For their annual Lifetime Achievement Awards, the folks over at the Society of Camera Operators put together a lovely, surprisingly rousing video about the evolution of the movie camera over the course of the past century or so of cinema. And, as you can see above, it has changed quite a bit.
The piece begins at the beginning, with the early pioneers of film: the Lumiere brothers’ first motion picture cameras and their revolutionary actualités, Georges Méliès’ baroque flights of fancy, D. W. Griffith’s sprawling epics. The cameras that shot these films were crude, boxy and hand-powered but their basic mechanics were roughly the same as the sophisticated 70mm cameras Stanley Kubrick used to shoot 2001: A Space Odyssey six decades later.
Then in the ‘80s, things started to change with the release of analog video. Suddenly, you could capture movement in a manner that didn’t involve exposing frame by frame an unspooling reel of light-sensitive celluloid. And with the digital revolution that started in the ‘90s, cameras, and the very nature of cinema, changed. Dazzling spectacles like Avatar and Gravity could be created almost entirely within a computer, while at the same time the cameras themselves grew smaller and more portable.
To underscore just how democratized the technology of movie making has become, the end of the video shows Hollywood cameramen shooting movies with iPhones. The piece ends with what could only be seen as an ominous technological development for the Society of Camera Operators: Google Glass, which has the potential to turn every single person into a perpetual camera operator.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.