The History of Photography and One of Its Most Heartwarming Stories

We all love photography, but how much do you really know about its history? Join us as we explore some of the more notable developments.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs,” said Ansel Adams in a very famous quote. “When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” Ansel surely left his mark on photography as did many others. To do that they used a few very iconic cameras and methods. Photography has been around in some way or another since ancient times starting with the camera obscura. But, when we think of photography in the more modernized way, it has a long, celebrated history. And we’re exploring that in today’s Photography Cheat Sheet.

Editor’s Note: If you want this on a t-shirt, please be sure to check out our collaboration with Tog Tees.

1893: The Instantograph Large Format Camera

The Instantograph was a beautiful piece of machinery. Instantograph is a blanket term for the types of cameras during that time. It used bellows, a dark slide, and required you to have a cover over the back to see the image. Of course, that image rendered was upside down and reversed. If you happen to find one or pick one up, be sure to check out the bellows very carefully. Ideally, you’d replace them with more modern, rubber bellows.

1929: The First Rolleiflex TLR

The Rolleiflex TLR (Twin-Lens Reflex) Camera was first introduced in 1929 by Germany camera manufacturer Rollei-Werke (originally Werkstatt für Feinmechanik und Optik, Franke & Heidecke). It featured two lenses of identical focal length: one used for taking pictures while the other serves as the viewfinder. Although the Rolleiflex wasn’t the first TLR in existence, it was the first to gain mass-market adoption. The Rolleiflex TLR’s design would go on to become imitated and copied the world over.

1948: The First Polaroid Land Camera

The Polaroid Land Camera 185: One of the most advanced

The Polaroid Land Camera is one that unfortunately doesn’t have very much use today. Film is still available for it in small amounts, but these cameras mostly find their way in a home as decoration or something. Polaroid was founded when Edward Land wanted to create a camera and process for his daughter–who was impatient and didn’t want to sit around waiting for the images to be developed. And so it was born out of an affinity to fulfill his daughter’s wish. This, personally, is one of the most heartwarming stories in the history of photography.

1954: Leica M3

A cutaway at the Leica M3

Introduced in 1954, the Leica M3 was a revolutionary 35mm rangefinder camera from the now-famous Germany camera manufacturer. According to Wikipedia, a number of innovations were introduced along with the M3: a bayonet lens mount, the combination of viewfinder and rangefinder in one window, and the rapid film advance lever. With over 220,000 units sold by the time its production ended in 1966, the Leica M3 was the most successful camera model in the M series. Fun Fact: the M in Leica’s M series stands for Milestone.

1978: The Canon A-1

To this day, the Canon A-1 is still in demand by a lot of photographers who shoot film. It’s built very solid and uses the old Canon FD mount. While it’s not as popular as the Canon AE-1, it’s the camera that was meant for a professional photographer first and foremost. And as a result, it’s built like a tank. If you happen to find one, consider looking for the Canon A-1 New. That one may suit your needs a bit better.

2003: Canon EOS 300D

The first Canon Digital Rebel camera was a huge hit and success when it came out. I’ve spoken a lot with photographers and journalists who’ve been in the industry far longer, and they tell me about how awesome the press trip was for this. But their escapades aside, this is an incredibly important camera. The Canon Rebel series dominated sales for many years. It’s affordable, simple to use, and has great quality. They’ve always been good sellers for Canon. With everything going the way it is this year though, I’d be amazed if we see another one until they make it Mirrorless.

2007: Apple iPhone

Regardless if you’re a fan of Apple or not, there’s no denying that the introduction of the original iPhone back in 2007 had a profound impact on the photography industry. Although it wasn’t the first smartphone to feature a capacitive touchscreen and a camera (that honor belongs to the LG Prada), Apple’s original iPhone was the first to gain mass-market appeal. Laughable by modern standards, the original iPhone featured a 2.0 Megapixel camera. The rest, as they say, is history.

Editor in Chief Chris Gampat provided heavily for this article. Our Photography Cheat Sheets are powered by VisMe.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.