Camera Formats

Historically cameras have either been known either by their design and / or the film format used. So for example a box brownie (design) or medium format (film size). These names tend to trace the history of photography.

This is only a small sample of some of the most popular sizes and formats as there were numerous formats in the early years, increasing standards and mass production improved cost but reduced variety so there are now only relatively few generally available formats.

It was around 1800 that first attempts were made to capture images permanently, by projecting the image produced by a camera obscura (which works in a similar way to a pinhole camera) on to materials treated with Silver Nitrate. Later work by Frenchmen Nicéphore Niépce who invented heliography, later refined by his collaborator Louis Daguerre eventually led to the first popular photographic process known as “Daguerréotypes”. By the mid 1850’s  The daguerreotype proved popular in response to the demand for portraiture that emerged from the emerging middle classes during the Industrial Revolution.This demand, that could not be met in volume or cost by oil painting and thus added to the push for the development of photography.

Camera_010Initially cameras were hand made and no specific standards were applied, each photographer effectively made his own equipment or bought from small specialized manufacturers. Accordingly photography was very much a hobby for the wealthy – the archetypical Victorian Gentlemen of leisure.

Negatives for such cameras were glass plates that could be cut to size and coated with the light sensitive chemicals.

Such cameras were large and heavy, always requiring a tripod and coupled with the limitations of early photographic processes required long exposures to obtain an image which is, at least partly, why so many early photographs are of landscapes and still life’s.

From the 1850’s onwards there was steady refinement of the processes and chemicals use until in 1888 George Eastman, Kodak founder, developed the basic film process which is still used today. This meant photographers could take images and have them processed later rather than needing to travel with a darkroom and chemicals to process images immediately.

Eastman also started the process of standardizing film size and thus camera formats which led to the ability to bring photography to the masses. His first camera “The Kodak” was loaded with film for a 100 images and was returned to the factory for processing and reloading. He continued to refine the concept and with the launch of the box brownie in 1900 established the concept of a camera that could be reloaded with film by the owner.


Kodak continued to refine the design and quality of cameras and film formats. Including folding cameras.Camera_006

















There were many manufactures of cameras in the early 20th century and various designs emerged. The first really practical through the lenses camera was the 1928 Rolleiflex a Twin Lens Reflex where one lens is used for viewing and composing the image and the other to expose the film. Such camera were held at waist level as the viewfinder is in the top of the camera. Typically thse were medium format film cameras, using127 film with a negative size of 6x4cm.














Leitz introduced the “Leica 1” in 1925 which was the first and hugely popular Single Lens Reflex camera.


With the introduction of the Kodak 35 film cartridge in 1935 and the pentaprism by Contax in 1948 the basic design of the modern 35mm SLR was established. Developments since have been around the improvement of the optical quality and affordability of lenses and the replacement of film with digital sensors and ever increasing degrees of automation. Firstly with the introduction of manual exposure meters in early 1960’s, then more automatic modes where the camera determines exposure automatically.

Practical digital cameras started to appear in the early 1990’s and have steadily improved in cost and quality until we get to the modern DLSR’s such as the Canon 5d


In contrast to these high end  cameras, the box brownie concept of a simple to use, inexpensive camera has remained popular over the decades and a variety of cameras and formats have supplied the demand for this such as 110 cameras, the ultimate simple to load film camera with a closed cartridge that simply snapped into place and was sent away for processing. Small and easy to use 110 camera’s were the analogue forerunner of modern digital point and shoot cameras.


Edwin Land introduced Polaroid cameras in 1948 with the massive advantage of speed compared to the previous chemical process required. Described as instant this was a relevant term in respect of film roll processing and still took more than a minute to develop an image. They were hugely popular in the 60’s but their advantage has been almost completely eliminated by the combination of modern digital cameras and display devices such as smart phones and tablets. Polaroid and Fuji still market instant film cameras although more as “fun” lifestyle cameras than mainstream image capture devices.

The continuing digitization of photography has meant many more devices are now equipped with camera functionality such as the aforementioned smart phones and tablets. Later generation IPad tablet computers are equipped with 2 cameras, one facing the user making them effectively portable video phones when using Apple’s face time application in conjunction with wi-fi access.

The explosion of devices that can capture photographs mean there are more photographs being taken than ever, however interestingly a smaller and smaller proportion of these are ever printed but rather used on web sites, social media and in electronic albums.

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