As far as photography is concerned, the role played by technology and the eye of the photographer goes hand in hand. The history of digital photography is punctuated by several revolutionary changes and what seems most interesting is, the history of advances is still being written.
The process of taking a snap, recording it and transferring it onto a tangible, visible surface has remained the same from the very beginning of the era of photography when there was the gradual transition from glass plates to dry plates (using gelatin), followed by black and white film, and then color film.
The process in which a photograph is recorded has always been to allow focused light to fall onto a light sensitive surface. The light sensitive surface could then be processed using chemicals in order to produce a positive or negative image. The basic principle remains the same even after a century when the first photograph was developed on film. What has changed over the years is the means and methods employed to get a photograph.
The history of photography cannot be written without special mention to the Box Brownie.
George Eastman (of Kodak fame) played a big part in the development of film, first produced in 1884. Four years later, in 1888, he launched the famous Box Brownie camera with the slogan: and you press the button, we do the rest! The name was derived from the popular cartoons created by Palmer Cox.
This slogan largely described what a revolution the Box Brownie had brought in the world of photography. The Box Brownie was first of its kind using which even an amateur photographer could take a picture. Using the Box Brownie anyone could take a snap and not worry about the chemicals in order to process the film. The photographer could take the photographs in a fraction of a second and it would get stored on the film which can be developed at a later stage. The camera could be given to the chemist who would develop the photographs for you. Can anything be simpler than this to cause a commercial boom!!
The first Brownie, introduced in February, 1900, was a very basic cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that took 2¼-inch square pictures on 117 rollfilm. One of the most popular Brownie models was the Brownie 127, millions of which were sold between 1952 and 1967. The Brownie 127 was a simple Bakelite camera for 127 films which featured a simple meniscus lens and a curved film plane to compensate for the deficiencies of the lens. Another simple camera was the Brownie Cresta which was sold between 1955 and 1958. It used 120 films and had a fixed focus lens.
George Eastman, the man who is credited with the most major breakthrough in the picture of photography was from Kodak. Thus, it is but obvious that the name of Kodak is bound to be associated with many major developments.
Kodak has invented an array of products which are indispensable for photography even now. All the way back in 1936 the first color film was made by Kodak and called Kodachrome.
Later the world witnessed a series of inventions by Kodak. Starting from the mid-1970s when Kodak invented several solid-state image sensors that "converted light to digital pictures" for professional and home consumer use. In 1986, Kodak scientists gave the world the first megapixel sensor, capable of recording 1.4 million pixels that could produce a 5x7-inch digital photo-quality print. Immediately in the following year, Kodak released seven products for recording, storing, manipulating, transmitting and printing electronic still video images. Three years later in 1990, Kodak developed the Photo CD system and proposed "the first worldwide standard for defining color in the digital environment of computers and computer peripherals." In 1991, Kodak released the first professional digital camera system (DCS), for photojournalists and professionals.
It can be said that Kodak single handedly enabled the digital cameras to reach the eager hands of the common masses. Several companies joined hands with Kodak to make its effort a success. Some companies helped its campaign to manufacture cheaper cameras and make digital photography affordable to the public like IBM collaborated with Kodak in making an internet-based network image exchange.
Some other companies manufactured the accessories useful for printing of digital photographs like Hewlett-Packard was the first company to make color inkjet printers that complemented the new digital camera images.
Kinko's and Microsoft both collaborated with Kodak to create digital image-making software workstations and kiosks which allowed customers to produce Photo CD Discs and photographs, and add digital images to documents.
SPEED and QUALITY:
Ask any photographer about digital cameras and films, the sole two topics of concern would be speed and picture quality.
Film speed is the measure of a photographic film's sensitivity to light, determined by sensitometry and measured on various numerical scales, the most recent being the ISO system. As evident from the name itself, image quality refers to how clear and natural the image is.
In all kinds of photography, film or digital, the reduction of exposure corresponding to use of higher sensitivities generally leads to reduced image quality (via coarser film grain or higher image noise of other types). In short, the higher the sensitivity, the grainier the image will be.
Photographs which were taken on glass plates required a huge time of exposure. It meant a person may have to sit motionless for minutes when a portrait photograph was taken. Even after that the image quality was poor and grainy. Such photographs were priced as high as a weeks wage!
From that stage, photography has changed a lot for the betterment. With the advent of digital photography, neither film speed nor the image quality is compromised. Cameras nowadays can automatically determine the correct film speed for the best image quality at a particular light intensity. Also, the cost per photograph as decreased drastically so much that several people have gained a hobby due to the ease with which the pictures can now be taken, and every family has at least one camera. Also the simplicity by which any person can take good quality pictures is outstanding!
LIGHT, GOOD, CHEAP CAMERA:
With digital photography at its very youth, there was steep competition to manufacture cameras with more megapixels which costs lesser than the competitors camera. The world witnessed yet another major development in the area of photography with the introduction of the digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras.
Before the August of 2003, Digital SLRs (DSLR) was strictly for the professionals. The costly and heavy apparatus were too much for the common public to afford or use.
Canon developed a DSLR in August 2003 which was actually the first affordable digital SLRs. With canon giving keen amateur photographers what they have been desperate to get in their hands on, the stage of photography changed completely. One could just take their lenses from their old film cameras and attach them to the new Canon. The camera also offered fast response times unlike the compact cameras up until this point.
IMAGE MANIPULATION SOFTWARES:
With millions of photographs being taken worldwide, the need to edit and manipulate those images was the order of the day. Something that started as a program to display grayscale images on a monochrome display in 1987 by Thomas Knoll, a PhD student at the University of Michigan, ended up as a program for image editing purposes. Brothers Thomas and John worked on it to build ImagePro. When it was distributed as a short term venture, it was an immediate success. Eventually the Photoshop license was purchased for distribution by Adobe in 1988. In 1990, Photoshop 1.0 was released for Macintosh.
Never before even professional photographers knew so much could be done to a photograph that has already been clicked. The world of photography was revolutionized once more. What Photoshop did was it made image manipulation so easy that both amateur as well as professional artists could spend less time editing and getting better results. A simple computer was all that they needed to make ordinary photograph turn into something completely different and extraordinary.
As the image editing market keeps growing, more companies have joined the business of making image editing tools. While giants like Corel and Adobe launch heavy licensed tools for wondrous versatile image editing, few other companies have launched cheaper, less powerful image manipulating tools too.
Picasa needs a special mention with this regard. Being a very useful tool which allows users to upload and manage their photos from the computer in personal online albums. It also provides scope to edit the images to a considerable level. What more? One gets all this for FREE!!
The improvements in film photography led to smaller and better cameras; the improvements made throughout the history of digital photography have led to more pixels, smaller cameras, lower costs and greater memory capacity.
Today, the cost and quality of cameras range from something that a common man can afford very easily to something that even professionals dream of getting their hands on. It may seem the world of digital photography as experienced all the revolutions that it was bound to. But few would have predicted the stunning growth of digital photography.
Technology is changing even as I'm writing this history of digital photography. So we have wait and watch what surprises are still in store for us!