Things are not as they once were. This notion is often used by traditionalists, technophobes and curmudgeons alike to decry how things have change since back in their day, invariably a utopia gilded age in which everything was much better than they are today.

This is a correct use of the phrase. Or, rather, one of the correct uses. As is true of nearly every sentiment and indeed any argument there are at least two sides. While the notion of things being what they once were can refer to things being better in the past, it can also be an indication of how much things have improved since the dusty, dark, olden days. “Things are not as they once were and thank goodness for that!” Has a different ring does it not? There are, in point of fact, several areas of human existence that are greatly improved over how they used to be.

Food, working conditions and increasingly user friendly technology are three of them. It this last area where, arguably, some of the most palpable improvements. A prime example of this is the humble, everyday camera. A device that has changed astoundingly over a history much longer than many people realize.

A long, long time ago: Evolution of the camera

The first device which now be recognized as a camera was invented in 1500, by a fellow named Alhazen, his unused other names being Idn Al-Haytham. Known as the Camera Obscura, the device was the first pinhole camera using the light from the sun to cast images onto paper.

Not really surprising considering that the Latin translation of the compound descriptor ‘photograph’ is “light picture”.

A great leap forward

Pinhole cameras were basically as far as the technology went for the next three-hundred odd years until 1839 with the development, no pun intended, of the Daguerreotype Camera, announced by the Academy of Science in France.

Named after the chemical process used in producing the image, these granddaddy of modern day film cameras would make images by using a polished a sheet of silver-plated copper combined with the right mix of highly dangerous chemicals, creating a latent image.

As a precursor to the current new model every few months rate of innovation, Daguerreotypy was quickly, for the time replaced, by an easier process within twenty years. This would eventually ‘evolve’ into the type of giant box with its own curtain, using gunpowder as a flash associated with the 19th century.

Having gotten the knack of the whole thing, the first film camera was developed by George Eastman before the century was out in1889.

The Digital Age

After much fiddling about with the basic design of the film camera, the first easy to use, point-and-shoot, autofocus camera being invented by Konica in 1978,  the next large change with the advent of the digital camera, going on the commercial market in 1994.

Much like C.D. players before them, modern digital cameras spent the next several years getting smaller, easier to use, higher in quality and less expensive. While the rather clunky and complex SLR version still exist for those rich and pretentious enough to want something bigger and more expensive, the commercial camera market is not dominated by the likes of the Nikon Coolpix S700.

An ultra compact, point-and-shoot, 12.1 megapixel camera with a wifi connection on newer models, which tend to retail for under $200. Changes that were vital for the commercial camera market to survive up against its most dangerous competitor yet.

Just as the C.D. player shrunk until they became just another part of a computer, digital photo technology got the point that it was small enough, yet good enough to be included in every commercially sold computer and cell-phone.

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Trevor McNeil
Trevor McNeil spent much of his childhood playing video-games on early-form personal computers back when the disks were literally floppy. He attended the University of Victoria, completing a degree in Social Science with a concentration in Technology In Society, while also writing for the campus newspaper. He has written articles for such diverse publications as Humanity Death Watch, PopMatters and Perfect Sound Forever. He is a veteran of numerous “watershed moments” in the history of technological development and firmly believes that Han shot first.