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The motion picture camera is the basic tool of the filmmaker, used to capture images on film. The word "camera" comes from camera obscura, a device developed during the Renaissance that was a precursor to modern-day photographic cameras. The camera obscura (which literally means "dark room") consisted of a darkened chamber or box with a small hole in one wall. Images from outside the camera passed through this hole, which acted as a lens, and appeared, inverted, on the opposite wall. Reduced in size, the camera obscura became the pinhole camera; lenses and photographic plates were added in the nineteenth century to create the photographic camera.

Several technological advances were necessary before it was possible for cameras to record moving images. The glass plates used in early photography needed to be replaced by flexible film stock, and a mechanism was required to pull the film through the camera. An intermittent device was needed to stop each frame briefly in front of the lens, and a shutter was added to block light between frames. Finally, the lengthy exposure times necessary for early photography—from several minutes to more than an hour—needed to be reduced significantly for moving pictures, which require a minimum rate of twelve frames exposed per second to successfully create the illusion of motion. Developments made throughout the nineteenth century by countless inventors around the world culminated in the introduction of the movie camera in the 1890s, and with it the birth of motion pictures.


The motion in motion pictures is created by an optical illusion. What is recorded by the camera and subsequently projected on the screen is actually a series of still images that the human brain interprets as continuous movement due to the perceptual features known as persistence of vision and the phi phenomenon. With persistence of vision, images are retained by the brain for a fraction of a second longer than they remain in the field of vision. In a projected film, still images alternate with dark spaces, but persistence of vision allows viewers to perceive motion rather than flickering images. Similarly, the phi phenomenon, or stroboscopic effect, creates an appearance of motion when like stimuli are shown close to each other and in quick succession (it is the phi phenomenon that makes individual spokes on a spinning bicycle wheel look like a solid form). These characteristics of perception are essential to viewing motion pictures.

Numerous optical devices and toys developed in the nineteenth century took advantage of these perceptual phenomena to create the illusion of motion. The Thaumatrope, developed in 1825 by Dr. John Ayrton Paris (1785–1856), was a small disk with images printed on either side. When the disk was spun the images appeared to blend together into one. Other devices, such as the Phenakistiscope (1832) and the Zoetrope (1834), used a series of drawings that appeared to be in motion when spun quickly and viewed through small slits in the apparatus. By mid-century photographs were used in these toys, but because of the lengthy exposure times required, the actions had to be staged and each movement photographed individually. With the development of series photography by Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) in 1877, events could, for the first time, be captured on film spontaneously as they happened.

Eadweard Muybridge's work on series photography grew out of a $25,000 bet. In 1872 a businessman and former governor of California, Leland Stanford, hired Muybridge, an English photographer and inventor, to show that at some point galloping horses lifted all four hooves off the ground. Muybridge proved this in 1877 when he set up a series of cameras along a Sacramento racetrack and attached the cameras' shutters to wires that were tripped by the horse as it passed by. The result of this experiment was a series of images of continuous motion broken down into individual photographic units. However, before this process could be applied toward motion picture photography, Muybridge's multiple cameras needed to be condensed into a single camera. This was accomplished by French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904), whose 1882 invention, the chronophotographic gun, could shoot pictures at a rate of twelve images per second. The chronophotographic gun originally used a circular, rotating glass plate on which the images were imprinted, but Marey soon began using paper roll film, which allowed for more exposures at a faster rate. Like Muybridge, Marey was primarily interested in series photography for the purpose of studying motion, and not in the tremendous entertainment potential of motion pictures.

By the late 1880s numerous scientists and inventors from around the world were working to develop a camera that could record motion. In 1891 American inventor Thomas A. Edison (1847–1931) applied for a patent for a motion picture system developed primarily by his laboratory assistant, William Kennedy Laurie (W. K. L.) Dickson (1860–1935). The system featured a camera called the Kinetograph (from the Greek for "motion recorder") and a viewer called the Kinetoscope (from the Greek for "motion viewer"). The Kinetograph used flexible celluloid film that had been introduced to the market in 1889 by American businessman and entrepreneur George Eastman (1854–1932). Dickson and Edison included an intermittent mechanism in the camera so that each frame would stop before the lens long enough for the shutter to open and expose the film, and perforations were added to the filmstrip to ensure that the film would be advanced by regular intervals. The intermittent, or stop-motion, device and the perforations in the filmstrip were essential components of the motion picture camera, because without the ability to stop the film the images would be blurred. An intermittent device was first used by Marey in 1888, and stop-motion mechanisms ultimately became a standard element in both cameras and projectors. The perforations in the film made it possible for a clawed gear to hook on to the film and pull it in front of the lens, one frame at a time, ensuring synchronization of the filmstrip and shutter. This technology is still used in modern motion picture cameras.

At first, Edison was not interested in moving pictures as an entertainment form in their own right. Instead, his intention was to use the Kinetograph to provide images to accompany his popular phonograph, although his efforts to synchronize sound and image on the two machines were ultimately unsuccessful. Edison felt that it would be more profitable to show his movies on individual viewing machines rather than projecting them before an audience, and with this in mind, he introduced the Kinetoscope, a machine that allowed individuals to watch short films of about fifty feet (approximately thirty seconds). Kinetoscope parlors, where people could pay around twenty-five cents to view these short films or listen to recorded sound on individual phonographs, began appearing around the country in 1894.

While Edison's laboratories were perfecting the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope, a pair of French brothers, Auguste Lumière (1862–1954) and Louis Lumière (1864–1948), were developing an apparatus that could be used as a camera, printer, and projector. This machine, called the Cinématographe, was completed in 1895. The Lumières' machine was technologically similar to Edison's Kinetograph in its use of intermittent motion and perforated film. The primary difference between the two machines was that along with the ability to record images, the Cinématographe could also print and project the film. Also, the Cinématographe was hand-cranked and lightweight, making it possible for the Lumières to take their camera on location and film short documentaries, or actualités, involving scenes from everyday life. Some of the popular actualités from 1895 include La Sortie des ouvriers de l'usine Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory), L'Arrivée d'un train à la Ciotat (Arrival of a Train), Le Déjeuner de bébé (Feeding the Baby), and L'Arroseur arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled). By contrast, the Kinetograph weighed several hundred pounds due to Edison's insistence that it run on electricity, necessitating a heavy battery. Because of this, Edison's early films were shot entirely in his studio, and generally consisted of staged scenes involving dancers, acrobats, strongmen, and popular actors and vaudevillians of the day. Also unlike Edison's films, which were meant to be viewed individually on Kinetoscopes, the films created on the Cinématographe were projected on a screen in front of an audience. On 28 December 1895 the Lumière brothers gave an exhibition of their actualités at the Grand Café on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris, charging one franc admission; this was the first commercial exhibition of films projected for an audience. Edison responded to the success of the Cinématographe and other portable cameras in 1896, when he developed a

b. Milan, Ohio, 11 February 1847, d. 18 October 1931

In his early years Thomas Edison worked as a telegraph operator, and his first inventions were related to electrical telegraphy. By the time he introduced his motion picture camera, the Kinetograph, and viewer, the Kinetoscope, to the public in 1894, he had already achieved nearly mythic status. Several of his inventions, including the lightbulb (1879) and the phonograph (1877), were immensely successful and had firmly established him as the foremost American inventor of his time. The public, therefore, was more than willing to accept that Edison was the sole inventor of the new medium of motion pictures, and Edison himself gladly accepted the credit. Today there exists a great deal of debate over Edison's role in the invention of motion pictures, with some arguing that he was the primary creative force and others claiming that his assistants, particularly W. K. L. Dickson, did most of the work, and that Edison borrowed or even stole their ideas and efforts. The truth most likely lies somewhere in between.

Edison was initially interested in motion pictures as a complement to his phonograph. His efforts to combine moving images with synchronous sound were soon abandoned as impractical, but in the meantime Kinetoscope parlors began springing up around the country, featuring short films made in Edison's "Black Maria" studio. Films made at the Black Maria showcased performances by vaudevillians, dancers, acrobats and strongmen, as well as boxing matches and cockfights. Annie Oakley performed at the Black Maria with members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and one of the most popular films of the day, The Kiss (1896), was made at the studio.

Because Edison's profits were primarily derived from the sale of the Kinetoscope machines, he was not interested in projecting films; however, the success of projected film exhibitions in Europe drove him to reconsider his stance, and in April 1896 Edison presented his first commercial exhibition of projected motion pictures using a projector called the Vitascope. After its introduction films, and not the machines, became his company's primary source of profit. Despite increasing concentration on filmmaking, however, Edison continued to develop new technologies. In the early 1910s, he subsidized the work of a number of inventors who were attempting to create color film, a venture that ultimately failed, as did several others. Although Edison's motion picture camera and projector were developed at the same time and used similar technology as numerous other cameras and projectors, Edison aggressively protected his patents on these devices. His Motion Picture Patents Company, founded in 1908, effectively suppressed competition until 1915, when it was found guilty of violating anti-trust laws. In 1918 Edison retired from the motion picture industry that he had helped to create.


Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze, January 7, 1894 (Fred Ott's Sneeze) (1894), Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895), The Kiss (1896), Mr. Edison at Work in His Chemical Laboratory (1897), Execution of Czolgosz, with Panorama of Auburn Prison (1901), Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902), Life of an American Fireman (1903), The Great Train Robbery (1903), Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906), What Happened to Jane? (1912)


Dickson, W. K. L, and Antonia Dickson. History of the Kinetograph, Kinetoscope and Kinetophonograph. New York: Arno Press, 1970. Originally published in 1895.

Hendricks, Gordon. The Edison Motion Picture Myth. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961.

Israel, Paul. Edison: A Life of Invention. New York: Wiley, 1998.

Musser, Charles. Thomas A. Edison and His Kinetographic Motion Pictures. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995.

Spehr, Paul C. "Some Still Fragments of a Moving Past: Edison Films in the Library of Congress." The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 32, no. 1 (January 1975): 33–50.

Kristen Anderson Wagner

lightweight camera to film documentaries in New York City. That same year, he created a projecting version of his Kinetoscope, called the Vitascope.

Many features of modern motion picture cameras were present in the Kinetograph, the Cinématographe, and other early cameras. Both the Edison and Lumière cameras used 35mm film, which remains the industry standard. The Cinématographe, and eventually the Kinetograph as well, ran at a rate of sixteen frames per second, a rate that was used throughout the silent era. Other elements of the camera, such as the use of a flexible and transparent film base, an intermittent claw mechanism to move the film forward and stop on each frame, perforated film, and a shutter to block light in between frames were all developed by early motion picture camera pioneers.


There are many different types of motion picture cameras of varying sizes that serve a variety of purposes, but all cameras have the same basic structure. The basic components of a camera are photosensitive film, a light-proof body, a mechanism to move the film, a lens, and a shutter. Most cameras have a number of other features, ranging from viewfinders to detachable magazines to video assists, but the basic elements are the same in all cameras (save for those of the digital variety).

The film used in modern motion picture cameras is very much the same as the film that was developed in the 1880s and 1890s. It consists of an emulsion bound to a flexible, transparent base. Until 1951, the base was made of cellulose nitrate, a highly unstable substance that was prone to fire and decay. Since the 1950s, films have used a nonflammable safety base, usually of cellulose triacetate (acetate) or a thinner and more durable synthetic polyester base. Along with the emulsion, the filmstrip contains perforations on one or both sides, used to pull the film into place in front of the lens, and sound film has a strip along the edge containing the soundtrack.

The film is housed in the magazine (A), a detachable, light-tight unit that attaches to the camera. Unexposed film starts out on the supply reel (B), and after winding through the camera the now-exposed film ends up on the take-up reel (C) in a separate compartment of the magazine. There are different types of magazines for motion picture cameras. In the most common type, the displacement magazine, the supply reel sits directly in front of the take-up reel in an oval-shaped compartment on top of the camera. Coaxial magazines mount on the back of the camera and situate the two reels parallel to one another. Coaxial magazines are less widely used than the displacement type, but can be useful because their lower profile makes it possible to shoot in smaller spaces. Quick-change magazines contain parts of the camera mechanism in the magazine itself, making the magazine heavier and more expensive, but allowing for faster film changes. These magazines are generally the rear-mounted coaxial design. Magazines hold different amounts of film, depending on their size. Magazines for 35mm cameras most often hold 400-foot reels (four minutes at twenty-four frames per second [fps]), 1,000-foot reels (ten minutes) or 2,000-foot reels (twenty minutes). The standard reel size for 16mm cameras is 400 feet (eleven minutes at twenty-four fps), but other sizes are available.

A drive mechanism, or motor, pulls the film from the supply reel in the magazine and feeds it past the lens and aperture. With the exception of Edison's Kinetograph, which used a battery-operated motor, early cameras were cranked by hand. This practice resulted in irregular film speeds and potentially inconsistent exposure times, as frames were stopped in front of the lens for varying amounts of time. The introduction of electric motor drives meant that film could run through the camera at a consistent pace of twenty-four frames per second. Motor drives on modern cameras can also provide variations in speed, useful for producing the effects of fast motion (by reducing the film speed) or slow motion (by speeding up the film).

Just before the film reaches the area in front of the lens it makes a small loop, known as a Latham loop (D). The Latham loop was developed by the Latham family (Woodville Latham [1837–1911] and his sons Gray and Otway) around 1895 as a way to prevent film from breaking as it worked its way through the camera. By placing a loop above and below the lens, stress on the film is redistributed, allowing for longer films with less breakage. Once the film passes the Latham loop, it is pulled into place in the film gate by the claw. The claw advances the film using intermittent motion, and holds it in the film gate while the frame is exposed to light. The film gate (E) consists of two plates that help hold the film during exposure. The front plate, which has a rectangle cut into it to allow light onto the film, is called the aperture plate. The edges of the rectangle, called the aperture (F), form the border of the film. The rear plate, which holds the film flat, is called the pressure plate.

For the fraction of a second that the film is stopped in the film gate, the shutter opens to allow light to pass through the lens (G) and aperture and onto the film. The purpose of the lens is to focus the light rays from the scene in front of the camera onto the film. There are two basic kinds of lenses: prime lenses, which have a fixed focal length, and zoom lenses, which can change focal lengths. The focal length refers to the size of the lens, and affects how the image will appear on film. Lenses with focal lengths of less than 25mm, called wide-angle lenses, take in a wider area than telephoto lenses (lenses longer than 50mm), which can shoot objects at greater distances but provide a narrower shot. Camera lenses are also classified according to how much light they let in, also known as the lens speed. Lens speed is described in terms of f-stop or t-stop ("t" for "true" or "transmission"), with the smaller number f-stop or t-stop letting in the greatest amount of light, and therefore signifying faster lenses. The lens is attached to the camera on the lens mount; some older cameras use turret mounts, which feature three or four prime lenses of varying focal lengths that can be rotated into place.

While the film is stopped in front of the lens, the shutter (H) opens to allow light to enter through the aperture. After the film has been exposed to light, the shutter closes and the film advances to the next frame. If the shutter is not completely closed before the film starts moving, the image will be blurred. The most basic shutter is in the form of a rotating disc, and the standard shutter speed, or exposure time, when shooting at 24 fps is 1/50 second. Some shutters are variable, and can be adjusted to allow longer or shorter exposure times. Once the shutter closes, the exposed film advances, continuing past another loop beneath the film gate, and finally ending up on the take-up reel in the magazine.

The camera operator is able to see what is being recorded by looking through the camera's viewfinder. Most cameras today use a reflex viewfinder, which allows the operator to see through the camera's lens, also known as the taking lens. Older cameras employed a nonreflex viewfinder, which used a separate lens and was therefore less accurate. Viewfinders work by using a series of mirrors to divert light from the lens to a viewing screen, which displays information crucial to the camera operator, such as the outline of the frame. An alternative to the viewfinder is the video assist, or video tap, a device that allows more than one person to view the image from the camera. The video assist is similar to the viewfinder in that it diverts light from the taking lens and sends the picture to a screen, in this case a video monitor that can be set up near the camera. The quality of the images and color on the video assist monitor are inferior to what is actually being recorded by the camera, and therefore the video assist is not used to gauge what the final product will look like. Because it is not attached to the camera, an important use of the video assist is for crane or Steadicam shots, or any other shots for which the camera operator is unable to look through the viewfinder.

While all cameras operate in essentially the same way, the size of the filmstrip varies depending on the camera type, which affects the size and shape of the projected image. There are four film gauges, or widths, that are standard worldwide: 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, and 70mm (the numbers refer to the actual width of the filmstrip, in millimeters). These gauges are used for different purposes and yield different image types and quality. The larger film widths provide better quality images because they offer larger frame sizes that afford more room for detail. However, as film formats increase in size, they become progressively more expensive to use, and the equipment becomes heavier and more cumbersome. The standard professional film gauge, used in most feature films, commercials, and television movies, is 35mm. This is approximately the size that was used in Edison's Kinetograph and the Lumière brothers' Cinématographe, and it has been the most commonly used size throughout cinema's history. In most movie theaters projectors require 35mm film.

In the 1920s 16mm film was introduced, with the goal of providing a less expensive alternative to 35mm film. Because the size of the frame of 16mm film is about a quarter the size of 35mm film, the image is not as sharp. However, 16mm cameras are significantly smaller and lighter than 35mm cameras, and their portability makes them ideal for documentary filmmakers, news reporting, and amateur filmmaking. The 16mm camera is also frequently used by avant-garde and experimental filmmakers, who appreciate the format's portability, low cost, and overall flexibility. The size and weight of 16mm and 8mm cameras allow freedom of camera movement and eliminate many of the constraints involved with 35mm shooting, and the grainy quality of 16mm and 8mm film stocks can be manipulated by experimental filmmakers to create interesting effects. Because of their versatility and ease of use, then, both the 16mm and 8mm formats have long been favored by filmmakers working outside the mainstream.

Long popular with amateur filmmakers, 8mm film was originally introduced in 1932. Because it was created from 16mm film split down the middle, 8mm film has sprocket holes along only one side of the filmstrip. Super 8 film was created by Kodak in 1965, and, like the Super 16 film developed in the 1970s, is able to record a larger image on each frame. Due to their low cost and easy to operate handheld cameras, 8mm and Super 8 were, for many years, the formats most commonly used in home Cine and amateur movies, although their popularity has since been eclipsed by video and digital video.

The largest gauge in use is 70mm, which offers beautiful details and clarity, but is extremely expensive to shoot. Film that is described as 70mm uses 65mm for the image and perforations and 5mm for the soundtrack. Frequently, films that are projected in 70mm today are shot using anamorphic lenses, which compress the image to fit on 35mm film, and then decompress the image during projection to restore it to its original size. The 70mm format can increasingly be found in amusement parks, as part of 3-D attractions such as Walt Disney World's Honey, I Shrunk the Audience or rides such as Disneyland's Star Tours. IMAX films, the largest format in use today, make use of 65mm film, but position the frames horizontally on the filmstrip, rather than vertically.

A wide variety of cameras are available to filmmakers, depending on their needs. Bolex offers student, independent, and amateur filmmakers low-cost, high-quality 16mm and Super 16 cameras known for their versatility. In 1937, Arri introduced the first 35mm camera with a reflex mirror shutter, which allowed the camera operator to focus and frame a shot using the viewfinder. Arri produced a professional 16mm camera with the same reflex mirror shutter in 1952, and Arri cameras have since become the industry standard for 16mm filmmaking. The French Éclair 16mm camera is quiet enough to allow for synchronous audio recording, and light enough to allow for easy handheld operation; it was used frequently by cinéma vérité and New Wave filmmakers in the 1950s and 1960s. Mitchell cameras, introduced in the 1910s, were known for their steadiness and reliability, as well as their special effects abilities. Mitchell cameras were also used extensively in 65/70mm widescreen production. Panavision provides 16mm, 35mm, 65/70mm and digital cameras and lenses that have been widely used in Hollywood feature filmmaking since the 1950s.


While the basic elements of the camera have remained essentially the same over the years, there have been numerous technological developments that have had a significant impact on motion picture style and aesthetics. The advent of sound in the late 1920s created problems for filmmakers because the cameras used during the silent era were too noisy to be used on sound productions. The sensitive microphones used in early sound films picked up even the slightest noise from the cameras, and so it was necessary to place the camera in a soundproof box. The soundproof camera booths could be moved, but they significantly limited mobility, although filmmakers were often creative in finding ways to move the camera. Some studios used other methods besides camera booths to quiet their cameras, including the use of blimps, or sound-proof casings, and even horse blankets. Another problem of early sound film had to do with the filmstrip itself. Silent films could use the entire width of the film to record the image, but the addition of the soundtrack on the edge of the sound filmstrip meant that the aspect ratio (the proportion of height to width on the film frame) was changed. This problem was solved by reducing the top and bottom of each frame on the filmstrip to achieve a standardized aspect ratio of 1:1.37.

b. London, England, 18 July 1921

Richard Leacock was raised on his father's banana plantation in the Canary Islands. When he started attending boarding school in England, he wanted to find a way to let his schoolmates know what life was like on the plantation, and so at the age of fourteen he made his first film, Canary Island Bananas (1935), to show them what it was like to be there. For the bulk of his professional life, Leacock has been motivated by the desire to let people know what it is like "to be there." He has long felt that the purpose of the documentary filmmaker is to observe, rather than direct, the action, and has worked to develop portable cameras with synchronous sound systems to serve this purpose, allowing maximum flexibility in filmmaking with minimum intrusion.

Leacock served in the US Army as a combat camera operator during World War II, and later did freelance camera work for various government agencies and for a number of directors, including the pioneer documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty on Louisiana Story (1948). He was continually frustrated by the way the cumbersome cameras and sound equipment made it nearly impossible to capture events spontaneously. Although he found some creative ways around this problem, such as shooting with a handheld camera and later adding non-synchronized sound over the image, he found these solutions to be ultimately unsatisfactory.

In the 1950s Leacock began a collaboration with photojournalist Robert Drew, and by 1960 they had developed a portable 16mm sync-sound camera and recording equipment. Synchronizing sound to image involves linking the camera and audio recorder together, enabling the two devices to run at exactly the same speed. Leacock and Drew felt that the documentary filmmaker should be a neutral observer, getting close to the action but not becoming involved—a style their new equipment allowed and which later became known as direct cinema. The first film made with this equipment was Primary (1960), which followed John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey during the 1960 Wisconsin presidential primary. Leacock formed his own production company in the mid-1960s, and continued to make films that enable viewers to see what it is like "to be there." In 1969 Leacock and Edward Pincus joined together to create the Visual Studies department at MIT. There, he worked with a small group of talented students, many of whom have made names for themselves as filmmakers. Leacock remained at MIT as the department chair until 1988. In the late 1980s, he began using digital video, the low cost and flexibility of which are ideally suited to Leacock's style of filmmaking, allowing him the freedom to shoot quickly and easily, as well as to edit his own work at home.


Primary (1960), The Children Were Watching (1960), The Chair (1963), Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963), A Happy Mother's Day (1963), Chiefs (1968), Community of Praise (1982), Lulu in Berlin (1984), Les Oeufs a la Coque (1991), A Musical Adventure in Siberia (2000)


Breitrose, Henry. "Drew Associates, Observational Film, and the Modern Documentary." Stanford Humanities Review 7, no. 2 (Winter 1999): 113–127.

Naficy, Hamid. "Richard Leacock: A Personal Perspective." Literature/Film Quarterly 10 (1982): 234–253.

O'Connell, P. J. Robert Drew and the Development of Cinéma Vérité in America. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Kristen Anderson Wagner

The introduction of portable, lightweight 16mm cameras featuring synchronous sound recording devices

had a tremendous effect on documentary filmmaking, especially in the documentary styles known as cinéma vérité and direct cinema. In the 1940s manufacturers developed portable 16mm systems to meet the demands of two important users: the military, who was using the format for training films, and the burgeoning television industry. Documentary filmmakers in the 1950s and 1960s began to use these cameras to capture events as they happened. The new lightweight, handheld 16mm cameras were essential to this type of filmmaking, as they allowed the director to record activities as they happened without being restricted by cumbersome equipment or large film crews—with synchronized sound recording, the necessary crew was reduced to two people. Examples of films made in this way include Primary (1960), which followed John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey during the 1960 presidential primary in Wisconsin, Dont Look Back (1967), which detailed Bob Dylan's 1965 British concert tour, and High School (1968), which recorded students' daily activities at a high school in Philadelphia.

The biggest change to motion picture cameras is the advent of digital technology. Digital movie cameras were first used by the industry in the 1990s, and since that time have had a major impact on the way that movies are made. Using digital technology can save time and money during a production in a number of ways. With digital video, the director and cinematographer are able to see what they have shot immediately, without waiting for film dailies to be developed. Digital technology also eliminates the cost of processing film and is easier than film to work with when editing or creating special effects. Unlike film, digital media can be duplicated countless times without loss of quality, and the videos do not degrade over time. Because digital cameras are smaller and weigh less than 35mm cameras, they allow the use of cinéma vérité and direct cinema techniques previously reserved for 16mm cameras. More and more movies have been produced on digital video since the turn of the century, including Collateral (2004), Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (2005). Despite its many advantages, however, there are some drawbacks to using digital technology. Because films are still overwhelmingly projected from 35mm, digital videos must be transferred to film for distribution. Furthermore, some filmmakers maintain that the mathematically precise digital image cannot compare with the imperfect, ethereal quality of traditional film.

SEE ALSO Cinematography;Documentary;Film Stock;Technology


Ascher, Steven, and Edward Pincus. The Filmmaker's Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age. New York: Plume, 1999.

Auer, Michel. The Illustrated History of the Camera from 1839 to the Present. Translated by D. B. Tubbs. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1975.

Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Campbell, Drew. Technical Film and TV for Nontechnical People. New York: Allworth Press, 2002.

Christie, Ian. The Last Machine: Early Cinema and the Birth of the Modern World. London: BBC Educational Developments, 1994.

Coe, Brian. The History of Movie Photography. London: Ash and Grant, 1981.

Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 2004.

Happé, L. Bernard. Basic Motion Picture Technology. London and New York: Focal Press, 1971.

Malkiewicz, J. Kris. Cinematography: A Guide for Film Makers and Film Teachers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1973.

Mamber, Stephen. Cinema Verite in America: Studies in Uncontrolled Documentary. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1974.

Musser, Charles. The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907. New York: Scribners, 1990.

Taylor, Thom, and Melinda Hsu. Digital Cinema: The Hollywood Insider's Guide to the Evolution of Storytelling. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 2003.

Kristen Anderson Wagner

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Photography has staked its claim as America's favorite hobby, and today, cameras are available in sizes and shapes to suit the needs of every kind of photographer and budget. Much like Henry Ford wanted a Model T in every driveway, George Eastman thought every consumer should be able to afford a camera. His developments in photographic film and portable, affordable cameras led to photo negatives from which prints can be made, color film, color positives or slides, pocket-sized cameras, and point-and-shoot cameras (including single-use or disposable cameras) known for their ease of operation. Photography has also branched into more complex directions with developments in the camera lens, the single-lens reflex (SLR) camera that allows the photographer to see through the viewfinder what the camera sees, state-of-the-art electronics, and an assortment of mechanical controls.

From the simplest amateur camera to the most complex, professional piece of equipment, all cameras have five common parts. The lens is made of glass or plastic (or groups of glass elements) and focuses light passing through it on the film to reproduce an image. The diaphragm is an opening or aperture that controls the amount of light entering the camera from the lens and so limits the film's exposure to light. The diaphragm ranges in complexity from a fixed lens, opening in a simple camera, to apertures that can be adjusted manually or automatically.

The three remaining parts common to all cameras are incorporated in the camera body (also called a chassis or housing). The shutter also limits the film's exposure to light by controlling the length of time the film is exposed. Shutter speed can be adjusted in many cameras to suit light conditions and the photographic subject matter; moving objects can be frozen on film with fast shutter speeds. The camera body encloses and protects the operating parts of the camera, including a light meter, the film transport system, built-in flash, the reflex viewing system, and electronic and mechanical components. The body must be lightproof, durable, and resistant to environmental changes. The viewfinder is a specialized lens the photographer uses to preview the photograph either through the lens, if the camera is a reflex-type, or in a separate view for simpler cameras.


The story of the camera may have begun thousands of years ago when people first noticed that a chink in a wall or hole in a tent let light into the room and made a colored, upside-down reflection. The word camera means room, and the first camera was a room (or tent, actually) called a camera obscura with an eye at the top of the tent much like a periscope that could be rotated. Artists used it by training the eye on an image, which was reflected down onto the artist's work table where it could be drawn. Euclid and Aristotle studied the principles of light, and Leonardo da Vinci described and diagrammed the camera obscura, although it was not his discovery.

The first portable cameras were boxes with lenses on the front over apertures and plates at the back. The plates were flat and covered with light-sensitive materials. By removing the cover over the lens, light entered the box and was focused by the lens on the rear plate. Early exposures took from several seconds to a number of minutes because the sensitivity of the plates was so poor. Also, the only image was the one on the plate; photos, like those produced by Louis Daguerre and Joseph Niepce in France during the 1820s and 1830s, were unique artworks that were not reproducible. Plate-type photography continued to be refined, and, as plates were made more sensitive to light, the lens was improved to provide a variable aperture to control light exposure. The camera was also modified by adding a shutter, so exposure time could be limited to seconds or less. The shutter was made of several metal leaves that opened or closed completely. A rubber bulb was used to provide air pressure to operate the shutter.

The invention of roll film in 1889 by George Eastman made photography more portable because cameras (and their operators) did not need to carry cumbersome plates and chemicals. Eastman's invention and the cameras he also manufactured made photography a popular hobby. By 1896, the Eastman Kodak Company had sold 100,000 cameras. The camera was modified to include a film transport system with take-up spools, a winder, a lever for cocking the shutter, and shutter blinds. By the turn of the century, the major obstacles to taking photographs had been eliminated and, in the twentieth century, photographic history has branched from the basic concept and perfected each development. These developments are numerous, but include design and perfection of flash units including synchronized and high-speed flash; continued miniaturization of cameras; the Polaroid system of producing a finished print in the camera and without a negative; design of high quality equipment like Leica, Zeiss, and Hasselblad cameras and lenses; and advocacy of photography as an art form by photographers such as Matthew B. Brady, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward J. Steichen, and Ansel Adams.

George Eastman introduced his Kodak™ camera in 1888 and revolutionized popular photography. The Kodak camera was small, handheld, inexpensive, and, for the first time, made especially to hold a roll of flexible film. Prior to this, light sensitive chemicals captured the black-andwhite negative images on pieces of glass. Large cameras were used to hold the photographic plates and a tripod was needed for support. For ordinary Americans, photography consisted of posed portraits in a professional photographer's studio. The Kodak camera allowed the average person to take photographs of their families, their homes, and their surroundings. It inaugurated the snapshot era of do-it-yourself photography. Awarded a medal at the Photographers' Annual Convention as the photographic invention of 1888, thousands of $25.00 Kodak cameras sold during the first year.

By 1889, celluloid, a type of plastic, replaced the paper of the first flexible film base. Another unique feature for the time was that the amateur photographer returned the unopened camera to the Rochester, New York, factory. There the film negatives were processed and the 2.5 in (6.35 cm) circular images were printed on paper and mounted on cardboard. The camera was then re-loaded with an unexposed roll of flexible film and returned to the customer with the processed photographs and negatives. This cost $10.00 and produced 100 snapshots. This activity became so popular that the term kodaking soon meant a fun outing to take snapshots.

Cynthia Read-Miller


Camera design is an intricate and specialized field. All designs begin with conceptualizing a product and evaluating the potential market and the needs of the consumer for the proposed product. Designs begin at computer-aided design (CAD) work stations, where the product's configuration and workings are drawn. The designer selects the materials, mechanics, electronics, and other features of design and construction, including interfaces with lenses, flash units, and other accessories.

The computer design is also tested by computer simulation. Designs that pass the computer program's review are checked against the initial concept and marketing and performance goals. The camera may then be approved for production as a prototype. Manufacture of a prototype is needed to test actual performance and to prepare for mass production. The prototype is tested by a rigorous series of field and laboratory tests. Prototypes selected for manufacture are used by the engineers to prepare design details, specifications, and toolmaking and manufacturing processes. Many of these are adapted directly from the CAD designs by computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems. Additional design is needed for any systems or accessories that interface with the new product. Camera manufacturers can conceive a new product and have it ready for shipment in approximately a year by using CAD/CAM design methods.

The Manufacturing

Camera chassis and cover

  • 1 The camera chassis or body and back cover are made of a polycarbonate compound, containing 10-20% glass fiber. This material is very durable, lightweight, and shock-resistant as well as tolerant to humidity and temperature changes. Its major disadvantage is that it is not resistant to chemicals. The polycarbonate is molded to very specific tolerances because the internal workings of the camera must fit precisely to work well and to use the strength of the chassis for protection against jarring and other shocks, to which mechanical and electronic parts are sensitive. After the chassis is molded and assembled, it becomes the frame to which other parts of the camera, like electrical connections in the battery housing and the auto focus module, are attached.

Shutter and film transport system

  • 2 The shutter assembly and film transport system are manufactured on a separate assembly line. These parts are largely mechanical although the film transport system has electronics to read the speed of the film. DX film coding appears as silver bands on the roll of film, and these are detected by multiple contacts in the film chamber. More advanced cameras have microchips that see the data imprinted in the silver bands and adjust shutter speed, flash, and other camera actions. Again, all parts are precisely made; the film magazine size must be accurate to 60 thousandths of an inch.
  • 3 The shutter functions like a curtain that opens and closes. It must operate exactly to expose the film for the correct length of time and to coordinate with other operations such as the flash. The shutter is made of different materials depending on the type of camera and manufacturer.

Viewfinder lens

  • 4 The viewfinder lens is a specialized lens that is manufactured using the same methods as a camera lens. The viewfinder also is made of optical glass, plastic, or glass/plastic combinations. All but the simplest viewfinders contain reticles that illuminate a frame and other information on the eyelens to help the photographer frame the picture. An in-line mirror has specialized coatings for color splitting; as many as 17 coatings may be added to the mirror to correct and modify its reflective properties.

    Single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras have through-the-lens viewing capabilities and are also called real image viewfinders because they let the photographer see as the lens sees. The SLR viewfinder uses a prism to bend the light from the lens to the photographer's eye, and the prism is made of optical glass to precise requirements to make the correct view possible.

LCD screen and electronics

  • 5 Advanced cameras and most compact models include a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen that provides information to the photographer such as film speed, aperture, photographic mode (including landscape, portrait, close-up, and other modes), count of photos taken, operation of redeye and flash and other accessories, battery condition, and other data regarding the camera's workings. Integrated circuitry is constructed as subassemblies for the electronic brains of the camera and attached flash, if any.

Quality Control

Quality assurance and quality control practices are a matter of course among camera manufacturers. All departments from manufacturing to shipping have their own quality assurance procedures, and companywide quality assurance is also overseen by a separate division or department. The overseeing quality assurance divisions use statistical methods to monitor aspects of product quality such as camera function, performance, consistency, and precision. They also guide the flow of one assembly system into another and provide corrective measures if problems arise.


No byproducts result from camera manufacture, but a number of wastes are produced. The wastes include resins, oils such as cutting oil, solvents used for cleaning parts, and metals including iron, aluminum, and brass. The metals and resins are remainders or cuttings from manufactured parts and powder-fine cuttings and dust. The wastes are sorted by type and recovered; they are recycled or treated as industrial wastes by firms specializing in these activities. Camera manufacturers are well aware of the hazards associated with their processes and are careful to observe environmental regulations and sensitivities both in the country of manufacture and in receiving marketplaces. Japan's camera industry stopped using chlorofluorocarbons and trichloroethanes to clean printed circuit boards and camera lenses in 1993 on instruction of Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), in response to import conditions of other countries, and in acknowledgment of industry-wide respect of the environment.

The Future

For cameras like many other technical products, the future is electronic. The digital still camera introduced in 1995 stores approximately 100 pictures electronically. Instead of a viewfinder or eyepiece, the camera has a color LCD screen similar to the view-type screen on some video cameras, so photos can be viewed instantly. It can be connected by cables to a computer, television, or VCR, so pictures can be transferred to screen, tape, or digitized electronically. The digital camera has another advantage; after taking a photo and reviewing it, the photo can be erased if the photographer does not like the result. There is no wasted film or wasted space in the digital storage process. Also, the photograph can be edited, cropped, or enlarged as it is being taken. After photos have been taken, they remain in the camera as digital files rather than as negatives. To take more photos, these images have to be removed, and they can be stored on a computer disk. All the photos can be moved as a batch, or they can be stored on the computer one-by-one, or deleted from both the camera and computer storage. The transfer process requires software that also allows text to be attached to each picture to date it or write a caption. The camera or computer containing the photos can be hooked up to a video printer to print out copies on paper, or the photos can be transferred to videotape for viewing.

Where to Learn More


Bailey, Adrian, and Adrian Holloway. The Book Of Color Photography. Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.

Collins, Douglas. The Story of Kodak. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990.

Sussman, Aaron. The Amateur Photographer's Handbook. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1973.


Antonoff, Michael. "Digital Snapshots from my Vacation." Popular Science, June 1995, pp. 72-76.

From Glass Plates to Digital Images, Eastman Kodak Company, 1994.


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cam·er·a1 / ˈkam(ə)rə/ • n. a device for recording visual images in the form of photographs, movie film, or video signals. PHRASES: on (or off) camera while being filmed or televised (or not being filmed or televised): on camera, she was error-prone and nervous. cam·er·a2 • n. [in names] a chamber or round building: the Radcliffe Camera. PHRASES: in camera chiefly Law in private, in particular taking place in the private chambers of a judge, with the press and public excluded.

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camera Apparatus for taking photographs, traditionally consisting of a light-proof box containing photographic film. When a shutter is opened, usually briefly, light from the scene is focused by a lens system onto the film. The amount of light falling on the film is controlled by the shutter speed and by the diameter of the lens aperture. Many cameras also have a rangefinder, enabling a focused image to be produced for a given object distance, and a built-in exposure meter to determine the correct combination of shutter speed and aperture for the prevailing light conditions. Both of these functions are automated in a camera with a computerized program and an autofocus lens system. The newer digital cameras have no film but use a built-in computer to record electronic images. An image sensor behind the lens converts the incoming light into electrical charges. The common sensor is a semiconductor, a charge-coupled device (CCD). It can contain millions of photosensitive dots called pixels to record the picture. Most digital cameras also have a monitor at the back of the camera that displays the picture just taken. Since digital images use the same information system (1s and 0s) as computers, it is easier to store digital photographs on computers and e-mail them.

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camera (camara) (adj. cameral or camaral) One of the chambers within a chambered mollusc, e.g. a nautiloid (Nautiloidea) or ammonoid (Ammonoidea). In living cephalopods (Cephalopoda), e.g. Nautilus, the chambers contain gas at pressures ranging from about 0.3 to 1 atm (30–100 kPa). Some of the chambers may contain ‘cameral fluid’ which can be extracted by the siphuncle, allowing the animal to adjust its density according to the depth at which it is living.

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camera (It.). Chamber—as opposed to hall, opera-house, etc. (For cantata da camera, see cantata; for concerto da camera, see concerto; for sonata da camera, see sonata.) musica di camera (It.). Chamber mus.

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cam·er·a-read·y • adj. Printing (of matter to be printed) in the right form and of good enough quality to be reproduced photographically onto a printing plate: camera-ready copy.

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camera CHAMBER, in several spec. uses. XVIII. — L. camera vault, arched chamber — Gr. kamárā object with arched cover. In photography, short for camera obscura, darkened chamber or box, orig. an optical instrument.

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camera, also camara. Curved or vaulted ceiling. A ceiling or roof looking like a vault is camerated, the term implying a false ceiling with the appearance of a vault.

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