Tap to Read ➤

History of 35mm Camera

Veena Aruldass
Cameras have been a subject of fascination since their inception. But they were not always as we see them now. This story traces the birth of the 35mm camera, its growth, and types. Continue reading to make the journey into its history, and get to know the story of its inception, development, and how has it changed over the years.
A photograph is a moment captured for eternity! Today we have innumerable cameras that are becoming sleeker and smaller by the day! You can crop images, and what's more, you don't even need to develop the film with digital cameras. But cameras were not always like this. They have come a long way since their inception. Here is a sneak peek into the history of the 35mm camera.
"Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film, is captured forever... it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything." ~ Aaron Siskind
To capture the precious memories of life, to record history, to hold on to memories we don't want to ever let go, we use cameras. A 35mm camera is known so because it uses a standard 35mm film. Over the years, it has been one of the most popular film sizes in film photography. This film size has been in use since the 1800s.
The 35 in '35mm camera' refers to the width of the film including the sprockets and not to the focal length or even to the size of the image on the film as it is most often thought to be. The film is more appropriately called '135 format film'.


In 1892, the 35mm film was introduced by Thomas Alva Edison and William Dickson. The film stock was supplied by George Eastman of the Kodak company. It was the basic film gage that was used ordinarily for chemical still photography and motion pictures. This camera was used commercially for movies and still photography in 1913.
Its history can be traced back to Oskar Barnack who was in charge of the research and development at Leitz. He decided to experiment using a 35mm film for still cameras in his attempt at making a compact camera. He intended to come up with a camera which was competent at making high quality enlargements.
Around 1913, he built his first prototype camera called the Ur-Leica. The camera received a tremendous positive response when it was experimentally introduced in the market during the years 1923-24. Hence, in 1925 the camera was put into production as the Leica I.
Considering the immense popularity of the Leica, many competitors arose in the market, the most notable one being the Contax which was introduced in 1932, and thus the 35mm camera became the undisputed choice for high-end compact cameras. In 1938, Kodak stepped into the market with the Retina I.
This introduced the 135 cartridge camera which is still used in all modern cameras. Though this camera was comparatively low-budget, most of the people could not afford it and people settled for the roll film camera. This situation changed in the years 1936 and 1939 with the introduction of Argus A and Argus C3, but the cheapest cameras still used roll film.
In spite of this, the 35mm camera had come to dominate the market by the year 1966. The Japanese camera industry, too, has an important role to play. In 1936, the industry began to take off with the Canon range of cameras.
These cameras became popular in the West after the Korean War. This is because the US soldiers who were stationed in Japan brought them home.

35mm SLR Camera

In 1936, the single lens reflex, popularly known as the 35mm SLR camera, was developed. This was comparatively advanced than the existing viewfinder and range-finder cameras. The early cameras were designed keeping in mind the usage, and were compact.
In the viewfinder cameras, the focusing was executed by calculating the distance from the camera to the subject and by setting the distance on a focusing ring. Later, the range-finder cameras were developed, as it was difficult to focus using the viewfinder cameras. In range-finder cameras, a prism and a mirror are used to create an image.
As the lens is focused, the prism moves. It is a matter of lining two images correctly. The viewfinder is offset from the lens, hence what the photographer can see through the viewfinder is not necessarily the exact image that is captured through the lens.
On the other hand, an SLR takes the light from a single lens, which is then reflected through a viewfinder. Thus, the photographer can see the exact image that will be captured on film. The 35mm SLR camera is popular as it has interchangeable lenses which allows greater creativity. It is available in film and digital varieties.
A camera is an ideal tool to help us capture the cherished moments of our lives and imprint them forever so our loved ones remember us long after we are gone as well. Hope the above article helped you retrace the origins and given you a better understanding of the 35mm camera.