Is simpler better in photography?

More blogs by Bob Walden

Cameras have gone from the simple to the complex and back to the simple again in terms of operation. The original camera was the camera obscura, meaning “Dark room” in Latin. The camera obscura was mainly an artist tool. When an image such as a landscape or person was projected through the small round opening, it displayed on the opposite wall as an inverted image. This enabled the artist to sketch the image on a wall or paper.

In later years it was also called a pinhole camera. The smaller the pinhole camera’s opening the sharper the image. Unfortunately as the smaller hole made the image sharper it also made the image less visible. Along came the idea to add a lens to the hole. This aperture or opening allowed additional light into the camera and now the amount of sharpness and light could be controlled. With this advancement the photo camera was introduced.

Instead of the projected image being displayed on a wall or cloth, it was now projected onto a piece of film.

New lens designs and different approaches to films and development of the films drastically lowered the exposure and the development times.

By the early 1840’s cameras had gone from simple handmade boxes to beautifully designed and manufactured tools for professionals.

Lots of wood and brass materials were used. These would be studio cameras. Traveling and outdoors photographers would not have chosen expensive woods and varnishes to haul around in harsh conditions.

It wasn’t until the late 1890’s when Kodak introduced their line of Brownie Box Camera’s that photography became popular with the public. Kodak’s simple box camera design and self-contained film made it possible for amateurs to take pictures for the first time.

Kodak’s slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” was true. This approach and slogan did more to advance the development of photography then any past efforts.  

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While the box cameras started it all Kodak went to great lengths to innovate and make photographic cameras that appealed to different types of people.

How many kids would be able to resist learning photography with this?

Folding cameras became the rage with men and women. The negative size was perfect for having RPPC’s (Real Photo Post Cards) made.

Have the photos developed and made into post cards, place a stamp on the back and send!

For the style conscience photographer the cameras came in designer colors and art deco styles!

 In the 1950’s cameras for the larger market of snapshooters remained simple to operate but updated in design. Cameras no longer had cardboard or metal bodies and parts. Cameras made the switch to plastic.

A new feature was introduced in the 1950’s. The flash and flash bulbs added to the convenience of photography.

Photos could now be taken under more limited lighting conditions than before. Light was added by the flash! Now those family holiday occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas could be photographed at the turkey dinner table and around the Christmas tree. Mothers, fathers and children received complete photography kits under the Christmas tree. And Kodak increased its bottom line with the additional revenue from flash bulbs and more film being used!

A winning situation for all! And the advanced amateurs weren’t forgotten!

Kodak entered the 35mm camera market in 1934 with the Retina 35mm camera. They also introduced at the same time the first 35mm film in a cartridge, making loading and unloading much less of a chore. 

Not a camera for the snapshooter! Not a simple camera to use! The new Kodak Retina had apertures and shutter speeds to set. Film speeds and film types to take into account. The 35mm camera fan quickly became a large part of Kodak’s market.

By the 1950’s foreign 35mm cameras were flooding the American market. Soldiers brought home cameras from Germany and Japan after the war. Kodak was quick to get out of the 35mm camera market. But their film was the standard for all the cameras. New 35mm cameras now came with light meters and interchangeable lenses. With these new additions many snapshooters took their photography more seriously. Automatic metering and auto lens settings simplified the technical aspect of photography leaving the photographer to concentrate more on what they were taking a photo of.

And now nearly all cameras are digital. We are back to simple.

The new digital cameras have a built in flash. Very accurate automatic camera metering for making well exposed photos. Fast lenses to capture a wide range of lighting conditions. Bye bye to movie cameras. These new cameras even shoot video! And film? Nope, just a simple card that can take literally thousands of photos. 

The new digital technology is terrific. However I’m not sure it isn’t dumbing down photography. People just shoot multiple exposures and don’t really think about what they are shooting or the conditions they are shooting under. Photos under exposed or over exposed? If the camera hasn’t compensated enough to correct it, a simple graphics program can usually fix it. And what will future generations see of your family, friends and events? Thousands of photos and not a lot of people have them organized. How many people make prints to keep as memories for now and in the future? On the plus side think about how much it would have cost to have those thousands of photos developed and printed? And with the meta data imbedded by most cameras the who, where and what stays with the photos so years from now the details of where you were and who is who in the photos shouldn’t be a problem. So maybe simple is better.   

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