The History of the Movie Camera in Four Minutes: From the Lumiere Brothers to Google Glass

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 actu­al­itésGeorges 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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

40 Great Film­mak­ers Go Old School, Shoot Short Films with 100 Year Old Cam­era

What David Lynch Can Do With a 100-Year-Old Cam­era and 52 Sec­onds of Film

A Trip to the Moon (and Five Oth­er Free Films) by Georges Méliès, the Father of Spe­cial Effects

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.


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