A BRIEF HISTORY OF HIGH SPEED PHOTOGRAPHY 1851-1930
The beginning of high speed photography might be considered to be William Henry Fox Talbot's experiment in 1851. He attached a page of the London Times newspaper to a wheel, which was rotated in front of his wet plate camera in a darkened room. As the wheel rotated, Talbot exposed a few square inches of the newspaper page for about 1/2000th of a second, using spark illumination from Leyden jars. This experiment resulted in a readable image.
Considering the extremely low sensitivity of a wet plate, called "amphyitypes", which were glass plates coated with a mixture of albumen, silver nitrate, and water (approximate ASA less than 4), and the lenses that were available (probably about f/32), this photograph was a remarkable achievement.
Some further work was done in 1856 by Foucault and in 1864 by Toepler, followed by Wood and others which resulted in the development of schlieren photography or studying wavefronts and other effects of variations in transparent media.
At Woolwich Arsenal near London, experiments were conducted in 1861 using shadowgraphs to study projectiles in flight. The projectile was launched between a camera and a 100 us light source. This technique was perfected many years later by Ernst Mach in Austria and Sir Charles Boys in England.
The suggestion made by Alfred A. Pollock in 1867 that it would be possible to take a series of 50 instantaneous photographs on a circular rotating plate. He suggested that when a sensitive enough film is developed, pictures of such subjects as a man walking, a dog's tailwagging, and the movement of horses and other animals could be recorded.
The London Photographic News of May 11, 1869, contained an article by Sir John F. W. Herschel suggesting that a camera could be used to produce a series of photographs with exposure times as short as one-tenth of a second. These photographs would make motion analysis studies possible, and he even suggested that color film might become available.
When California governor Leland Stanford got into an argument in 1872 over whether all four fee of a horse are off the ground while it is galloping, he set the stage for the use of photographic instrumentation to settle the dispute.
Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer who was doing government survey work, was commissioned by Governor Stanford to take photographs of a galloping horse and settle the argument. Muybridge's first attempts using ordinary still photography proved futile. He eventually developed a system using multiple still cameras with trip threads attached to their shutters and took a series of photographs of a white horse running against a black painted background showing the horse in a slightly different position on each photograph.
In May 1872, Muybridge began his first attempts to photograph the horse Occident at the Union Park Race Track in Sacramento. The photographic instrumentation consisted of twelve Scoville cameras with Dallmeyer of London stereoscopic lenses. The shutter mechanism was designed by John Isaacs and consisted of an electromagnet connected to a lever, similar to a telegraph key, attached to a twin-bladed shutter. When the horse ran across the area to be photographed, the series of threads attached to the armature of the electromagnet were broken, releasing the shutters. The shutters were held in position above the lenses by the lever acting as a pawl. When the thread broke, the battery-powered electromagnets pulled the lever inward, allowing the shutter to be pulled down by two India rubber rings. The photographs were recorded on 20" x 24" stereo wet glass plates.
The May 1872 photographs were of Occident galloping at rates from 2 min 18 s to 2 min 25 s per mile (38ft/s). In July 1877 at the same racetrack, photographs were taken of Occident galloping at a rate of 2 min 27 s per mile (36 ft/s) at a distance of 40 ft with an exposure time of 1/1000 s. On July 15, 1878, at Stanford's Palo Alto farm on a one-mile track, a series of photographs were taken in less than 1/2 s with the horse running at 40 ft/s. The horse was photographed against a wooden background 15 ft high, marked off by consecutively numbered vertical 21 in. wide segments.
In 1879, photographs were taken of many different horses, as well as oxen, bulls, dogs, cows, deer, goats, and bears. In August 1879, athletes were photographed while fencing, jumping, tumbling, etc. Twenty-four cameras were used for these studies.
In the early 1880's, Muybridge began a series of studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He photographed movement against a specially painted reference background, which was 37 m (120 ft) long and divided into 50 cm (19 3/4 in.) segments and then into 5 cm (2 in.) squares. The instrumentation included twenty-four cameras parallel to the line of motion, at a distance of 15 m (49 ft). The glass film plates were approximately 1" x 1 1/2". The stereoscopic lenses were 3 in. diam with a 15 in. focal length, and the lens separation was 6 in. (15 cm). In order to photograph rapid movement, other lenses were used that were 1 1/4 in. diam, 5 in. focal length, and centered 3 in. apart. The lens aperture was probably about f/8. Exposures were taken at 1/1000th s. A timing system was used that consisted of a chronograph, with a tuning fork vibrating at frequency of 100 cycles/s to record the time and shutter opening. A ring containing twenty-four platinum inserts and a contact wiper connected to a battery complete d the circuit to release the shutter a predetermined times from 1/100th s to 1/6000th s.
Muybridge worked with Dr. Reichert at the university and developed a technique for photographing the beating of a dog's heart, which is probably the first time motion photography was used for physiological research. Muybridge then developed the Zoopraxiscope to show his photography as a projected image on a screen.
A French astronomer, Pierre Jules Cesar Jennsen, in 1874 designed an automatic camera to record the passage of the planet Venus across the sun. The chromophotographic system used a camera that took 48 photographs at 70 s intervals. The images were recorded on a circular daguerreotype plate rotated by clockwork. The clockwork mechanism included a Maltese cross movement that stopped the plate at the proper time for the exposure to take place. There was a shutter disk with 12 openings, which revolved four times faster than the daguerreotype plate that was stopped in front of a fixed aperture. The sequences lasted almost an hour, so wet collodion or glass plates could not be left in position that long prior to fixing and development.
An improved version of this camera was used in 1882 by Dr. Etinne-Jules Marey, a professor at the College de France studying animal locomotion. He substituted a more sensitive gelatine material to study the movement of birds. Professor Marey had sent a request to Eadweard Muybridge on Dec. 18, 1878, for assistance in solving problems relating to bird studies.
Marey also developed a system for using styli for recording on a revolving cylinder the footfalls of a horse. The styli were actuated by pneumatic pressure, and the result was similar to present day oscillographic recordings.
The photographic gun camera initially took 12 pictures per second on glass plates at an exposure time of 1/720th s. These plates were replaced by paper film and celluloid and provided exposures up to 1/1000th s. Later, the camera was improved to take up to 100 pictures per second. He also developed the technique of showing movement by using repeated spark flashes to illuminate a fencer making lunges with a sword, which were recorded on a glass plate. In 1883, he photographed in 120 different positions a running man wearing black and white stripes and also other photographs showing a running dog.
Other developments were the result of the efforts of a Prussian photographer, Ottomar Anshutz. In 1884, he invented a small hand-held camera using a focal plane shutter to provide exposures as short as 1/1000th s. This camera was know as the Goerz/Anshutz camera. After this invention, in 1886 he designed a system, similar to Muybridge's, using 24 small cameras with very short focal length lenses on film 2 cm square. The automatic shutter mechanisms of the cameras permitted a sequence of a horse's leap to be photographed in 3/4 s. In 1886 or 1887, he invented the Tachscope, or Schnellseher, which was used as a viewing device for photographs from a group of 12 to 14 cameras built into a single framework. On Nov. 25, 1894, using two projectors with eight pictures in each, he showed scenes such as a barber lathering a face. The Tachyscope included the use of a slot shutter for the first time.
In 1887, the Electrical Tachyscope was developed, which showed 24 images in succession. Illumination was provided by a spiral Geissler tube, which was the forerunner of modern stroboscopic photography.
The early camera developments were made in conjunction with inventions of projection devices. The projection of movement and its perception is dependent upon the "persistence of vision." Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau began experimenting with a projection device in 1829. He arrived at a theory that he called the "stroboscopic effect." His theory stated that "when 16 pictures are made of a movement which takes place in one second, the 16 pictures, when shown successively in one second, the laggard sense of sight puts them together as they appeared in the original movement." Plateau constructed a device called the Phenakistiscope in 1832, initially designed by Dr. Peter M. Roget in London. It consisted of a slotted disk with a series of 12 or more sequential drawings that were painted behind each of the slots. The painted and slotted disk was then rotated in front of a mirror and the images were reflected back through the slots, giving the impression of movement. Coincidentally, the same type of device was invented by Professor Simon Ritter von Stampfer of the Vienna Polytechnical Institute.
The Phenakistiscope was combined with a lantern in 1853 by Baron Franz von Uchatius. This invention resulted in a projector that allowed the images to be viewed by an audience.
The next development was by A. B. Brown in 1869. He obtained a United States patent for a type of projecting Phenakistiscope that used a Maltese cross movement in conjunction with a shutter.
The contributions of Marey in 1882 and Anshutz in 1884 have been mentioned earlier. Muybridge's Zoopraxiscope was a combination of Roget's/Plateau's Phenakisticscope and von Stampfer's stroboscope. Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope was invented in 1893. This was the hand cranked viewer that permitted one person to observe movement and action. Other people invented similar types of single-person viewing devices. In England, W. Friese-Greene and M. Evens in 1889 and Donisthrope and Crofts in 1890 developed machines that used and endless belt of film without perforations and used friction rollers. In 1892, Robert Paul copied the Kinetoscope, which was sold outside the USA, and the Lumiere Company produced an improved version in France.
It was during the 1893-1894 period that C. Francis Jenkins invented the motion picture projector. He called it a Phantoscope. This device, the forerunner of today's projectors, was used for time and motion study as well as for entertainment. The Phantoscope development was financed by Thomas Armat, who claimed to be the inventor but was proven not to have been. He later marketed the projector under the name Vitascope, and production was started in 1893 at West Orange, New Jersey. Their machine was named the Biograph, which was an improvement on a peep show type of machine called a Mutoscope. Finally, in November 1897, Thomas Edison's Projecting Kinetoscope was introduced and became the principal projector used in the Nickelodeon theaters.
There were numerous other high speed photographic systems developed between the 1890's and the 1930's. Systems were developed in Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, and Sweden, as well as the United States.
There were several advances in the early 1930's. Dr. Harold Edgerton developed the Stroboscopic Flash System, which provided extremely short duration light sources to stop action and give a detailed look at sequential events. This system was used in conjunction with still photographic equipment to produce a series of photographs superimposed on the same negative. Prime examples of the use of this system are the photographs of hummingbirds taken by Dr. Edgerton and the series of sport photos that Gjon Mili provided for Life magazine.
Lincoln L. Endelman has been a member of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers for 32 years. In addition to serving as SMPTE's Photonics Vice-President from 1978-1982, he has represented the society at international congresses on high speed photography and photonics, served on its editorial board, and written on high speed photography and photographic instrumentation. A member of SPIE since 1958, he was instrumental in organizing the SPIE High Speed Working Group, which he chaired from 1985-1986. He served as Program Chair for the 15th International Congress on High Speed Photography and Photonics in 1982 at San Diego, and in 1987 he became a Fellow of SPIE.
This paper was given as part of the High Speed Photography Retrospective during the SPIE's 32nd Annual International Technical Symposium, August 16-18, 1988, San Diego California. Linc kindly allowed the inclusion of his material on this site.