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35mm Film History

The Film – 35mm

For nearly a century the 35mm film format was the king of the hill in photography. It came in various formats: black & white and color. There was even a movie film version of it.

The 35 mm film standard for motion picture film was established in Thomas Edison’s lab by William Dickson. Mr. Dickson took 70 mm film stock supplied by George Eastman’s Eastman Kodak Company and cut it into two strips, perforated along both edges. The original picture size was 18 x 24 mm.

There were a number of 35 mm still cameras using perforated movie film before its introduction in the 1920s. The first patent for one was issued to Leo, Audobard, and Baradat in England in 1908. The first full scale production camera was the Homeos, a stereo camera, produced by Jules Richard in 1913. It took stereo pairs, 18×24 mm, with two lenses, and was sold until 1920.

The first big-selling 35 mm still camera was the American Tourist Multiple, which also appeared in 1913, at a cost of $175. The first camera to take full frame 24×36 mm exposures was possibly the Simplex, introduced in the U.S. in 1914. It took either 800 half frame or 400 full frame shots on 50 ft (15.2 m) rolls.

Finally, the Furet camera (made and sold in France in 1923) took full frame 24×36 mm negatives and was the first cheap small 35 mm camera to look vaguely like today’s models.

The Leica camera designed by Oskar Barnack used 35 mm film. Although Barnack designed his prototype camera around 1913, the first experimental production run of Leicas did not take place until 1923. Full scale production of the Leica did not begin until 1925. By that time there were at least a dozen other 35 mm cameras available. The Leica was a success, and came to be associated with the 35mm film format.

In the earliest days, the photographer had to load the film into reusable cassettes and, at least for some cameras, cut the film leader. In 1934, Kodak introduced a 135 daylight-loading single-use cassette. This cassette was engineered so that it could be used in both Leica and Contax cameras along with the camera for which it was invented, the Kodak Retina. AGFA followed with the introduction of Agfacolor in 1936.

In March 1959, the Nikon F SLR system camera greatly improved the quality and utility of 35 mm format cameras, encouraging professionals to switch from larger format cameras to the versatile, rugged, and fast SLR design. Numerous other film formats waxed and waned in popularity, but by the 1970s, interchangeable-lens SLR cameras and smaller rangefinders, were all using 35 mm film.

Color films improved, both for negatives and slides, while black and white films offered smoother grain and faster speeds than previously available. Since 35 mm was preferred by both amateur and professional photographers, makers of film stock have long offered the widest range of different film speeds and types in the format.

Today the digital camera all but obsoletes the film camera. The ability to process negatives without messy chemicals and difficult working conditions in the darkroom has revolutionized working with film.