A brief history of the movie camera

  • A sneeze recorded on the kinetoscope Image credit: Everett Collection
  • The first all-metal movie camera, the 2709 standard 35 mm Image credit: Everett Collection
  • George Eastman Image credit: Getty Images
  • Eastman Kodak introduces Kodachrome colour film Image credit: Everett Collection
  • The RED one, the first 4k-resolution digital camera Image credit: RED Camera
Date:20 January 2013

From the Kinetoscope to the GoPro, we zoom in on the history of the movie camera. And… action!

By Amanda Green


1888: Thomas Edison has a light bulb moment and files a claim with the US Patent Office to create the Kinetoscope, which will “do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear”.

1895: Brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière patent the Cinématographe, a triple-threat motion picture film camera, projector and developer.

1912: Bell & Howell introduces the first all-metal movie camera, the 2709 standard 35 mm, after mildew and termites destroy the wood and leather camera of husband-and-wife filmmakers Martin and Osa Johnson as they travel through Africa.

1927: Philo Farnsworth’s video camera tube converts images into electrical signals. This later begets the boob tube – and we don’t mean Cinemax.

1932: Eastman Kodak’s new 8 mm film upstages 16 mm and becomes the standard for home movies.

1934: Bell & Howell creates the first lightweight movie camera for amateur filmmakers.

1935: Colour becomes accessible when Eastman Kodak introduces Kodachrome. The film later inspires a lawsuit, a Paul Simon song and even a state park in Utah. Colour us impressed.

1952: This Is Cinerama premieres in New York City on 30 September. Cinerama, an ultra-widescreen format, entails
synchronised filming by three 35 mm cameras.

1965: Eastman Kodak revamps its 8 mm film and dubs it Super 8. The film covers a 30 per cent larger image, allowing more detail. Kids’ recitals have never looked better… on camera.

1983: Sony introduces the first one-piece video camcorder, Betamovie. But by this point, the Betamax format is already losing the war with VHS.

2001: Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the first mainstream movie filmed in 24-frame-per-second high-definition digital video.

2009: Factoid for your Who Wants to Be a Millionaire appearance: Slumdog Millionaire is the first film shot mostly in digital to win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

2012: Felix Baumgartner straps on five GoPro video cameras before his historic 39 km skydive. YouTube sets its live-stream record as more than 8 million tune in.