The Camera Through Time

From 8-hour exposure photos to 8K films, photography went through a lot to become what it is today. In this article, I’m going to write about old and new gadgets behind the photographic camera, which connects filmography and photography art, both based on the same Camera Obscura technology dating from the good old BC years.

History

Yes, you read that right. Described for the first time somewhere around the 4th century BC, the first “cameras” were the size of the room, because they actually were a room with a hole in it. Through that hole in the wall, an inverted picture was projected onto the opposite wall thanks to a natural optical phenomenon. The downside of this camera was that it wasn’t able to record the image for later use. The first real cameras were invented at the beginning of 19th century and used silver-based compounds to create an image which also required a pretty long exposure. That technology lasted for 20 years, until the well-known camera with a big black canvas cover over the photographer was presented- the collodion dry plate camera. A mix of a few technologies to create and fixate an image made instant photos possible. It also led to the invention of the shutter which was first sold as a separate accessory.

Today

35mm film started being sold at the end of the 19th century and was here to stay. It lasted for 100 years and it’s interesting to note that only six years ago, Hollywood was still shooting more on film than with digital technologies. But that changed rapidly. Digital photography is going to rule the world in many forms for many years. A modern 8K pro cinematic digital camera from the company Red looks more like something that dropped from an alien spaceship than a piece of studio equipment.

A digital CMOS sensor is the key piece of every digital camera. It converts light into a discrete signal where every sensor point is one pixel. The size of a “full-frame” digital still camera sensor is roughly the same size as that of a 35mm film, while standard cinema sensors are the size of Super35 film in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Digital cameras create a raw image file which is the unprocessed signal from the photo sensor, or what we might call a digital negative. On the other hand, if you decide to shoot a still photo in JPEG format, you’ll get an already processed image with a final editing touch by the camera manufacturer.

However, digital cameras have some disadvantages as well. The cost of storing raw 8K video masters are extremely high. A two-hour movie can take up to 24 TB of space. Also, today’s storage media have a quite short life span compared to film, which can last for hundreds of years. But engineers are working on solving these problems as well.

Future

The things that I’m writing about in this section are happening right now, but there is a lot of room for further development and wider usage. The Hover Camera is a little personal drone camera that’s available on the market right now. It has an AI built into it which uses facial and body recognition to track your movements and keep the frame steady at all times. You can see and shoot photos with your smartphone and take a selfie (or, I guess, a “dronie”) using your private AI cameraman.

DSLR still frame cameras are heading in another direction. The new “mirrorless cameras” are gaining popularity due to their compact build. A normal DSLR needs a mirror to reflect an image to a viewfinder, because the sensor is covered with the shutter when not taking a picture. On the other hand, the sensor on a mirrorless camera is exposed to the light all the time and the preview is coming straight from the sensor. The shutter claps when the shoot button is pressed to avoid too much image noise, although we can also expect professional shutterless cameras in the future.

Just like DSLRs, pro cinematic cameras are becoming more and more compact. Therefore, Hollywood’s most attractive IMAX 3D camera can now shoot chase scenes, for example, which were impossible to film just a few years ago. This camera was used to shoot the latest Avengers, Transformers and Batman movies. And what is IMAX 3D exactly? IMAX is a camera that holds a 70mm film, which is much larger than standard Super35 film. Thus, the image is amazing, more detailed and can be projected onto very large screens (also called IMAX). 3D has nothing to do with the IMAX part itself and just comes from two lenses attached to a camera with a distance approximating that between the human eyes. They shoot two separate rolls of film which are later, in the cinema, projected so that the images for the left and right eye switch at a rate of 144 times per second to trick us into seeing 3D on a 2D canvas. Those cameras are not available to buy but can be rented in Hollywood for about 15,000$ a week.

Digital imaging brought many other usages and blends with lots of other technologies. As an example, we at CodeFlügel are currently developing a software which uses the image from a “Time of Flight” camera. That camera counts the time needed for an infrared signal to bounce off a point in the world and come back to the sensor, thus creating a so-called “point cloud image”. This is literally an image created of points in a cloud of space. So, basically, you get a 3D image because you know the depth (time needed to bounce) of every point in the image. All that at a rate of 30fps (frames per second) to get a nice 3D real-time video.

Conclusion

This is a huge topic and I’ve just scratched the surface of the picture and motion picture worlds. My grandfather says that back in his day, you had to have a lot of knowledge and expertise if you wanted to do photography. Well, for mass usage nowadays it’s true that you just have to press a button and let the software do the editing for you. But if you want to make art, there is still a lot of knowledge required to cross that line. Maybe even if you’re just coding an AI editing tool or a filter that’s supposed to give your special final-developer-touch to the photo 🙂