The Digital Photography Revolution

Long before digital photography or, indeed, before any kind of digital technology, people dreamed of a means to capture images without the need for paints and brushes and it will surprise most to learn that Chinese and Greek philosophers and mathematicians of the 4th and 5th centuries BC actually compiled designs for a pinhole camera while an earlier Byzantine mathematician fashioned a camera obscura to test his theories.

The earliest modern camera used these principles along with the photochemical properties of silver salts to produce the first black and white images – hardly digital photography, but certainly a promising start that saw the first permanent photo captured in 1826. As the technology advanced and results improved, what was once an interesting phenomenon became both an important addition to print media and a new art form that, with the advent of mass produced cameras, among them, the famous “Kodak Box Brownie”, provided a new, relatively inexpensive and highly entertaining hobby for thousands of people worldwide.

From those early beginnings, a brand new technology that would eventually give rise to today’s huge and growing digital photography market has evolved in leaps and bounds. While many of the advances involved improvements to the camera, such as the ability to vary its focus that was first provided by means of an adjustable bellows between the lens and photographic plate, various efforts to produce colour and even three dimensional images continued in parallel.

In fact, the stereoscopic viewer was invented as early as 1838 to view drawings and later adapted to hold a pair of slightly photos taken from differing angles to create the 3D effect. The evolution of digital photography of course has been far more rapid with both colour and 3D imaging already well-established technologies even before its appearance.

Long before this, however, both photographers and camera manufacturers had a vision of an instant camera that allowed immediate viewing of an image, without any need for the time-consuming, but unavoidable, intermediate processes involved in developing and printing particularly since, for the average user, the processing also required the assistance and the expense of a third party. Instant though not digital photography was eventually introduced by Edwin Land in 1947.

Manufactured commercially by Polaroid a year later, it used self-developing film to produce instant black and white prints. 1963 saw the introduction of a Polaroid colour film in pack form that did much to improve the popularity of the Land camera. This amazing new technology of the time shifted the entire process to the realm of the user and became popular among private investigators to collect pictorial evidence of infidelity and other misdemeanours for their clients.

Still not digital photography it did, however, provide a concrete proof of concept for the instant camera. Until the invention and widespread sale of personal computers, neither the means nor the need to digitize images had existed but, with the inevitable march of technology, the convenience of digitized data became increasingly evident and, with the realisation, came a plethora of new applications with data that was ideally suited for conversion from the analogue state into zeros and ones.

With the development of the light sensitive device known as a CCD or charge-coupled device, digital photography became feasible overnight by the use of an array of these sensors in order to capture the details of an image in place of the conventional photosensitive film. The new technology has proved revolutionary in many ways.

Apart from its ability to display a recorded image on a screen immediately after it is captured, this technology also allows thousands of images to be stored on a small memory card and to be deleted, selectively, at will so as to free up storage space for immediate reuse.

Digital photography allows the direct transfer of images to a PC for editing and some of the newer cameras even employ WiFi technology to transmit their images to a remote inkjet or laser colour printer. The high resolution offered by this technology means that compressed images may be readily enlarged to produce poster size prints with little or no loss of detail.

For both the graphic artist and the web developer, digitized images have done a great deal to expand the scope of their respective crafts. Starting with photos in .jpeg or .gif formats and making use of of one of the many advanced image editing software packages has opened up numerous new opportunities for innovation and creativity not previously possible without digital photography.