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PHOTOGRAPHIC CAMERAS IN THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR

A Short History of Their Development





They say that "A picture is worth a thousand words."



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During the battles and military campaigns of the Civil War of The United States of America many improved weapons were manufactured at costly expenses. These were of course used to dispense with the enemy on either side. But one tool or device which has come to be used even as a weapon itself is the photographic camera, same which was also used much more than we can imagine in modern times. There were thousands of photographs actually taken during the course of things and events in the Great Civil War, and many of these have survived as a pictorial legacy, not only to the American people, but also to mankind. For, it IS so true that often a picture does speak for itself. But, let us look into the story behind the camera and photography. Most of us will still be impressed to know how long it has actually existed and to imagine how many shots have been taken since its creation here on Earth.     - jzr -   [Feb 6 2000]

A Brief History of Cameras  

Today’s cameras all derive from the 16th-century camera obscura. The earliest form of this device was a darkened room with a tiny hole in one wall. Light entered the room through this hole and projected an upside-down image of the subject onto the opposite wall. Over the course of three centuries the camera obscura evolved into a handheld box with a lens replacing the pinhole and an angled mirror at the back. The mirror reflected an image onto a ground-glass viewing screen on the top of the box. Long before film was invented artists used this device to help them draw more accurately. They placed thin paper onto the viewing screen and could easily trace the reflected image.

The inventors of photography in the early 19th century adapted the camera obscura by adding a device for holding sensitized plates in the back of the box. This kind of camera, with some improvements, was used throughout the 19th century. One notable enhancement for the box, pleated leather sides called bellows, allowed the photographer to easily adjust the distance between the lens and the plane of focus. Professional photographers still use a similar camera today, a large-format camera known as the view camera.

[jzr - meister_z Note:] After the camera oscura, there came still another development which was called the camera lucida, by which the image of an external object was projected onto a surface like a sheet of paper, for example, where it was then traced. Finally, the true field of modern photography originated with the invention of the photographic process in the year 1835. Actually, it was to two individuals who patented the process. Daguerre from France, and Talbot from England. This invention of photography, nevertheless, had first been credited to Niepce from France in 1816! Can you imagine? Almost 200 years ago! Then, you can understand that the camera had been around for quite some time by the commencement of the American Civil War. They already had a portable box camera with chemical flash on it, like the one you have seen in the old cowboy movies. Interesting, don't you think?    - jzr -   (Sun Feb 6 2000)

In the 1880s the invention of more sensitive emulsions and better lenses led to the development of lens shutters, devices that could limit the time of exposure to a fraction of a second. At first the shutter was simply a blind dropped in front of the lens by the force of gravity, or by a spring. Later designs featured a set of blades just behind the optical lens. In 1888 George Eastman introduced the first Kodak camera, which used a cylindrical shutter that the photographer turned by pulling a string on the front of the camera. The Kodak was one of the earliest handheld cameras. It made photography available to amateurs for the first time and created a snapshot craze at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1925 the Leitz Company in Germany introduced the Leica, one of the first cameras to use 35-millimeter film, a small-sized film initially designed for motion pictures. Because of its compactness and economy, the Leica and other 35-millimeter cameras became popular with both amateur and professional photographers. All but the earliest Leicas used a focal-plane shutter, located just in front of the film. Because it blocks light from the film even when the lens is removed, the focal-plane shutter allows photographers to switch lenses safely in the middle of a film roll.

Modern Camera Types

Cameras come in a variety of forms. Whereas cameras once required many decisions on the part of photographers, most of today’s cameras offer a range of automated features that greatly simplify picture taking and reduce the likelihood of error.

Box Cameras  

The Eastman Kodak Company introduced one of the first box cameras in 1888, and the simplicity of this easy-to-use design has assured its popularity ever since. Box cameras consist of a rigid box or body; a fixed, simple lens; a viewfinder window, through which the photographer looks to frame the scene; and a shutter with one or possibly two speeds. On most box cameras, the lens is set to an aperture and focus that produce reasonably sharp pictures of a subject at least 2 m (about 6 ft) away, when the camera is used outdoors in the sun. But because these settings are not adjustable, the photographer can do little to control the results.

The modern-day equivalents of the old Kodak box cameras are the disposable cameras now sold at drugstores and tourist shops. These cardboard-covered, plastic cameras come loaded with 35-millimeter color print film. After taking a roll of pictures, the user turns over the entire camera to a processing lab for development. Manufacturers now reuse or recycle many of the parts inside these cameras. Single-use cameras are also available in several advanced models—offering built-in flash, a waterproof body, or the ability to show panoramic views in extra-wide prints.



[END of Encarta Article]




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February 6, 2000.
UpdatedJuly 24, 2000.
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