The earliest cameras produced in significant numbers used sensitised glass plates and are now termed plate cameras. Light entered a lens mounted on a lens board which was separated from the plate by an extendible bellows. Many of these cameras, had controls to raise or lower the lens and to tilt it forwards or backwards to control perspective. Focussing of these plate cameras was by the use of a ground glass screen at the point of focus. Because lens design only allowed rather small aperture lenses, the image on the ground glass screen was faint and most photographers had a dark cloth to cover their heads to allow focussing and composition to be carried out more easily. When focus and composition were satisfactory, the ground glass screen was removed and a sensitised plate put in its place protected by a dark slide (photography). To make the exposure, the dark slide was carefully slid out and the shutter opened and then closed and the dark-slide replaced. In current designs the plate camera is best represented by the view camera.
Large format camera
The large format camera is a direct successor of the early plate cameras and remain in use for high quality photography and for technical, architectural and industrial photography. There are three common types, the monorail camera, the field camera and the press camera. All use large format sheets of film, although there are backs for medium format 120-film available for most systems, and have an extensible bellows with the lens and shutter mounted on a lens plate at the front. These cameras have a wide range of movements allowing very close control of focus and perspective.
Medium format camera
Medium-format cameras have a film size somewhere in between the large format cameras and the smaller 35mm cameras. Typically these systems use 120- or 220-film. The most common sizes being 6x4.5 cm, 6x6 cm and 6x7 cm. The designs of this kind of camera show greater variation than their larger brethren, ranging from monorail systems through the classic Hasselblad model with separate backs, to smaller rangefinder cameras. There are even compact amateur cameras available in this format.
The introduction of films enabled the existing designs for plate cameras to be made much smaller and for the base-plate to be hinged so that it could be folded up compressing the bellows. These designs were very compact and small models were dubbed Vest pocket cameras.
Box cameras were introduced as a budget level camera and had few if any controls. The original box Brownie models had a small reflex viewfinder mounted on the top of the camera and had no aperture or focusing controls and just a simple shutter. Later models such as the Brownie 127 had larger direct view optical viewfinders together with a curved film path to reduce the impact of deficiencies in the lens.
As camera and lens technology developed and wide aperture lenses became more common, range-finder cameras were introduced to make focussing more precise. The range finder has two separated viewfinder windows, one of which is linked to the focusing mechanisms and moved right or left as the focusing ring is turned. The two separate images are brought together on a ground glass viewing screen. When vertical lines in the object being photographed meet exactly in the combined image, the object is in focus. A normal composition viewfinder is also provided.
In the single-lens reflex camera the photographer sees the scene through the camera lens. This avoids the problem of parallax which occurs when the viewfinder or viewing lens is separated from the taking lens. Single-lens reflex cameras have been made in several formats including 220/120 taking 8, 12 or 16 photographs on a 120 roll and twice that number of a 220 film. These correspond to 6x9, 6x6 and 6x4.5 respectively (all dimensions in cm). Notable manufacturers of large format SLR include Hasselblad, Mamiya, Bronica and Pentax. However the most common format of SLRs has been 35 mm and subsequently the migration to digital SLRs, using almost identical sized bodies and sometimes using the same lens systems.
Almost all SLR used a front surfaced mirror in the optical path to direct the light from the lens via a viewing screen and pentaprism to the eyepiece. At the time of exposure the mirror flipped up out of the light path before the shutter opened. Some early cameras experimented other methods of providing through the lens viewing including the use of a semi transparent pellicle as in the Canon Pellix and others with a small periscope such as in the Corfield Periflex series.
Twin-lens reflex cameras used a pair of nearly identical lenses, one to form the image and one as a viewfinder. The lenses were arranged with the viewing lens immediately above the taking lens. The viewing lens projects an image onto a viewing screen which can be seen from above. Some manufacturers such as Mamiya also provided a reflex head to attach to the viewing screen to allow the camera to be held to the eye when in use. The advantage of a TLR was that it could be easily focussed using the viewing screen and that under most circumstances the view seen in the viewing screen was identical to that recorded on film. At close distances however, parallax errors were encountered and some cameras also included an indicator to show what part of the composition would be excluded.
Some TLR had interchangeable lenses but as these had to be paired lenses they were relatively heavy and did not provide the range of focal lengths that the SLR could support. Although most TLRs used 120 or 220 film some used 127 film.
A ciné camera or movie camera takes a rapid sequence of photographs on strips of film. In contrast to a still camera, which captures a single snapshot at a time, the ciné camera takes a series of images, each called a "frame" through the use of an intermittent mechanism. The frames are later played back in a ciné projector at a specific speed, called the "frame rate" (number of frames per second). While viewing, a person's eyes and brain merge the separate pictures to create the illusion of motion. The first ciné camera was built around 1888 and by 1890 several types were being manufactured. The standard film size for ciné cameras was quickly established as 35mm film and this remains in use to this day. Other professional standard formats include 70 mm film and 16mm film whilst amateurs film makers used 9.5 mm film, 8mm film or Standard 8 and Super 8 before the move into digital format.
The size and complexity of ciné cameras varies greatly depending on the uses required of the camera. Some professional equipment is very large and too heavy to be hand held whilst some amateur cameras were designed to be very small and light for single-handed operation. In the last quarter of the 20th century camcorders supplanted film motion cameras for amateurs. Professional video cameras did the same for professional users around the turn of the century.