In focus: the development of photography, film and television

From the magic lantern to cell-phone photos: a picture-perfect story.

By Deutsches Museum

Deutsches Museum

Leica 1 (1925)Deutsches Museum

On show: photography, film, and television

Cameras have become a daily companion in our lives. Whether it's a selfie, a holiday snap or a wedding video, recording devices for films and photos have become par for the course, and as digital files, the images can be seen immediately. But the question is, how did the story of cameras actually begin? Who were the pioneers who caused such a sensation even during their own lifetimes with their innovations? And how did we get from still photos to moving film? Take a look back at the development of photography, film, and television.

Camera Obscura (1767)Deutsches Museum

The camera obscura
The principle of the camera obscura was known even in ancient times. Aristotle himself described the phenomenon in which light passes through a small hole into a dark room and projects an image of what's happening outside onto the back wall. This image, however, was upside down and reversed left to right.

Astronomers in the 13th century used camera obscuras to observe sunspots. Cameras such as this 17th-century item made by the Augsburg instrument-maker Georg Friedrich Brander had a mirror angled at 45 degrees to project the light onto a horizontal matte screen that could be viewed from above.

Laterna Magica (1914)Deutsches Museum

The lanterna magica
The lanterna magica, or magic lantern, was a projection device that was used from the second half of the 17th century right up into the 20th century. It was first described in detail in "Collegium experimentale sive curiosum" in 1676 by the Altdorf mathematician, Johann Christoph Sturm. With the Industrial Revolution, the lanterna magica became a form of mass media.

How it works: Behind the lens attachment was a 70 x 5 mm slot into which painted glass panes were inserted. Candles or small torches, and later also electric lamps inside the lamp housing served as light sources that projected the image through the lens onto a wall.

Silbernitrat - Der Beginn der Fotografie (1719)Deutsches Museum

The beginning of photography
Although the lanterna magica and the camera obscura were able to project images, they could not save them. Polymath Johann Heinrich Schulze (1687–1744) was one of the major pioneers of photography. In 1719, he discovered that silver nitrate was sensitive to light, and worked out that silver salts changed color in sunlight. This discovery is still considered to be one of the most important principles when saving images on negative film.

Praxinoskop Theater (1879)Deutsches Museum

The praxinoscope
This device, developed by Émile Reynaud around 1877, became a forerunner of cinematography. In the praxinoscope shown here, an interchangeable strip (55 x 660 mm) can be seen, and the 12 images on this merge into a continuous movement on the rotating ring of mirrors. A candle under the lampshade provides additional light. For a better effect, the praxinoscope was placed in a hinged box, which had an opening and a pane of window glass behind it, through which the viewer could watch the animation.

Louis Daguerre (1835)Original Source: George Eastman Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The inventor of photography
From as early as 1812, Parisian businessman Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) successfully presented his 'Diorama', a show with panoramic images illuminated with changing light, in Paris. For years he worked on his dream of also recording and capturing the images projected in the camera obscura, before presenting his invention, the "daguerreotype", to the public in 1839.

Die Kamera von Daguerre (1839)Deutsches Museum

The daguerreotype
Silver-plated, finely polished copper plates were used as image carriers, which were treated with iodine vapor before the image was taken, resulting in a light-sensitive silver iodide layer. After exposure in the camera, the latent image was developed with mercury vapor, the unexposed silver iodide washed out with common salt—later sodium thiosulfate was used—and the finished image was then wet and dried over a flame. To protect the sensitive surface and to prevent subsequent oxidation of the silver, all daguerreotypes are glazed and the frames are sealed to prevent air intake.

Since 1890, the "Daguerre Memorial" in front of the world-famous Smithsonian Museum in Washington has commemorated the pioneer who paved the way for photography.

Frauenkirche München (1839)Deutsches Museum

Beginnings in Germany
The Munich Frauenkirche in 1839, one of the very first photographs ever taken in Germany. Four months before Louis Daguerre attracted attention with his invention in Paris, Munich scientists Carl August von Steinheil and Franz von Kobell unveiled their innovation, a tubular camera made of sliding cardboard tubes. They used silver chloride paper as the photosensitive material for the photographs.

Diorama der AtelierfotografieDeutsches Museum

Studio photography
Soon after the introduction of photography, newly opened photo studios experienced a real boom in the years leading up to 1860. Portraits of people or their families were the latest craze. Photography replaced portrait painting in a short space of time. However, owing to the high prices, studio photography was mainly reserved for aristocrats and the upper classes. As there was also no artificial lighting, glazing the studio posed a major challenge. The ideal option was to glaze the longitudinal wall to the north and at least half of the roof. Curtains were used to regulate the amount of light shining in.

Ideally, the longitudinal wall had to be glazed to the north for indirect lighting.

Reisekamera (1891)Deutsches Museum

Another breakthrough was made in the second half of the 19th century, with the development of the wet collodion process. The new technology reduced the exposure time from a few minutes to a few seconds. Reisekameras, 'travel cameras', like this one from 1891, became more and more popular. As long as there were no drying plates for exposure, the chemicals to prepare the wet plate as well as a separate darkroom to develop the image immediately after the shot had to be carried along.

Leica 1 (1925)Deutsches Museum

The compact camera format
35 mm films, which were perforated strips with a standardized width of 3.5 centimeters, were the standard format for movies from as early as the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, numerous researchers were trying to develop a still camera with the same format. The breakthrough was made by precision engineer Oskar Barnack (1879–1936), while working as the head of development at the company Leitz in Wetzlar, Germany.
Barnack is still considered the inventor of the compact camera today. His invention, the Leica (short for Leitz Camera), was the first compact camera to be mass produced, coming onto the market in March 1925.

Der Cinematograph (1895)Deutsches Museum

The Cinématographe
December 28, 1895 marks an important date in the history of cinema. It was on this day, at the Indian Salon du Grand-Café on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris, that the Lumière brothers showed their films to a paying audience for the first time. The significance of this event is mainly due to the fact that it was the first time that a truly practical system of film projection was used commercially in Europe.

Der Cinematograph (1895)Deutsches Museum

The "Cinématographe" was a convenient walnut box that could also be used as a recording, copying, and projection device, and was therefore superior to all the devices designed up until that point. The film material was a 35 mm wide celluloid film. The key improvement to the device was the gripping mechanism, which moves from bottom to top, controlled by a camshaft, while the pins engage the perforation holes on both sides of each image and move the film onward in a jerking motion, one image at a time. At a playback frequency of 16 frames per second, the projection of approximately 800 frames took barely a minute.

Die Fernseh-Versuchsanordnung von Manfred von Ardenne (1931)Deutsches Museum

The invention of television
On August 21, 1931, a new major innovation—the "Flying Spot Scanner" by Manfred von Ardenne—made headlines in papers even as far away as the New York Times. As radio and cinema already existed, Ardenne developed a principle for the wireless transmission of moving images. Using the Braun tube and additional amplifier tubes, he improved previous models created by other inventors. Ardenne's system, shown at the Berlin company Radio Aktiengesellschaft D.S. Loewe's Stand 331 in Hall III, was the world's first fully electronic test setup which transmitted moving images.

Manfred von Ardenne und I.L. Baird (1931)Deutsches Museum

Manfred von Ardenne (right), born in 1907, set up his research laboratory, the "Laboratorium für Elektronenphysik" ('laboratory for electron physics'), in an old villa that he'd bought in 1928, in the Lichterfelde district in Berlin. He was visited here in 1931 by a fellow inventor, the Scottish television pioneer John Logie Baird, who seemed visibly surprised by the television receiver with an built-in cathode ray tube.

Plakat zur Sonderschau Fernsehen (1936)Deutsches Museum

The first exhibition in the Deutsches Museum
The new medium of television celebrated its first breakthrough with the Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936, which were misused by the Nazi government as propaganda. One year later, the first special exhibition was held in the Deutsches Museum.

TV-Übertragungswagen im Innenhof des Deutschen Museums (1937)Deutsches Museum

A great number of astonished visitors came into contact with the technology for the first time. Here is a view of a TV broadcast van in the courtyard of the Deutsches Museum.

Die Arriflex (1937)Deutsches Museum

The Arriflex
1937 was also the year in which the Arriflex 35 was unveiled as the first reflex film camera. As with cameras of the same type, a mirror projected the exact image section into the viewfinder, the mirror then folded out of the way during exposure so that the picture could be taken. The trick involved here is that shooting a film at 24 frames per second required a mechanism that folds the mirror out of the way 24 times every second.

August Arnold & Robert Richter (1917)Original Source: By ARRI AG (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The company name ARRI came from the first 2 letters of the company founders' names, August ARnold and Robert RIchter, who started their business producing copying machines and headlamps.

Erich Kästner mit Kamera (1936)Deutsches Museum

From 1932 onward, they developed the first SLR film camera with their like-minded chief engineer, Erich Kästner. This is Erich Kästner with a prototype in 1936.

Die Oscar-Plakette für Arri (1966)Deutsches Museum

After the Second World War had ended, Arriflex grew into a leading global exporter. To this day, its advancements have made it the technological gold standard among all film cameras. By 2017, Munich had received 19 Oscars for Arriflex technology or cinema technology developed in conjunction with Arriflex. Here you can see the badge of the first Academy Award for the design and development of the portable film camera Arriflex 35 in 1966. The 19th technical Academy Award went to the Alexa digital camera system in 2017.

The company headquarters on Türkenstraße in Munich. The ARRI Cinema has stood next-door to the company building since 1958.

Canon Ixus (1996)Deutsches Museum

The end of the analog camera
In recent decades, cameras have become ever smaller and easier to handle. The Canon IXUS, which came onto the market in 1996, was the first APS camera that had program exposure mode. It was the last step in the development of analog photography before digital cameras began to dominate the scene.

Digitale Fotografie am Deutschen MuseumDeutsches Museum

Digital photography
From the start of the 21st century, digital technology has become ever more prevalent. Today, aside from diehard analog fans, only very few photographers use good old negative films. According to some statistics, in 2017 more than 85 percent of all photographs worldwide were taken with smartphones, amounting to more than 1.2 trillion images.

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