The act of taking a picture has been unchanged for almost two centuries: a lens opens, light floods in and the image is recorded onto a material, whether it be a glass plate treated with chemicals, film stock or pixels. While the recording material has changed over time, and the tools with which pictures are taken have advanced, there is truly nothing like vintage cameras for a look and style that not even Instagram can match.
Many are familiar with the first advancement of the camera from movies that are set during the Civil War and throughout the Victorian era. The box camera, as it is known, is a simple piece of equipment, yet it was capable of creating images with exceedingly high resolution. It's possible to keep zooming in on a crisp black and white image from a box camera and still see detail.
These types of cameras were made from solid oak, had a lens centered in the middle of the front, and shone the image to a plate in the rear. The photographer used a rudimentary view finder to center the subject, then pulled out the sheet of wood that protected the coated plate. He timed the image, then replaced the wood to stop the light from burning the image, and took the camera to the dark room to develop the image. Sometimes, these images were one-offs in that they had no negative, other times they were on glass plates for reproducing copies.
All of these principles were in place when Kodak introduced the Brownie camera in the late 1800s. The name is supposed to allude to the Scots version of faeries, known as Brownies, a magical creature like an elf. Kodak's magical Brownie brought the box camera forward, made it inexpensive, and put it into the hands of the masses. These cameras were produced for decades, and can be easily obtained at antique shops or flea markets for those who want to experiment with making vintage images on a vintage camera. It's still possible to take 120 film and spool it onto a Brownie reel!
As time passed, cameras became more advanced, putting more sophisticated controls such as F-stop and flashes into the hands of the consumers. It could be said that the modern day cell phone camera is the current version of the Brownie, as it makes taking pictures easy once more.