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Who Invented the First Camera?

By Elaine Elliott

As you can imagine, the history of the first camera is quite complex and lengthy.

Technically, the history of the first camera came long before photography.
When people think of the first camera, they are most likely imagining a piece of technology that can produce actual photos. But the first camera was more like a projector invented in the 11th century.


There are a lot of histories with the first camera, but let’s start with the camera obscura. The camera obscura projected an image onto a larger screen by inverting the image through a small hole. This was invented by philosopher Mozi in Han China. For several centuries, various cultures theorized the progression of these room-size boxes. For example, Iraqi scientist Ibn described camera devices in his Book of Optics in 1021.


In 1685, Johann Zahn designed the first camera that was smaller and more portable than the original camera obscuras but his ideas didn’t come to life until the 1800s.


In 1825, Joseph Nicephore Niepce made the first camera for photography purposes through a process called heliography. But the images displayed on his silver-coated paper were not permanent.  


By 1837, Louis Daguerre made the first “daguerreotypes” which were photographs made using salt solution and silver-coated plates. Daguerre and Niepce worked together on figuring out how to make the images permanent until Niepce’s death in 1833.


In 1839, Alphonse Giroux made the first commercially manufactured daguerreotype camera. For years to come, manufacturers and inventors were quick to improve upon the first camera by lowering the exposure times and making the devices more portable.


So there you have it, the complicated history of the first camera. In general, Louis Daguerre is considered the first to invent practical photography, but he couldn’t have done it without the inspiration and vision of earlier inventors like Niepce and Zahn.

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