History of analog photography

Posted in Analog photography
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Analog photography is the term that refers to the image, products of photographic process, based on the use of analog camera and film. A roll of film is loaded into the body of camera and triggered by the click, light interacts with the chemicals in the film, recording instantaneously the image on the film roll. Images collected on the roll are then developed and processed in the photo lab.

Although the digital technology seems to fit the needs of nowadays users better, whether they are professionals of amateurs, analog photography somehow manages to remain present. Even more, it became somewhat of a trend especially among the enthusiastic young photographers, even though the biggest companies that manufactured films and analog cameras withdrawn them from the market , due to the lack of mass usage caused by the commercial success of digital technology. Ironically, retro design inspired by the looks of iconic cameras from 1930s is nowadays applied to the high end digital cameras for mass use.

The use of the film began in 1880s. The first manufacturer of paper and then later celluloid film was George Eastman, who was also a founder of the first analog camera that used film rolls. His first camera called Kodak was very successful and found it`s market quickly. The fact that it was relatively affordable, added up to the commercial success of first Kodak – simple box cameras using the fixed- focus lens and single shutter speed.

The next analog camera model, that is considered to be the game changer and the first one that reached the mass-market was also the first snapshot camera. Introduced in 1900s, also by the Gorge Eastman, Brownie model remained on the market until 1960s.

Brownie model

1900s also brought changes in the field of camera design. Fitting the needs of field work, but also travel and art photography better than any other model before, The Raisecamera (travel camera), extremely light weighted and designed to fold was very popular and widely used. Some of the most famous models of travel cameras were Furror, Excelsior and Meteor.

First and second decade of 20th century in the world of photography were strongly marked by the efforts of number of manufacturers who started producing the 35mm film roles.Tourist Multiple and Simplex were the first camera models to use the 35mm film roll.

The first compact camera able to produce high quality enlargements using the 35mm film was Leica I, created in Germany, for German Leitz Camera by Oskar Barnack 1923, ten years after the Leica proto model Ur-Leitza. Its huge commercial success Leica I owes to its revolutionary design as much as to the fact that it was affordable and easy to operate.

Although technology itself was present for decades, camera design seemed to be an obstacle, heavy and robust cameras weren`t neither affordable nor easy to operate or handle, which caused the lack of their wider use or popularity. The first twin lens reflex camera that was compact enough to reach the wider market was Rolleiflex medium format TLR produced in 1928.

In 1930s, number of camera models that marked history of analog photography were developed, Argus A, Argus C3, Canon rangefinder, each improving the quality of the image and bringing analog process closer to mass use than the one before.

DCF 1.0

The end of the 1940s was marked by the major innovation, the first eye level viewfinder presented by the Hungarian Duflex. Eye level viewfinder was later on refined in the truly revolutionary model Contrax, which was also the first commercially successful compact analog camera to use the pentaprism single lens reflex , solid block of glass, covered by the mirroring materials on all but two sides. This system provided the minimum light loss, since the light entered one side, got reflected around inside, and came out via unreflective side, causing only two light-glass interactions.

During the World War II the multi-layer color negative films were introduced.

Rapid progress of photographic technology and its use in various fields is best illustrated by the fact that four photographers, Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Carl Mydans, and W. Eugene Smith were able to covered the war for Life magazine on regular basis.

The post World War II years brought the explosion of new models and innovations based on 35mm SLR design. Kine Exakta and Soviet Sport were the two of most significant models.

Kine Exakta-2

In 1950s wide range of companies introduced entire lines of products, some of them for the first time including interchangeable components; establishing Pentax, Canon, Yashica and Nikon as leaders in the field of producing photographic equipment.

Introduction of the Polaroid cameras was a revolution of it`s own kind. At first, they were known as the Land cameras, named after Edwin Land, the man who invented the first one. The first model was called simply Model 95, and it was made in 1948. Although land cameras they were relatively expensive, they were very well excepted and commercially successful. Continually good feedback during the 1950s triggered the production of whole line of Polaroid models in 1960s.

While conventional cameras were getting more sophisticated and while their progress was aimed towards the increase of image quality, Polaroid was pointed in completely new direction. The goal was to produce the camera that can decrease the time period needed to deliver photography. Polaroid or Land cameras reached it by producing the photo without developing film in photo lab, on the spot, in less than a minute time.

Legendary Polaroid Model 20 Swinger was the first polaroid created with intention to reach the widest range of users of the popular market and it was a huge commercial success. Polaroid Model 20 Swinger remains one of the top-selling camera models of all times, overcoming the success of the Eastman`s Brownie, which was being produced from 1900s up until 1960s.

Next big technological improvement of analog camera came with Mec 16 Sub Miniature, which was also produced in 1960, in Germany. It was the first camera with light meter placed behind the lens, which provided the more accurate and more precise light metering. Soon that technological solution became the common feature of SLRs, more than any other camera type. Topcorn RE Super, produced only two years later, in 1962, is considered to be the very first SLR camera equipped with TTL system.

Chronologically parallel branches of development, pointed in completely different direction and unexpected turns they sometimes took, while constantly improving technology and its product, is what makes the history of technology of analog photography so exciting. That rapid progress of analog camera hugely affected not only the photographic industry, but various other seemingly unrelated fields such as media, science and social life.
In 1960 EG&G presented the first extreme depth underwater camera, developed for the purposes of the US Navy.

EG&G underwater

Although the first fully automatic exposure camera, equipped with selenium light meter, was produced in 1930s, it`s extremely large price prevented it from any kind of commercial success. It`s original price fits today`s value of nearly 8000 USD. However, in 1960s, the development low-cost electronic equipment and components caused them to become the common place in various industries, shining the new light of possibilities on the commercial failure of automatic camera from only a few decades ago. What was considered to be a spectacular failure but turned out to be a huge success in years to come. Famous Konica C35 AF, also known as Jasuper, was presented in 1978 and was the very first electronic point-and-shot auto-focus camera.

Another new direction that analog camera design took regarded the whole new prospective of camera as a piece of photographic equipment. In 1986 Fuji presented disposable single-use camera, which perfectly corresponded with needs and philosophy of the new consumerist mass-culture.

Decades that followed started pushing analog cameras aside, while the digital cameras and digital technology took the spotlight. That change slowly affected even the very pioneers of analog technology, as the inexpensive digital image took the primate over the physical object of printed photograph.

In 2008 legendary Polaroid announced the end of producing all of its instant cameras and equipment due to the lack of general interest of public and market for analog photography.Although the significance of this event is undoubtedly symbolical, often characterized as The end of an era, other companies stepped in, providing what is left of the analog photography market with necessary materials. Fujifilm released two instant cameras called Instax Mini and Instax Wide, followed by corresponding film, but also the sheet film that can be used in older Polaroid cameras, filling the gap caused by Polaroid`s absence from the market.

The Impossible Project is a group of manufacturers that also stepped in after the Polaroid`s withdrawal, producing materials fitting most popular older Polaroid camera models.

In 2009 Kodak also announced withdrawal of its famous Kodachrome color film, due to its fail to compete with much cheaper, quicker and easier to use digital technology. The last role of Kodachrome was symbolically shot in 2013 by the photographer Steve McCurry.