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The first cameras appeared in 1839. They consisted of a lens attached to a wooden body into which was inserted a photographic plate. The simple design meant the early cameras could be made by carpenters, opticians and amateur photographers but taking a clear sharp picture with them was no easy task. The lenses were often hand ground and they lacked automatic shutters making focussing and timing the exposure difficult.
Over the next 160 years the inside of the camera developed into a complex mechanical device whose design and production was taken over by specialist camera companies. Companies also began to provide the glass plates, and later the film, required for cameras removing the need for the photographer to prepare the film. In the 1890s Kodak introduced the concept of developing the film for the photographer. These Kodak's became hugely popular as they removed the complicated photographic processes leaving people free to simply point the camera and press a button. In fact the Kodak dominated the amateur market during the first half of the twentieth century as it produced camera's and film in a variety of sizes and formats.
By the middle of the twentieth century camera design centred on the single lens reflex action and 35mm film. This became the standard for most non-commercial photography and effectively broke the monopoly of Kodak. As a result millions of new photographers began to experiment with single lens reflex and instamatic cameras, many of which were produced by Japanese companies. The Powerhouse Museum camera collection contains handmade cameras from the 1860s through to the mass-produced Japanese cameras of the 1960s.
Geoff Barker, Assistant Curator, December 2007
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