Digital photography: a journey through the history of the digital camera

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Sir John Herschel is not quite as well-known as the three pillared saints in photo history Louis Daguerre, Nicéphore Niépce and William Henry Fox Talbot, but at least as important. Without Herschel, the fixer might never have worked, and without the fixer, an analog image usually has no chance of survival.

Another aspect of Herschel’s vita is also interesting, which incidentally also introduced the term “photography”. During his studies he founded the Analytic Society of Cambridge together with fellow students George Peacock and Charles Babbage. It was precisely this Babbage who invented the first mechanical calculating machine, which he completed in 1822 four years before the oldest surviving photo of Niépce and for which Ada Lovelace wrote the first program in world history in 1843. Herschel could really have invented digital photography instead of cyanotype in the same year – if only the electronics had been a little further.

c’t Retro 2021: software and hardware

Before it really becomes digital, another analog dangling must not be missing, which has at least mentally prepared the field for digitization. After the daughter of the physicist and industrialist Edwin Land supposedly asked her father on vacation during the Second World War why she couldn’t see the picture straight away (anyone who takes analogue photos nowadays knows that), he presented the Polaroid camera as an answer in 1947 . As a result, the rapid availability of images in photography has become a value in itself. This may also have helped the later digital revolution to the extent that people learned in this way that fast photos can be of poor quality. It should take a while before they were even better than the analogue ones.

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