March 17, 2023

From Camera Obscura to the First Portable Camera: A Brief History

By Morkven

Photography is a relatively new art form that has been constantly evolving since its inception. From the earliest camera obscura to the first portable camera, photography has been influenced by technology and the desire to capture the world around us. Here is a brief history of photography from its humble beginnings to a ubiquitous feature in today’s world.

Camera Obscura

The camera obscura, which means “dark chamber” in Latin, was the earliest device used to capture images. The concept was simple – a small, dark room or box with a tiny hole in one wall. Light passes through the hole and projects an inverted image of the outside world onto a surface inside the box. Artists used the camera obscura as a tool for drawing, and it was a precursor to modern photography.

The invention of the first photograph

In 1826, French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce achieved the first permanent photograph. He used a thin piece of pewter coated in bitumen, a light-sensitive substance, and exposed it to light for several days. The bitumen hardened where it was exposed to light, creating a permanent image. Niépce called this method “heliography.”

Next, in 1837, Louis Daguerre, a French artist, and inventor independently created the daguerreotype process, which produced a much clearer and detailed image than heliography. The daguerreotype process used a polished silver-plated copper plate that was treated with iodine fumes, exposed to light, and then developed with mercury fumes. The result was a unique image that could not be reproduced.

The invention of the first portable camera

In 1888, George Eastman, founder of Kodak, introduced the first handheld camera. The Kodak camera was loaded with a roll of film that could take 100 exposures. After taking the photographs, the roll of film was mailed to Kodak for processing, and the developed prints were returned to the owner. The camera was marketed with the slogan, “You push the button, we do the rest.”

Eastman’s new approach to photography made it much more accessible to the general public. The Kodak camera was affordable, easy to use, and compact enough to carry in a bag. Photography became a hobby enjoyed by millions of people.

The evolution of camera technology

From Eastman’s handheld camera, photography technology continued to progress rapidly. The Brownie camera, introduced by Kodak in 1900, was even smaller and more affordable than its predecessor. The Brownie was so popular that it inspired copycat models from other manufacturers.

In 1936, Nikon introduced the first single-lens reflex (SLR) camera for 35mm film. The SLR camera changed how photographers captured images by allowing them to see the subject through the camera lens, rather than through a separate viewfinder. This advancement made it easier to compose photographs and focus on the subject.

The digital revolution

The introduction of digital photography in the late 1990s transformed the photographic industry. Digital cameras allowed images to be captured on a digital sensor rather than on film. This technology enabled instant image review, which was not possible with film cameras. Digital cameras also allowed for more control over image quality, exposure, and lighting.

Smartphones have now almost entirely replaced traditional digital cameras for most casual photographers. The quality of smartphone cameras has become impressive even to professional photographers, thanks to the development of multi-lens systems, computational photography, and software post-processing. Today’s smartphones are extremely portable and can easily capture high-quality images anytime, anywhere.


From its humble beginnings as a camera obscura to modern digital photography, photography has come an incredibly long way. Today’s cameras are so sophisticated that anyone, regardless of experience or skill, can capture a high-quality image. Photography has become an essential part of our daily lives, helping us document our experiences, communicate with one another, and tell stories. With rapidly evolving technology, who knows what the future of photography will bring?