Meet the 10 vintage cameras that made your camera phone possible

Photography has come a long way to get to the point where we can take crystal clear photos with our mobile phones. But without these 10 cameras, we never would have made it to this point. Join the O2 Gurus as we take a look at the vintage cameras that led the way.

1. The first photographic image: Camera obscura

The story begins in Ancient Greece, with the principle of the camera obscura. It wasn’t until the 1500s that an actual device was developed, though – and it was more of a projector that was most often used by artists to paint and draw extremely accurate pictures. But in 1827, Joseph Nicephore Niepce used a camera obscura’s pinhole and aperture to create the first photographic image using a metal plate coated in bitumen. But it was hardly an efficient process – it required eight hours of exposure and the image disappeared quickly after it was formed. 

2. The first ‘camera’: Daguerreotype

The first true camera was the Daguerreotype, invented in 1839. It was quickly followed by the Calotype, which allowed negatives to be used to create multiple positive prints. The invention of emulsion plates in the 1850s reduced exposure times from fifteen minutes to just two or three seconds, but images had to be made instantly so photographers had to transport portable darkrooms.

3. The first affordable cameras: The Kodak and the Kodak Brownie


1888 saw the release of the Kodak, the first camera to employ a fixed focus lens and single shutter speed. It was reasonably well priced compared to what had gone before, but had to be returned to the factory to be reloaded once the roll had ended. The Kodak Brownie, introduced in 1900 priced at just $1, was an important step in making photography accessible for a mass audience.

4. The first camera to use 35mm film: Leica 35mm

The invention of flexible roll films made portable cameras possible. The Leica, released in 1925, was the first compact camera to use 35mm film. It spawned several competitor models, including the Contax in 1932 and the Kodak Retina I in 1934. The burgeoning industry was on a roll: flashbulbs first became available to commercial audiences in 1930 and colour film was developed during the early 1940s. 

5. The first SLRs: Duflex

Single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras were the next major innovation. SLRs use a roof pentaprism to allow for upright and accurate viewing through the viewfinder – in short, they show you the exact shot that you’re capturing. The Duflex, unveiled in 1947, was the first SLR to use an instant-return mirror, which meant the camera didn’t need to be manually reset after each shot.

6. The first major medium format SLR: Hasselblad 1600F

The Hasselblad 1600F set the standard for medium format SLRs from the 1950s. Medium format cameras can shoot larger photos than 35mm film allows, making them popular with photojournalists, and a variation of the Hasselblad 1600F model was used to document the first moon landing. Its trademark design and specification – including boxy body, slide-in viewfinders, and interchangeable lens and film magazines – remain industry favourites. Light meters and automatic exposure systems were also developed around this time. 

7. The first mass-produced digital camera: Konia C35AF

The 1970s witnessed the start of the next photographic revolution: the digital camera. Now, photos could be stored on electronic storage devices rather than on film. By 1978, Konia had introduced their C35 AF, the first mass-produced point-and-shoot autofocus digital camera.

8. The first to store digital images: The Kodak Digital Camera

The Konia release was followed by Kodak’s creation of the world’s first megapixel sensor in 1986. The subsequent invention of the JPEG and MPEG formats in 1988 meant images and videos could be compressed for storage. The Kodak Digital Camera, unofficially named the DCS 100, stored images on cassette tape – although they were only black and white and boasted a resolution of just 0.01 megapixels.

9. The first digital SLR created by major developer: Nikon D1

Nikon D1_final

Image source 

The Nikon D1 became the first digital SLR to be developed from scratch by a major developer in 1991. Priced at just under $6,000, it was affordable for professional photographers who were able to use their existing Nikon F-mount lenses, originally created for the world of 35mm film. It also featured a 2.7 megapixel sensor and 4.5 frames per second continuous shooting. Canon quickly followed with its own version, the EOS D30.

10. The first camera phone: Sharp J-SHO4

While compact digital cameras all but replaced 35mm snappers in homes around the world, something was coming for them. Mobile phone makers were exploring the possibility of putting a camera into their phones and the evolution of CMOS technology (basically complicated circuitry) soon made sensors cheap enough to do so. The first camera phone was the Sharp J-SHO4,released in 2000. It had a pretty pathetic 0.11MP sensor and was only available in Japan. The first major camera phone to make it to the UK was the Nokia 7650, which took mobile photography mainstream by launching alongside futuristic Tom Cruise thriller Minority Report.

Once it became apparent that people rather liked having a camera in their pocket that could also make calls, things escalated quickly. Megapixel counts shot up from 1.3MP on the Audivox PM8920 in 2004 to 5MP on the Nokia N95 and 8MP on the Samsung i8510.

Now we’re spoiled by even greater camera quality in smartphoes – the Nokia Lumia 1020 (below), for example, comes with a camera that boasts a staggering 41 megapixel sensor. But it’s no longer just about megapixels, with phone manufacturers cramming dual-lenses and clever software into smartphone cameras. The Lumia 1020 also makes use of Nokia’s PureView technology, which lets the camera take such massive pictures that you can zoom in on a shot after you’ve taken it without losing any quality.


What’s next for the camera phone?

Cameras on our phones are here to stay. The so called ‘megapixel war’ has begun to slow down, with a focus on processing speed and editing options coming to the fore in its place. The demand for camera phones with greater sharing capabilities will continue, though, as will a desire for phones with more advanced video recording options.

Do you still use a digital camera or is your mobile phone do a good enough job on its own? Let us know in the comments below or on our Twitter @O2.

For more on how technology is changing the world of photography, tune in to LBC Radio this Saturday at 8.30pm when the O2 Gurus will be talking about the latest in camera tech. Find out more here.

You can also find us on O2 Guru TV or visit an O2 Guru in store.