied design
  • George Eastman and Franklin M. Cossitt patent the Eastman Detective Camera. Though it is not successful, it is a precursor of the hand-held Kodak of 1888
  • c. 1886 J. Lancaster & Son Introduces The International patent tailboard mahogany half-plate camera
  • c. 1887 The Mayfield Pocket Camera from Mayfield, Cobb & Co. Ltd is one of the first cameras to be made of a plastic-like substance such as ebonite
  • 1887 E. Français introduces the Kinegraphe Grand Angle, one of the first twin-lens reflex cameras
  • Marion & Co. introduces the New Academy which adds a mirror behind a glass screen to a pair of vertically mounted lenses which slide for focusing making the camera into a twin-lens reflex model
  • The Interchangeable View Camera is marketed by Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. It is a plate camera that can also be fitted with an Eastman Roll Holder containing a roll of flexible film
  • 1888 The Kodak is George Eastman‘s legendary first roll-film camera bearing the new brand name. It comes pre-loaded with a 100-exposure roll of flexible film. After finishing the roll, the consumer posts the camera back to the factory to have the prints made
  • ‘Krügener’s Taschenbuch’ Patent Book Camera is one of the smallest cameras of its time, with dimensions of just 45 × 100 × 140mm
  • E & H T Anthony introduces the Fairy, an 8 x 10 inch lightweight folding view camera with a revolving back and bellows so pictures could be taken both horizontally or vertically
  • 1889 The No.1 and No. 2 Kodaks are introduced. They resemble the original Kodak Camera, but have a different shutter and are available with paper-based stripping film or its successor, Eastman transparent film
  • George Eastman introduces the first transparent plastic roll film, made from highly flammable cellulose nitrate film
  • The Loman Reflex, the first commercially produced camera with a focal-plane shutter, is introduced
Early cameras
Brownie Ad, 1900 (Graces Guide)
  • c. 1890  L’Orthoscope by E. Tourtin, is the first French reflex camera, for plates 9 x 12cm
  • 1891 Kodak markets its first daylight-loading camera, the Daylight Kodak, which meant that the photographer could now reload the camera without using a darkroom.
  • 1892 The Boston Camera mfg. Company produces the Bulls-Eye camera, the first to use Samuel Taylor’s new numbered paper backed film, which requires the introduction of a red window
  • W. Griffiths & Co. Ltd introduces the innovative Zodiac which replaces the usual wooden base of the period with telescoping metal tubes. The rear standard slides along the tubes and for fine focusing they are extended by a worm screw
  • 1893 J. Lancaster & Son, Birmingham, England introduces the Instantograph Patent Camera, a 1/4-plate model complete with Lancaster’s Patent Instantaneous Lens and rubber-band shutter, one of a series of models first introduced in 1888
  • The first Richard Vérascope stereo camera is launched. It is the best selling stereo camera of its time. The range will continuing through the 1950s 
  • 1894 Kodak markets the Flat Folding Kodak in England. It is a folding camera for darkroom loaded roll film, with a capacity of 48 pictures of 4 x 5 inch on one spool
  • The Xit series of cameras are introduced by J. F. Shew. The folding side-strut design (also known as chambre à joues) makes the camera quite compact when folded. Shew advertises them as “the most portable camera in the world”
  • 1895 The Pocket Kodak appears, the first mass-produced snapshot camera
  • Sanderson’s Universal Swing Front Camera is introduced, a bellows camera with a variably movable lensboard and the first highly flexible view camera
  • The Briefmarken Camera was manufactured by Emil Wunsche, of Dresden Germany featuring 12 lenses to capture 12 stamp size portraits simultaneously on 9 x 12cm size plates
  • 1896 The Zar Camera Company of Chicago launches the Pocket Zar, a miniature glass plate box camera with a body entirely constructed of cardboard, a material never used to such an extent in cameras before
  • 1897 Kodak markets the Folding Pocket Kodak, which produces a 2¼ x 3¼ inch negative
  • Kodak introduces the No. 4 Cartridge Kodak, which takes 4 x 5 daylight loading roll film and becomes the most successful of the range with more than 90,000 produced between 1897 to 1907
  • 1898 The ‘Al-Vista’ panoramic camera is produced by Multiscope & Film Co, Burlington, USA
  • c. 1899 The Pascal is one of the first cameras for roll film, and the first with spring-motorised film advance. It is a box camera, with a wood-and-metal body, with leather covering and makes twelve pictures 40×55 mm on special roll film
  • 1900 Kodak introduces the first of the Brownie series which brings the snapshot to the masses. It is a cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that takes 2 1/4-inch square pictures on 117 roll film
  • Kodak markets the The No. 3 Folding Pocket Kodak Camera, a camera that would go on to have probably the largest number of model variations of any Kodak camera made
Early cameras
Shew Ad, 1892 – (Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)

Early Photography Web Resources

Most of the resources I have found for early photography provide information on British manufacturer’s and their cameras. This is not because that is my exclusive interest, jut what I have come across so far. If you have information on early photography books or websites from Germany, France, the US or any other country, please share them with me and I’d be glad to update this article.

Books on Early Photography

  • British Camera Makers This fine book by Norman Channing and Mike Dunn, now out of print, but still available second hand, covers early photography in Britain in detail, extending into the twlighlight of manufacturing in Britain in the 1960s.
  • A History of Photography in 50 Cameras by Michael Pritchard is one of the best books on cameras I have read and covers some of the most important camera models, including some early cameras
  • The massive Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography appears to be the definitive work on early photography up to the beginning of the twentieth century, with 1,200 essays. It is however, extremely expensive to purchase in print – I’ve read a couple of the essays online but have not purchased it.

I hope you enjoyed this early photography article and timeline. If you spot omissions or errors, please let me know in the comments.

Camera Timeline – Year by Year

This year by year camera timeline lists significant milestones, cameras representative of the year as well as some curiosities and evolutionary dead-ends from 1900.

The timeline does not include developments in lenses, film processes or camera phones. These can be found in the history of photography timeline – from chemistry to computation. There is also a timeline for nineteenth century cameras on the site.

1900-1940

early cameras Kodak Autographic
1916 Kodak No2 Autographic Brownie
  • 1900 Kodak introduces the first of the Brownie series which brings the snapshot to the masses. It is a cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that takes 2 1/4-inch square pictures on 117 roll film
  • Kodak markets the The No. 3 Folding Pocket Kodak Camera, a camera that would go on to have probably the largest number of model variations of any Kodak camera made
  • 1901 The Kodak No.2 Brownie is the first camera to use 120 roll film
  • 1902 The Royal Ruby is introduced by Thornton-Pickard, an early pioneer in the development of the camera industry, as its top of the range field camera
  • 1903 The Century Camera Co. introduces the Grand Century Senior. It is constructed of mahogany and features a revolving back and triple extension bed in addition to front standard adjustment
  • 1904 Century introduces the No. 2 Field Camera offering front and rear focus via rack and pinion; double swing; reversing by removable back and a three-piece lens board for 5 x 7, 6.5 x 8.5 and 8 x 10 inch plate film
  • The No. 4 Screen Focus Kodak combines the use of roll film with a ground glass with an unusual construction that allows the roll film back to be swung out of the way to make place for the ground glass
  • 1905 The Soho Reflex single-lens reflex camera is introduced and becomes the definitive SLR model until after WWII
  • Houghtons Limited introduces the Ticka Watch Pocket Camera. It is about 2½ inches in diameter with the lens mounted in the barrel and the film in a cassette
  • 1906 Kodak markets the No. 4A Folding Kodak, a large camera for amateur photographers, producing negatives of 4 1/4 x 6 1/2 inch on roll film or glass plates
  • 1907 The Revolving Back Auto Graflex camera is first patented by the Folmer and Schwing division of the Eastman Kodak company. The camera’s main feature is a revolving back for taking horizontal or vertical pictures without having to rotate the camera
  • The Butcher Royal Mail Stamp Camera is the simplest type of multiplying camera, featuring a polished mahogany box with fifteen lenses, an internal septum to separate the images, and spring mounted metal plate shutter to produce fifteen images on small 3-1/4″ x 4-1/4″ dry plates or film
  • 1908 Kodak markets the No. 4A Speed Kodak, a specialist camera for the professional or serious amateur photographer offering shutter speeds from 1/5 to 1/1000 of a second
  • 1909 The 1A Graflex SLR is introduced. It shoots 2¼ x 4¼ inch Kodak 1A roll film and is notable for its pantograph viewing hood
  • Houghtons Ltd. introduces the Ensignette Camera, an all metal bellows camera which folded into a vest pocket size camera like the Kodak VPK. It is a milestone in popular photography, providing for the first time a practical, truly compact camera at an affordable price to the average person
  • 1910 Kodak launches the No. 2A Folding Pocket Brownie folding roll film camera for 116 film producing 2 1/2 X 4 1/4″ images
  • 1911 Newman & Guardia Ltd introduces the Model 11A Postcard Sibyl for 5 ½” x 3 ½” plates featuring a folding reflecting view-finder with spirit levels
  • c. 1911 The original Makina model is launched by Plaubel. It is a strut folding press-type camera, taking 6 x 4.5cm film plates
  • 1912 The first Speed Graphic press cameras are produced. Production continues until 1973
  • The Vest Pocket Kodak camera, or ‘VPK’ as it was usually known, is launched and becomes one of the most popular and successful cameras of its day. Over 2 million would be sold before the model was discontinued in 1926.
  • 1913 The Homeos stereo camera is the first 35mm camera to go into production
  • The first commercially successful 35mm camera is the American Tourist Multiple produced by Herbert & Huesgen, New Ideas Mfg. Co
  • 1914 Oskar Barnack, creates the Ur-Leica, the prototype of a small-format 35mm camera
  • Kodak introduces the No. 0 Brownie, the smallest in the range. It takes pictures the same size as the popular Vest Pocket Kodak of 1912
  • 1915 The Minnigraph, made by Benno Levy-Roth of Berlin, may be the first still camera to use cine film. It makes what will later be considered half-frame (18 x 24 mm) pictures, on film held in special cassettes
  • 1916 Kodak introduces the 3A Autographic Special. Generally regarded as the first rangefinder camera, it has a 3-band split-image coupled rangefinder built into the base of the front standard
  • c. 1917 Conley’s Kewpie No. 3A is a postcard format box camera for type No. 125 roll film with two reflecting type finders, one for horizontal and one for vertical exposures
  • 1918 The Adam, a cardboard box camera, is the first Japanese camera to sell for ¥1
  • 1919 The Cocarette is one of the first new products of German camera maker Contessa-Nettel after the merger that led to the foundation of that company in 1919. 
  • 1920 The Venus is a folding camera made by Ihagee in Dresden optimized for exposures in horizontal format
  • 1921 Newman & Guardia Ltd launches the N&G Folding Reflex with a collapsible focusing screen and mirror
  • The Paff-Reflex is introduced by Ihagee. It is the first SLR made by the company which will later introduce the first 35mm SLR
  • 1922 The Ensign Cupid is the first camera to use a ‘double window’ arrangement for doubling the number of exposures on a roll
  • 1923 J.H. Dallmeyer Ltd introduces the Dallmeyer Speed with a a fast focal plane shutter capable of providing speeds up to 1/1000th of a second accompanied by a fast Pentac F2.0 lens.
  • 1924 The first common wide aperture lens becomes available with the f/2 Ernemann Ermanox, manufactured by Heinrich Ernemann A.G. of Dresden
  • 1925  Leica introduces the Leica I (A), a watershed design that makes the 35mm format truly viable
  • c. 1926 The Agfa Standard medium format roll film and plate cameras become available with an optional coupled coincident rangefinder at extra cost. Ingenious and advanced for their time, they would serve as the inspiration for later Zeiss Super Ikontas and Voigtlander Bessas
  • 1927 The first monorail camera, the Stegemann Studien-Kamera-C, a 9 ×12 model is designed by the Pictorialist photographer Heinrich Kuhn
  • 1928 The hugely influential Rolleiflex twin lens reflex camera (TLR) is introduced, with an ingenious focusing mechanism using a the carriage that held both the viewfinder and the imaging lens, achieving the same function as bellows but with metal
  • 1929 Zeiss-Ikon introduces its top product line of folding medium format cameras, the Ikonta
  • 1930 The Leica I (C) offers a camera with interchangeable lenses using the Leica Thread Mount (LTM)
  • 1931 The first 35mm prototype SLR is the Filmanka developed by A. Min in the Soviet Union
  • 1932 The Leica II is launched, the first Leica camera with a rangefinder, which becomes a signature of the company
  • Zeiss Ikon produce the Contax I to compete with the  Leica II
  • This Rolleiflex Standard K2 Twin Lens Reflex upgrades the original camera with several significant features, including support for 120 format roll film, a film rewind crank, sports finder, removable back and exposure counter
  • The first Voigtländer Brillant is released, resembling a TLR but functionally closer to a box camera, since it cannot be focused in the viewfinder using zone-focusing.
  • 1933 The Leica III is introduced – a response to the introduction of the Zeiss-Ikon Contax and Oskar Barnack’s last design.   It will remain in production in various iterations until 1960
  • Kodak introduces the The Jiffy Kodak Six-20, a folding camera for 620 film with a Twindar periscopic lens with zone focusing and three selectable apertures
  • The first Rolleicord is introduced, a simplified version of the Standard Rolleiflex
  • 1934 Zeiss Ikon introduces the Super Ikonata folding camera, which takes 16 4.5 x 6cm images on 120 film and is equipped with a coupled rangefinder
  • Berning introduces the Robot I camera with a stainless steel body, a spring drive that can shoot at 4 frames per second, and a rotary shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/500th second
  • Houghton-Butcher introduces the Ensign Midget, a tiny roll film strut folder with a 3-speed shutter
  • 1935 The Leica IIIa is released with a top speed of 1/1000th of a second
  • 1936 the first widely-distributed 35mm SLR camera, the Kine Exakta, is introduced, with a design that will influence many subsequent SLRs
  • Canon introduces the Hansa, the first Asian 35mm camera
  • Zeus Ikon launch the Contax II, the first camera with a rangefinder and a viewfinder combined in a single window
  • 1937 Franke & Heidecke unveil the Rolleiflex Automat which features an ingenious automatic first frame positioning and frame counting system which monitors the length of the film as it passes between rollers and sets the camera accordingly, eliminating the need for a red window
  • Russian manufacturer GOMZ introduces the Sport. Designed between 1934 and 1935 It is the earliest known production 35mm SLR camera ever to be built, but fewer than 320 examples were made and is overshadowed by the Kine Exacta.
  • Swiss watch maker Jaeger LeCoultre & Company manufacture the ultra compact Compass for the Compass Cameras Ltd. of London, one of the most complicated miniature camera ever made. Measuring a mere 6.5×2.5×5.5cm, it packs a multitude of features into its trim body
  • The Purma Special (named after the founders Tom Purvis and Alfred Mayo) is a British 127 roll film viewfinder camera with an innovative gravity controlled shutter
  • 1938 Kodak Introduces the Super Six-20, the world’s first camera with built-in photoelectric exposure control
  • Leica introduces the first commercially successful 35 mm motordrive, the mechanical MOOLY
  • The Leica IIIb is released with a redesigned viewfinder optic, which brings the RF and VF eye pieces close together
  • British camera manufacturer Gandolfi launches the Precision, a development of the Imperial model introduced in 1899, which will remain on sale into the 1970s
  • Voigtländer introduces the Focusing Brillant adding a small opaque spot in the brilliant finder
  • 1939 The Praktiflex 35mm SLR is launched by the Kamera-Werkstätten AG. The design is simple but will constitute the pattern along which virtually every subsequent 35mm SLR camera will be built, regardless of place of origin
  • The Argus C3 is introduced and becomes the world’s best-selling 35mm camera, offering affordable 35mm rangefinder photography to amateurs
  • 1940 The Leica IIIc is introduced in 1940 with a total redesign of the body and shutter crate. It will remain the mainstay of Leica’s line-up through out the 1940’s
  • The Mamiya Six is introduced, offering a unique 6 x 6cm coupled rangefinder with film-plane focusing

1941-1970

  • 1941 The Kodak Ektra offers a rangefinder that could accurately focus a 153mm telephoto and the first complete anti-reflection coated lens line for a consumer camera
  • 1942 The F24 aerial reconnaissance camera is developed into the F52 model with an image format of 8.5 ×7 inches and magazines up to 500 exposures
  • 1943 the FS-3 FotoSniper prototype is developed by GOI for the Soviet Baltic Fleet Navy as a long-range reconnaissance camera.  It has a FED body and a 60cm lens with an f4.5 aperture 
  • 1944 The Alpa-Reflex 35mm SLR is presented to the public at the Swiss Trade Fair in Basel 
  • 1945 Houghton-Butcher introduces the Ensign Commando, a folding coupled-rangefinder 6 x 6cm camera for the British Military. It is released so late in the war it does not see much active service
  • 1946 Houghton-Butcher introduces a dual format civilian version of the Ensign Commando offering the smaller 6 x 4.5cm format in addition to 6 x 6cm
  • The Universal Camera Corporation offers the Mercury II which adds support for normal 35mm film rather than the proprietary Univex film used in the original.  Both Mercury cameras use a unique rotary focal plane shutter that enable a maximum shutter speed of 1/1000 second whilst keeping costs low
  • 1947 Konishiroku introduces the Konica (later known as the Konica I), a knob-wound camera with a single eyepiece for a coupled rangefinder and viewfinder, based on an earlier camera called Rubikon, developed c.1938
  • The Bolsey B is introduced, a 35mm rangefinder camera with a finely cast aluminium body
  • 1948 Instant photography is introduced with the first instant-film camera, the Land Camera 95 or Polaroid camera
  • The Gamma Duflex is the first SLR camera with an instant return mirror. Production is limited and few models find their way beyond the domestic Hungarian market and so the later Asahiflex IIb is often credited with this innovation
  • Hasselblad launches the1600F, a 6 × 6cm format focal-plane shutter SLR camera with a revolutionary modular design that allows lenses, viewfinders and film magazines to be exchanged
  • The Nikon 1 is released, the first Nikon-branded camera, featuring a smaller than standard picture format which produces up to 40 negatives from a single roll of 36 exposure film.
  • 1949 Contax S camera is introduced, the first 35mm SLR camera with a pentaprism eye-level viewfinder
  • The Canon II B is launched with a three-mode optical viewfinder offering magnifications from 0.67x to 1.5x to match the focal length of the lens fitted.
  • The Ilford Advocate is introduced, the first British 35mm camera introduced after WWII. It is made of white-enamelled die-cast aluminium alloy 
  • Nikon releases the second iteration of the Nikon rangefinder, the Nikon M, with a slight increase in picture size from 24mm x 32mm, to 24mm x 34mm
  • 1950 The Leica IIIf is launched, offering built-in flash synchronization
  • Voigtländer introduces the Bessa II, the ultimate iteration of the model first available in 1929 and offering a combined viewfinder and rangefinder and 6 x 9 images
  • Voigtländer launches the The Perkeo 6 x 6 folding camera. Measuring just 125 x 85 x 40mm when closed, and 95mm deep when the lens is extended it is one of the smallest medium format camera.
  • The Agiflex II is a 6×6 SLR, made by Agilux and derived from the British WWII military aerial camera ARL that was in turn derived from the German Reflex Korelle
  • 1951 The Nikon S becomes available, retaining the unusual 24mm x 34mm format
  • The Ilford Witness, an advanced 35mm coupled-rangefinder camera, is introduced with either a 2-inch f/1.9 Dallmeyer Super Six, or a 5 cm f/2.9 Daron. Production difficulties led to less than 350 cameras being made
  • The WrayFlex I is a British SLR which uses two mirrors instead of a pentaprism, so the image is reversed and not very bright. It has a full complement of speeds from ½sec to 1/1000th sec in the focal plane shutter. 
  • 1952 Kodak introduces the Brownie 127, a plastic box camera with no aperture or focus controls, and a single-speed shutter that produces eight 4 x 6 cm pictures on 127 film. It rapidly becomes an extremely popular snapshot camera in Britain with over a million made.
  • The Asahiflex, built by the Asahi Optical Corporation (later to become Pentax), is the first SLR camera built in Japan
  • The Canon Camera Company markets the Canon IVSb 35mm rangefinder, the first 35mm camera to support flash sync for both flash bulbs and electronic X-sync through Canon’s proprietary rail mounted flash shoe
  • 1953 The Coronet 6×6 Flashmaster is introduced with a rigid Bakelite body, a fixed lens and a simple shutter with no aperture or speed setting
  • The Graflex KE-4 Combat Camera, a 70mm model, is manufactured for the military. Since the design resembles a giant Contax camera it is given the nickname “Gulliver’s Contax”
  • The Periflex 35mm camera is launched by K. G. Corfield Ltd. It resembles the Leica Standard, Model E but provides through the lens visual focusing using an inverted periscope lowered into the light path between the lens and the film
  • 1954 The Leica M is introduced with the new Leica M mount and popularises the combined rangefinder and viewfinder
  • Nikon introduces the S2 rangefinder that takes conventional 35mm film and a 1.0X finder. It offers the option to attach the world’s first battery powered motor drive
  • The Asahiflex IIb is the first volume 35mm SLR with an instant return mirror. Early SLRs left the mirror in its up position until the camera was wound for the next shot, blacking out the viewfinder. The introduction of instant-return mirror mechanisms and the subsequent elimination of mirror blackout is an important step in the acceptance of SLRs
  • 1955 The Miranda T 35mm SLR camera is launched by the newly established Japanese Orion Camera Co. It is the first Japanese 35mm SLR camera with an eyelevel Pentaprism finder.
  • 1956 The Rolleiflex 2.8E is the company’s first model with a built in, uncoupled light meter as an option
  • The VT is Canon’s first camera to have a camera back which swings open for film loading. The film advances with a fast-winding trigger at the camera bottom instead of a knob on top.
  • 1957 The Asahi Pentax SLR is introduced, placing controls in locations that would become standard on 35 mm SLRs
  • Tokyo Kogaku KK launch their first 35mm SLR camera, the Topcon R, ahead of Nikon and Canon
  • Leitz releases the Leica IIIg as the final model in the series with a newly designed top cover with a larger and improved viewfinder
  • The Nikon SP is the worlds first rangefinder to include built-in frame lines for 6 different focal lengths
  • Hasselblad introduces the medium format 500 C, which will go on too become one of most influential and successful cameras of all time
  • 1958  The Minolta SR-2 is the first SLR camera with an automatic diaphragm which maintains maximum aperture for brightest viewing and stops down only when the picture is taken
  • Nikon releases a new rangefinder, the S3, a stripped down version of the Nikon SP at a lower price
  • Konishiroku introduces the Konica IIIA with three finder windows and offering 1.0× finder magnification
  • 1959 The Nikon F is introduced, marking the transition from rangefinders to SLRs for professional photographers
  • Canon introduces the Canonflex, its first SLR
  • The Olympus Pen is the first half-frame camera produced in Japan. It is one of the smallest cameras to use 35mm film in regular 135 cassettes.
  • The Zenza Bronica is the first Japanese 6 x 6cm format camera with interchangeable lenses and film backs
  • 1960 Konishiroku introduces the Konica F, featuring the Hi-Synchro, the first SLR shutter with a speed of 1/2000s
  • Nikon introduces the S3M, a half-frame variant of the Nikon S3 with a modified viewfinder and a frame counter that displays up to 72 exposures
  • 1961 Canon introduces the Canonet, a mid-market 35mm camera with a fast f/1.9 lens. Two and a half years later, a million Canonets had been sold.
  • 1962 AGFA introduces the first fully automatic camera, the Optima, with an automatic programmed exposure, using a selenium-meter-driven mechanical system
  • The Nikkorex F is the first production single-lens reflex camera with the metal Copal square shutter
  • 1963 Kodak introduces the Instamatic range of cameras, with an easy-to-use film cartridge and the phrase ‘load it you’ll love it’
  • The Topcon RE Super is launched by Tokyo Kogaku KK introducing features that would later become common in 35mm SLRs, most notably through-the-lens exposure metering
  • Olympus introduces the Pen F, a compact half-frame 35mm SLR that supports interchangeable lenses and a distinctive logo rendered in a gothic font
  • The world’s first full-fledged underwater camera goes on sale in Japan the Nikonos 1 
  • 1964 The Pentax Spotmatic SLR is introduced with revolutionary stop-down light metering
  • 1965 The Konica Auto-Reflex of 1965 is the first focal-plane-shutter auto exposure 35mm SLR. This is not TTL metering, although it does offer a shutter-preferred, auto-exposure mode
  • Hasselblad launches a new design, the 500EL, with an electric motor integrated into the camera body
  • Eastman Kodak replaces the individual flashbulb technology used on early Instamatic cameras with the Flashcube
  • The Practica mat by VEB Pentacon Dresden is the first 35 mm single-lens reflex camera with TTL exposure metering
  • 1966 The Electro 35 rangefinder camera is introduced by Yashica with a coupled and fixed 1:1.7 45 mm lens. It is the first electronically controlled rangefinder camera offering aperture priority ‘auto’ mode
  • The Rollei 35 becomes the smallest 135 film camera
  • The Olympus Pen FT updates the F model with a single-stroke film advance and an uncoupled, integrated light meter
  • 1967 Nikon F Photomic SLR is the first camera with a centre-weighted exposure metering system
  • 1968 Leica introduces the Leicaflex SL, the world’s first single-lens reflex camera with a precisely defined microprism zone for TTL spot exposure metering displayed in the viewfinder.
  • Konishiroku launches the Konica C35, combining light weight and compact size with the simple operation of “auto only” exposure
  • 1969 The Olympus-35 EC, an electronically controlled 35mm compact camera, is introduced. It features a fixed Zuiko 42mm f/2.8 lens and and an automatically controlled Seiko shutter with a range of 4 to 1/800 sec
  • The Mamiya C220 is released as part of the Mamiya C series of interchangeable lens medium format TLR cameras
  • 1970 The Sinar P 4×5 sets the standard for high-end, large format cameras with asymmetric tilts and swings, as opposed to traditional centre or base tilts.

1971-1990

  • 1971 The Canon F-1 is introduced, a highly durable model built to endure 100K picture-taking cycles, temperatures from -30 C to 60 C, and 90% humidity.
  • Nikon’s F High Speed Motor Drive camera, developed for the ’71 Chicago Photo Expo offers a blazing 7 frames per second
  • The Leica M5 is introduced, departing from the traditional silhouette of the Leica rangefinders and the first of those cameras to feature through-the-lens (TTL) metering
  • 1972 Kodak reduces the popular Instamatic Camera to pocket size with the introduction of the Pocket Instamatic Camera.
  • Olympus launches the OM-1, an ultra-compact 35mm SLR that initiates the compact SLR revolution of the ‘70s and ‘80s
  • Polaroid founder Edwin H. Land announces the SX-70, taking out a folded SX-70 from his suit coat pocket whilst on stage and taking five pictures in ten seconds
  • The Wista 45 wood and brass Field Camera is launched – an evolution of a design available since the 1890s. Later models offer several choices of wood including Japanese cherrywood, rosewood and ebony
  • 1973 Minolta releases a new flagship model camera, the SR-T 303 (102 in the US) which bought open aperture metering to a wide audience
  • The Leica CL, a compact rangefinder, is designed in Germany by Leitz Wetzlar and built in Japan by Minolta with Leitz lenses
  • 1974 Canon introduces the Datematic, which features date imprinting and a body and exterior made of reinforced plastic.
  • 1975 Olympus launches the XA series, one of the smallest rangefinder cameras ever made
  • 1976 Canon introduces the AE-1, the world’s first 35mm AE SLR camera equipped with the shutter speed-priority TTL metering and a Central Processing Unit (CPU).
  • The first of the Zenza Bronica ETR series of 4.5 × 6cm SLRs manufactured by Zenza Bronica Industries Inc. of Tokyo is introduced.
  • 1977 The Asahi Pentax K1000 is launched and goes on to become the most successful basic student SLR of all time, combining a Pentax Spotmatic F with Pentax K-type bayonet mount to produce a competent and affordable camera
  • The Minolta XD11 is the world’s first camera with aperture priority and shutter priority, as well as a fully metered manual mode.
  • 1978 Konica introduces the C35 AF, the first point-and-shoot autofocus camera
  • Canon introduces the A-1, a sophisticated electronic camera with all-digital control featuring the first fully automatic program AE mode, pre-set aperture-priority AE, and speedlite AE mode.
  • 1979 Canon launches the SureShot, the world’s first lens-shutter 35mm autofocus camera, with a triangulation system incorporating a near-infrared emitting diode (IRED)
  • The Nikon EM is introduced the first model in a revised design concept by Nikon to introduce a series of ultra compact bodies characterized by compactness, light weight and ease of use.
  • 1981 The low-tech plastic Holga camera is introduced, which will later attain cult status with the advent of Lomography and become a major source of inspiration for Instagram
  • Canon introduces the AE-1 Program camera to succeed the original AE-1 offering shutter speed-priority AE and program AE modes.
  • 1982 Nikon introduces the FM2, which uses an improved Copal Square Shutter to achieve an unheard-of speed range of 1 to 1/4000th second
  • Kodak launches the disc photography format with a line of compact cameras built around a rotating disc of fifteen 10×8 mm exposures. Labs resisted investing in new development equipment resulting in poor quality photos and the format was short-lived
  • The Nimslo 3D camera is launched – the first camera offering lenticular printing from 35mm negative film. A lenticular print combines four pictures into a single print that appears 3 dimensional
  • 1983 The Olympus OM-4 is the first camera with a multi-spot exposure meter
  • Minolta launches the Disc-7, a disc camera with a small convex mirror on the front plate. With the help of a telescoping stick that anticipates the later selfie-stick, this allows the user to take self-portraits.
  • 1984 LOMO begin mass-producing the LC-A, achieving popularity within the USSR and kickstarting Lomography
  • The Leica M6 heralds the renaissance of the rangefinder system in a market dominated by single-lens reflex cameras
  • Canon introduces the new F-1 High Speed Motor Drive Camera which is able to zip through a 36-exposure roll of film in 2.57 sec. at 14 fps, a record at the time.
  • 1985 Minolta introduces the world’s first fully integrated autofocus SLR with the autofocus (AF) system built into the body – the Maxxum 7000 a.k.a. the Dynax 7000
  • 1986 The disposable camera is popularised by Fujifilm with the 35mm QuickSnap
  • The Canon T90 marks the pinnacle of manual-focus 35mm SLRs
  • The Canon RC-701 becomes the first still video camera marketed, offering10 fps (frames per second) high-speed shutter-priority and multi-program automatic exposure
  • 1987 Canon launches the EOS (Electro-Optical System), an entirely new system designed specifically to support autofocus lenses
  • 1988 The Fuji DS-1P, the first digital handheld camera, is introduced, though it does not sell
  • The first of the Genesis series from Chinon helps to define the category of 35mm bridge cameras
  • The R6 is the first mechanical, manual-exposure-only SLR produced by Leica since the Leicaflex SL2 was discontinued
  • 1989 Steven Sasson and a colleague, Robert Hills, of Kodak create a prototype camera which is the first modern digital single-lens reflex camera that looks and functions like today’s professional models. It is known as the D-5000 or Ecam (electronic camera) and features a 1.2 megapixel sensor and uses image compression and memory cards.
  • 1990 first digital camera shipped in the United States is the Dycam Model 1, which comes with a neutral density filter to prevent over exposure in bright settings.

1990-Present

Nikon FM3a camera milestones
The Nikon FM3a, the last manual film camera shipped by a volume manufacturer
  • 1990 first digital camera shipped in the United States is the Dycam Model 1, which comes with a neutral density filter to prevent over exposure in bright settings.
  • 1991 The world’s first digital SLR is introduced, The Kodak Professional Digital Camera System (DCS) based on the Nikon F3
  • Logitech introduces the Fotoman FM-1, a modified Dycam Model 1, and the first consumer point and shoot camera sold in Europe
  • The Konica AiBORG is introduced as the world’s first moving frame auto focus camera. It will go on to achieve infamy as the Konica “Darth Vader” due to its bulbous looks and poor design.
  • 1992 Leica introduces the R6.2 SLR, an update of the R6, with a higher top shutter speed and an improved TTL flash mode
  • Contax launches the S2 fully mechanical, manual-focus SLR to commemorate the company’s 60th anniversary. It offers only a spot meter and no centre-weighted or matrix metering options
  • The Nikonos RS is the world’s first underwater Auto-Focus SLR camera
  • 1993 The Vivitar Opus 20 is a late example of a  110 film camera with a modern new look, motor-driven film advance, a built-in flash, and red eye reduction
  • 1994 The Apple Quicktake 100 is the first camera to use USB to connect to a computer.
  • 1995 The Casio QV-10 is the first camera to incorporate an LCD screen on the back for image preview and playback
  • The Ricoh RDC-1 is the first digital camera offering a dedicated movie mode. It is capable of recording 5-second 768×480-pixel clips at 30 frames per second, and saving them in the new MPEG format
  • The Nikon D1 is the first fully integrated digital SLR designed from the ground up, rather than a digital modification to a film SLR
  • The Minolta RD-175 combines an existing SLR, the Dynax500si Super, with a three way splitter and three separate CCD image sensors which are combined digitally and interpolated to produce a 1.75 megapixel image
  • 1996 the Canon PowerShot 600, Canon’s first consumer digital camera, is released featuring a 0.5 megapixel sensor
  • The Coolpix 100 is Nikon’s first consumer digital camera.  It features a 1/3 megapixel sensor and a PCMCIA interface which enables it slot it into a laptop, where it appears as a removable drive
  • Canon introduces the first IXUS APS ultra compact as Canon’s contribution to the launch of the Advance Film System (APS). The model will later form the basis of the Digital IXUS range and is considered a milestone of compact camera design.
  • Minolta introduces the TC-1, a high-end, titanium-bodied compact autofocus 35mm camera with the smallest frontal area of any professional-grade compact autofocus camera
  • 1997 The  Pentax 645N is the first autofocus medium format SLR camera
  • Yashica’s first digital camera, the KC-600, is announced
  • The Epson PhotoPC 550, the third Epson digital camera and the first Epson to feature an external memory slot for SmartMedia cards, features a microphone to record up to six seconds of sound per photograph
  • 1998 Fuji reveal the FUJIX DS-1P at Photokina as “the world’s first camera to save data to a semiconductor memory card”. It captures images using a 400 kilo-pixel CCD that Fuji had began developing in the 70s.
  • Leica introduces the M6 TTL, which improves on the M6 with TTL flash and improved ergonomics to become one of the most highly rated film cameras of all time.
  • Kodak launches the DC 210, the first affordable megapixel resolution digital camera
  • 1999 The Nikon D1 is the first professional digital SLR to displace Kodak’s previously-undisputed reign over the professional market
  • Canon introduces the IXUS II in the most successful camera range in the APS market. This success will go on to make IXUS an important trademark in the compact camera market
  • Canon launches the first camera in the PowerShot S range, the S10 with a fully retractable zoom lens with built-in lens cover, advanced functions including Spot Metering and AE Lock, and compact, high-density packaging
  • 2000 The Fujifilm FinePix S1 Pro is the first interchangeable-lens DSLR to hit the market. It is based on a Nikon N60 with Fuji’s APS-C-format Super CCD Sensor and is capable of creating 6.13 megapixel images
  • Nikon reissues the 1958 Nikon S3 rangefinder, the Nikon S3 Year 2000 Limited Edition, with an improved chrome finish as and a redesigned 50mm f1.4 lens with modern coatings
  • Canon launches the Digital IXUS range of ultra compact cameras, based on the technology of the PowerShot S10 in a body similar to the APS IXUS II
  • The Canon EOS D30 is the first ‘native’ DSLR made in-house by a camera manufacturer with a price tag that is affordable to enthusiasts
  • 2001 Nikon introduces the FM3a, the last manual focus film camera to be launched by a volume manufacturer
  • Ricoh launches the GR21, the first compact camera in the world to have a super-wide 21mm wide angle lens
  • Pentax introduces the 645NII medium format film camera which adds mirror lock-up to the list of features
  • 2002 Contax launches the N Digital the first full frame digital SLR digital camera
  • Nikon introduce the D100, which becomes the first digital SLR to score a resounding sales success amongst both professional and serious enthusiast photographers
  • Leica departs from the mechanical design of previous M cameras with the introduction of the electronic M7
  • 2003 The Olympus E-1 is the first removable lens digital SLR with a lens mount and imaging system specifically designed for digital
  • Digital cameras outsell film cameras for the first time
  • Leica introduces the all-mechanical MP rangefinder film camera which incorporates many design features of the 1954 M3 and a TTL lightmeter.
  • The Minolta Dimage A1 is the first model to stabilise images by shifting the sensor instead of using a lens-based system
  • Canon introduces the EOS 300D, arguably the first digital SLR for the mass-market
  • 2004 The Epson R-D1 is the first digital rangefinder camera
  • Leica makes the detachable DMR (Digital Module R) digital back available, making it possible to transform the Leica R8 and R9 film cameras into digital SLRs
  • The Nikon F6 is launched, Nikon’s last high end professional film camera
  • 2005 The Canon EOS 5D is the first consumer DSLR to feature a full frame sensor
  • 2006 The Flip video camera is released as a “Pure Digital Point & Shoot” video camcorder 
  • The M8 is Leica’s first digital camera in the rangefinder M series
  • 2007 Nikon’s first full frame DSLR, the D3, pushes the ISO range into six figures for the first time – to ISO 102,400
  • Microsoft introduces RoundTable, a videoconferencing device with a 360-degree camera  with active speaker detection technology, which switches between different meeting participants as they speak.
  • 2008 Panasonic releases the Lumix G1, the world’s first mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera
  • The Nikon D90 is the first DSLR with HD video recording capabilities
  • 2009 Leica launches the M9, a full-frame digital rangefinder compatible with almost all M mount lenses.
  • 2010 Samsung introduce the first APS-C format mirrorless camera, the NX10
  • Sony introduces the SLT-A55, the first camera to incorporate a translucent mirror design which offers live view with full-time fast phase-detection AF whether in stills or movie shooting.
  • 2011 Lytro releases the first pocket-sized consumer light-field camera, capable of refocusing images after they are taken
  • Nikon Introduces the J1 and V1 mirrorless cameras which offer on-sensor phase detection autofocus
  • 2012  Sony launches the world’s first full frame compact camera – the RX1, with a fixed 35mm F2 lens
  • Olympus introduces the OM-D E-M5 with a 5-axis sensor-shifting image stabilisation system – the first of its kind in a consumer camera
  • Fujifilm unveils the X-Pro1 mirrorless interchangeable-lens digital with a Hybrid Viewfinder that allows photographers to choose between an optical finder and an electronic view (EVF)
  • Canon launches the EOS 6D DSLR which introduces full frame photography to a new generation of photographers who had previously discounted it due to cost
  • Rolleiflex’s last TLR model, the FX-N, is introduced at Photokina. It is similar to the Rolleiflex FX, but can focus down to 55cm
  • Leica releases the Monochrom, with a monochrome sensor based on the same Kodak CCD sensor as the Leica M9 but without the colour filter array
  • 2013 Sony announces the ⍺7 which starts the full frame mirrorless revolution.
  • The Android powered Samsung Galaxy NX unsuccessfully attempts to combine the best features of a smartphone and a dedicated camera
  • Hasselblad discontinues the last of its film cameras – the V-series 503CW
  • 2014 Samsung introduces the mirrorless APS-C NX1, offering new features and higher levels of performance unheard of in the mirrorless market
  • Leica launches the Leica T, a camera made from a solid block of milled aluminium with an app-like touchscreen interface that resembles that of a smartphone
  • Leica releases the M-A, a purely mechanical 35 mm rangefinder film camera devoid of electronics and based on the designs and features of previous Leica M models
  • 2015 Sony announces the first camera to employ a back-side illuminated full frame sensor, the α7R II
  • 2016 Leica introduces the Leica Q, a full frame, mirrorless camera with a Summilux f1.7 lens that brings the brand to a new audience
  • Hasselblad launches the H6D range of medium format digital cameras with a choice of 50 or 100 megapixel resolutions
  • Fujifilm introduce the GFX 50S medium format camera, opening the format to photographers who had never considered it before
  • 2017 The Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 is introduced, bringing high quality low cost video production capabilities to a wider audience
  • Intrepid Camera launches its Kickstarter project for a light-weight, low cost, compact, 10X8 large format film camera
  • Sony introduce the ⍺9, a mirrorless camera designed to compete with DSLRs in sports and action photography
  • Nikon introduces the D850, one of the most technically impressive DSLRs ever made
  • 2018 Nikon introduces the Z6 and Z7 full frame mirrorless cameras with the new Z mount.
  • Within days of the Nikon Z system launch, Canon launches the EOS R system, its first full frame mirrorless system
  • Leica introduce the Leica M10-D, a digital camera without an LCD screen designed to combine the excitement of film with digital technology
  • 2019 Worldwide camera shipments drop by 87% 2010-2019, wiping out four decades of growth
  • Fujifilm launches the GFX100 with a 100 megapixel medium format, BSI-CMOS sensor
  • 2020 The Nikon F6 film SLR is officially discontinued
  • Mirrorless cameras overtake DSLRs based on unit volume.
  • 2021 Sony introduces the ⍺1, a 50.1 megapixel, 8.6K camera capable of shooting bursts at up to 30 frames per second
  • Olympus exits the camera market, completing the sale of its camera business to JIP, a venture capital
  • Nikon launches the Z9 which is the first production camera to eliminate the mechanical shutter without the compromise of rolling shutter
  • 2022 Leica introduces the M11 rangefinder with a 60MP full-frame back side illuminated sensor

If you spot omissions or errors in this year by year camera timeline, please let me know in the comments.