In­ven­tive Ge­nius: Sin­gle Lens Re­flex Cam­era

THOMAS SUT­TON

The Borneo Post - Good English - - Front Page -

FOR ENGLISH­MAN Thomas Sut­ton, it was a heady de­tour from ar­chi­tec­ture that led him to the in­ven­tion of a process that led to the de­vel­op­ment of the sin­gle lens re­flex (SLR) cam­era,

Sut­ton was born on Septem­ber 22,

1819 in Kens­ing­ton, Lon­don.

He stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture be­fore at­tend­ing Caius Col­lege in Cam­bridge, and grad­u­ated in 1846 with a Bach­e­lor of Arts de­gree.

Pho­tog­ra­phy first en­tered the young man’s life in 1841 when he posed for a da­guerreo­type por­trait in An­toine Claudet’s fa­mous stu­dio. Claudet is be­lieved to have en­cour­aged Sut­ton to con­tem­plate pho­tog­ra­phy as a vo­ca­tion. A short time later, he be­came ac­quainted with a da­guerreo­typ­ist in Jersey, and de­cided to ex­per­i­ment with pho­tog­ra­phy, but his first ef­forts were hardly en­cour­ag­ing.

Dur­ing the 1850s, while trav­el­ling through Switzer­land and Italy with his wife and young son, Mr. Sut­ton met pho­tog­ra­phers Fred­eric Flacheron and Robert MacPher­son, who would fur­ther ed­u­cate him on the calo­type process.

He learned the al­bu­men-on-glass technique from MacPher­son and the wet-pa­per technique from Flacheron. Af­ter com­par­ing both, he found the pa­per neg­a­tive process more to his lik­ing.

In 1854, Mr. Sut­ton wrote a let­ter that ex­pressed his sup­port of al­bu­men as op­posed to col­lo­dion neg­a­tives.

Dur­ing the late 1850s, Mr. Sut­ton re­ceived a patent for the sin­gle lens re­flex plate cam­era and wrote sev­eral books on pho­tog­ra­phy, in­clud­ing the Dic­tionary of Pho­tog­ra­phy, first pub­lished in 1858. The fol­low­ing year, Sut­ton in­vented the first wide-an­gle lens’ panoramic cam­era.

The SLR has be­come the univer­sal stan­dard for to­day’s pro­fes­sional and se­ri­ous am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­phers. But where did this highly suc­cess­ful cam­era de­sign come from, and what turned the SLR into the suc­cess that it is to­day?

While it may come as a sur­prise, the first SLR cam­era didn’t have the kind of viewfinder we use to­day! It was built in Hun­gary in 1948, and re­sem­bled a rangefinder cam­era, us­ing an in­tri­cate sys­tem of mirrors to project the im­age onto a small viewfinder.

In 1949, Zeiss built on this de­sign, launch­ing the first SLR with a pen­taprism viewfinder. De­spite their util­ity rel­a­tive to rangefinder or large-for­mat cam­eras, these SLRs weren’t per­fect, as they lacked fea­tures that even film SLR users of the 70’s would take for granted.

And while most early SLRs orig­i­nated in Europe, in later years much op­ti­cal innovation would ac­tu­ally take place in Ja­pan by a company founded in 1919, known as Asahi Op­ti­cal.

Asahi Op­ti­cal Company was the first to in­tro­duce many of the fea­tures that are com­mon in SLRs as we know them to­day. In 1952, they launched the first-ever Ja­panese SLR, known as the Asahi­flex, which fea­tured an eye-level viewfinder.

The mod­ern-day giants of pho­tog­ra­phy, Canon and Nikon, fol­lowed in the foot­steps of Pen­tax, each launch­ing their first SLRs (the Canon­flex and Nikon F, re­spec­tively) in 1959.

While the Canon­flex seemed to be two steps be­hind the com­pe­ti­tion, the Nikon F—which em­ployed all of the fea­tures of the Pen­tax—was tar­geted at pro­fes­sion­als, and demon­strated the su­pe­ri­or­ity of the SLR, as well as the high qual­ity of Ja­panese cam­era de­sign. For the next 40 years, the SLR would be the cam­era of choice for pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers.

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