History of Digital Photography

Every camera ever made, from the first wooden box camera to today’s compact and efficient digital cameras, works exactly the same way. At this point you’re probably thinking that I’ve lost my marbles - there’s no way that a 19th-century hunk of wood does the same thing that your sleek, 21st-century technological marvel does.

While there are amazing and obvious differences, the heart of the camera and fundamental principles that enable a camera to take a picture haven’t changed in more than 100 years.

The World's first photograph
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.
View from the Window at Le Gras. ca1826.

The concepts of shutter speed, aperture, and more, recently, white balance have remained exactly the same since the
dawn of photography, and they are essential to understand if you want to take good pictures. (They’re even more important to understand if you’d like to take great ones.) They’re all connected, so it is also vital to understand how they relate to each other.

At the most basic level, a camera is a lightproof box with a covered hole in it. When it comes time to take a picture, the hole’s cover needs to move away from the opening for a moment to let light strike a digital sensor (or film, if you’re using a film camera). Inside most cameras is a small shutter, which works very much like a set of Venetian blinds you might hang over a window. That shutter hangs over the hole like a drape. When you press the shutter release button to take a photo, the shutter moves aside and lets light hit the digital sensor, and then snaps quickly back into place. Since the sensor in your camera is very sensitive to light, that hole only needs to be uncovered for a fraction of a second in order to let enough light in to make a picture.

Let in too much light, and the photo will be washed out and there will be no detail - lines on people’s faces, letters and numbers on signs, and other fine objects will become blurs. Let in too little light, and your picture will be too dark to see. Photographers call any picture where the shutter has been open too long overexposed and any picture where the shutter hasn't been open long enough underexposed.

Although the history of digital photography is not very long, digital photography has already transformed how people take and view photos.

Before digital photography, most photos had been viewed as prints. Today, however, the majority of photos are edited and viewed on computers. Digital photography allows a photographer to develop his own film by using digital printing.

The history of digital cameras began as early as the 1980s, when digital photography replaced traditional film in astronomy. Digital cameras capture light better than film plates.

Digital photography remained the privilege of the photojournalism world until 1994 and the introduction of the Apple Quicktake. The Apple Quicktake 100 looked like a pair of binoculars, weighed a full pound, and was capable of storing a whopping eight photos at 640x480 resolution or 32 photos at 320240 resolution. Still, the camera was revolutionary. It was the first that could connect to a home PC by a serial cable. The cost? Around $800 dollars.

Since their introduction, commercial digital cameras have largely replaced manual cameras, as photographers can more easily upload, edit and email their pictures.

Digital photography printing allows photographers to create high quality prints in their own homes. As the history of digital photography progresses, expect to see even more options and features added to digital cameras.

Today, you can get a decent digital camera for less than $500 with many different features and options.