There is much debate over the inventor of the first motion picture camera, but Thomas Edison usually receives credit. There were many inventors working on the concept around the same time, each coming up with a new way to record images in a continuous motion, among them English photographer, Eadweard Muybridge and French scientist and chronophotographer, Etienne Jules Marey. But, in actuality, it was Edison’s assistant, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson who, in 1889, invented the Kinetograph, the first motor-powered camera that could photograph motion pictures.
True, in 1879 Muybridge introduced the Zoopraxiscope, which projected a series of images in motion. The pictures were taken by multiple still cameras, however, and recorded on glass discs, so the device was really the first projector, but Muybridge was on the right path.
Early moving image pioneers like Muybridge and Marey recorded images on paper strips and glass. In order to record successive images on a single camera, film stock first needed to be invented. The Eastman Kodak Company made motion-picture film available when they released celluloid film in 1889.
It was in 1888, that Eadweard Muybridge visited Thomas Edison’s laboratory, in hopes of collaborating on a project that would combine the Zoopraxiscope with Edison’s phonograph. Instead of partnering up with the photographer, Edison got the idea for a motion-recording camera and filed for a patent. He gave his assistant the task of inventing the device. William Kennedy Laurie Dickson experimented with the Kinetograph using emulsion-coated celluloid film sheets and eventually manufactured a motorized machine that moved film through the camera. The Kinetograph captured movement on 35mm film using a shutter system. The movies could be watched on the Kinetoscope, the Dickson-invented viewing device.
While the Kinetograph set the standard for theatrical motion picture cameras, it was heavy and bulky and future models worked to slim down the load. After more than a century, the motion picture camera has come a long way.
Important Dates in Movie Camera Development
1889 - The first working motion picture camera was created by William Dickson, commissioned by Thomas Edison. The Kinetograph took a series of photographs on 35mm film stock.
1895 – Louis and Auguste Lumiere invented the Cinematographe, a device that took, printed, and projected film. The 16-frames-per-second projection speed of the Lumière Cinématographe became standard.
1934– Bell & Howell invented the first light weight 8mm movie camera. The film came in a plastic cassette, making it possible to load the camera in daylight.
1965 – Kodak releases the first Super 8 camera. Intended for amateur filmmakers, Super 8 becomes popular as a hand-held camera perfect for recording home movies.
1983 – Sony released the first camcorder available to the public. The Betamax system used a magnetic tape cassette, eliminating the camera-recorder cable. The camera could be held with one hand and was shoulder-mounted. That same year, JVC released a VHS format camera.
In the mid-eighties, Sony, Panasonic, RCA, JVC and a number of other companies began producing a variety of compact video cameras. Formats like VHS and Video8 emerged, catering to amateur filmmakers and professional videographers alike.
By the mid-nineties, these same companies were continuing their technology war and releasing digital motion-picture cameras at incredible rates. These cameras have evolved into the high-quality digital recording devices we rely on today.
More on the recent technological advances soon!