When Was the First Movie Camera Invented?

Woman Operating a Camera
Do you know when the first movie camera was invented? Or who created it? 

Film history is a funny thing. See, the invention of the movie camera was a huge event but was sort of sidelined as a carnival attraction. At the time, no one knew that it would be such a formative experience for the human race. 

No one could have foreseen the vast implications. 

Today, I want to go into the history of the invention, its impact, and learn about who created it. 

So, let's answer these questions one by one. 

Who invented the camera?

We can't talk about movies without talking about the rise of still photography. The first partially successful photograph of a camera image was made in approximately 1816 by Nicéphore Niépce. It was a pinhole camera. Niépce took the first photo on a homemade camera, with silver chloride covered paper.

The photo does not survive today, which is sad.

But the very first surviving photograph was also taken by Neipce. 

first camera
The oldest photograph.
Aside from him, Johann Zahn is usually co-credited with inventing the camera. It was in 1685 when he invented a design for the first handheld reflex camera. 

When was the movie camera invented? 

The movie camerafilm camera, or cine-camera is a type of photographic camera (but not a still camera) that takes a rapid sequence of photos on an image sensor or on a film. This invention was a huge leap forward for our world. 

There were tons of scientists experimenting with this technology, but none had perfected it. One of the earliest attempts was the chronophotographic gun which was invented in 1882 by Étienne-Jules Marey, a French scientist. It could shoot 12 images per second. It was badass, but it wasn't a movie camera. 

Still, look at this thing! 

gun
The chronophotographic gun invented by Étienne-Jules Marey.

Many people experimented using this technology. In 1888, the renowned American inventor Thomas Edison drew up plans to build a camera that could record moving images onto a cylinder. But this was also not the first movie camera...

Who invented the first movie camera?

Ready for a helluva ride? Louis Le Prince built a single-lens camera and in 1888 used it to make a brief silent movie of people walking in a garden. This was the first movie camera, and it was a huge discovery. 

The oldest movie in existence is Roundhay Garden Scene is proof that Le Prince should be credited with inventing the first movie camera. 

So why do people not give him credit? 

Well, just before patenting his device and taking it on tour in America, in September 1890, Le Prince vanished from the face of this earth. His wife was sure he was murdered and in 2008 a magazine claimed that evidence had emerged showing Edison had arranged Le Prince’s assassination. This was reported by the BBC Magazine 'Science Focus'

So... who invented the first movie camera? 

William Kennedy Dickson definitely invented the movie camera. He was a Scottish inventor who devised an early motion picture camera under the employment of Thomas Edison. Edison wound up taking credit for the invention...and the rest is history. 

After much testing and initially using 19mm film, feeding horizontally, shooting circular images, Dickson eventually settled on 35 mm film with a 1.33:1 picture ratio. This is a standard format that is still in use to this day in the cinema. 

But Edison swooped in and took control of everything from there. It's a bummer, but people still know Dickson's name today. You can read more about it on his Wikipedia. Wild stuff. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLRiR__EMhm3mzfcDxF03hWw3L-79hutyc&v=v0d_HI3Tljk

Thomas Edison and the cinema camera

Thomas Edison received a patent for his movie camera, the Kinetograph, in 1892. Edison and his team had developed the camera and its viewer in the early 1890s and staged several demonstrations. He is now credited with inventing the first movie camera. 

Kinetograph

The first movie camera was called the Kinetograph. It was the first camera to take motion pictures on a moving strip of film. Edison’s Kinetoscope and Kinetograph used celluloid film, invented by George Eastman in 1889. This was 35mm film, much like we use today.  

But these films were not projected, yet. They were viewed one at a time through a peephole. 

In February 1893, Edison built a small movie studio that could be rotated to capture the best available sunlight. (Very Hollywood of him.) He showed the first demonstration of his films—featuring three of his workers pretending to be blacksmiths—in May 1893.

youtube.com/watch?v=cm5g7CfXYYE

The Kinetoscope 

The Kinetoscope launched the motion-picture industry, but its technical limitations made it unsuitable for projection. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "a slit opposite the picture produced a stroboscopic effect; in the Kinetoscope, the film traveled at the rate of 40 frames per second, and a slit in a 10-inch-diameter rotating shutter wheel afforded an exposure of 6,000 second. Illumination was provided by an electric bulb positioned directly beneath the film. The film ran over spools. Its ends were spliced together to form a continuous loop, which was initially 25 to 30 feet long but later was lengthened to almost 50 feet. A direct-current motor powered by an Edison storage battery moved the film at a uniform rate."

When was the first movie made? 

By definition, a motion picture is a series of pictures projected onto a screen, creating the illusion of movement. As you know, we had photography in the early 1800s and were experimenting with projection and motion. In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge set up 24 cameras linked to tripwires to take photographs of a horse galloping. 

This was technically the first movie ever made! He developed and later projected the images onto a screen using his invention, the zoopraxiscope. 

The aftermath of the invention of the cinema camera 

The invention inspired French inventors Louis and August Lumiere to develop a movie camera and projector, the Cinematographe, that allowed a large audience to view a film. While there were lawsuits and disputes, the ability to show movies to people ultimately changed history. We were able to capture life and take the show on the road, broadcasting it to thousands of people. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RYNThid23g

When was the first video camera invented?

First, we should say that a video camera is different than the movie camera. A video camera is a camera used for electronic motion picture acquisition. Alternately, a movie camera records images onto film. 

Video cameras were initially developed for the television industry but now common in other applications as well. Such as home use. 

The first video camera was invented in the early 1900s by a man named John Logie Baird. Obviously it took a while for it to catch on, the real game-changing video stuff was done by the 1970s when JVC launched the iconic video home system. Soon, video became widespread all over the world. The Vidstar video cassette recorder (VCR) premiered in Japan and standardized the small one-inch-thick tape that could be inserted into a video player and watched via television or projector. 

The cameras of today

So, where are we today in terms of camera technology. Well, I'm sure we can all reach out right now and touch one of the most powerful and technologically advanced image capturing and imaging viewing devices ever known to man. And you can play Candy Crush on it. And avoid robocalls. And track your location so you can spell out "vote" while on your daily jog and stuff.

I'm talking about the smartphone obviously, but as far as dedicated cameras that do not let you play Candy Crush, technology is only getting smaller and more powerful. We've got cine cams that can shoot a whopping 12K now, and tiny DSLR-sized shooters that have a lot of the specs those cine cams used to tout as top-tier, crème de la crème, pro-level tech.

Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 12K Camera
Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 12K Camera

But as far as technology takes us, it's always fun, if not incredibly important, to remember where it all started and the names of those who helped make our craft possible. (Thanks Eadweard...ya weirdo.) 

Up Next: Learn Film Theory

Now that you know where the first cameras came from and who invented the movie camera, it's time to learn some advanced film theory. We created a basic guide to help teach you the principles behind watching, appreciating, and enjoying a film. 

So keep reading! 

And let us know all your movie camera knowledge in the comments!      

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