Crediting one person and nailing the exact year of when the camera was invented isn’t that simple. Mainly because the internet gives a ton of different answers. It turns out, a quick history lesson solves the problem. So, if “when was the camera invented” or “who invented the camera” are questions that keep you up at night, you’ve come to the right page.

The First Camera

What year was the camera invented?

When were cameras invented? In 1816 or 1685? The internet seems to throw around both dates, and credits two different people. So we wanted to (briefly) go over the camera’s history to clarify the confusion.

Cameras Were Invented When?

When was the camera invented?

The camera was invented, or rather, developed by multiple people, over the course of history. But the camera, as we know it today, was invented by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in (about) 1816.

Niépce technically took the first photo on a homemade camera, with silver chloride covered paper.

While his first photograph was only partially successful, he is the inventor of the very first surviving photograph, which is a main reason why he is widely accepted as the inventor of the camera. It dates to 1826 or 1827, and is now in the permanent collection of the University of Texas-Austin.

Who Else Had a Hand in Inventing the Camera?

So, what’s this talk about 1685 then? Johann Zahn is usually co-credited with inventing the camera. The German author wrote a ton about camera obscuras, lenses, and telescopes. 

In 1685, he invented a design for the first handheld reflex camera. Johann Zahn was WAY ahead of his time as it would take another 150 years before this design became a reality. 

What is Camera Obscura? And Who Invented It?
The earliest “cameras” weren’t used so much to take pictures as they were to study optics. Camera obscuras demonstrate how light can be used to project an image onto a flat surface.
When Was the Camera Invented - Camera Obscura

Basic camera obscura mechanism

The basic idea of this natural optical phenomenon is very simple. Light passing through a tiny hole in one wall will project an image onto the opposing wall. The resulting projection is an upside down image and the birth of photography. Learn more about how a camera obscura works and a very brief timeline of how photography evolved below:

Learn more about camera obscura

When was the camera obscura invented?

Arab scholar, Ibn Al-Haytham (945-1040) is usually considered the camera obscura’s creator. Though the earliest references of this idea have been found in Aristotle’s writings around 330 B.C. and even Chinese texts in around 400 B.C.

You may have also heard the term pinhole camera. The only difference between a pinhole camera is that a camera obscura uses a lens, while a pinhole just has the open hole.

This technology became popularized in the 17th and 18th centuries when artists used them to help project drawings they could then trace. 

But there was no actual way to preserve the image. So, when was photography invented?

This is why we credit Joseph Nicéphore Niépce with inventing the camera. By 1816, he had started (though not fully successful) capturing images for the first time. This process was called "heliography."

Cameras That Take Lasting Photos

In 1829, Louis Daguerre received credit for developing practical photography. This technology was sold to the French government. 

In 1840, it was Alexander Wolcott who invented the first camera that made photographs that did not fade quickly. 

The real inventor was Alexander all along! We made you wait for it. 

Or maybe just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes even more people to build and perfect technology.

Up Next

Types of cameras for photo and video

With this bit of photography history taken care of, let's talk about cameras today. There are actually quite a few different cameras to choose from, each with their own pros and cons. Let's review the different types of cameras most people use for photography and videography. After that, you'll be able to decide which type of camera will best fit your own personal style.

Up Next: Types of cameras →
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