How Many Types of Cameras Are There?


Cameras have evolved since the birth of photography in the middle of the 19th century to an almost unrecognizable level. Yet, virtually all of the camera types ever used still exist, and you still can shoot images with them. As the technology has changed, many of the basic camera types have adapted. That means that the type of single-lens reflex you picked up to use in 1959 may be digital now and not film, but the basic functions of the camera remain intact.


  • The single-lens reflex camera, developed primarily in the 1950s, uses the same lens to take the photograph as it does to let you see, compose and focus the image. It does this by means of a flip-up mirror and a pentaprism. The image comes in through the lens, hits a mirror at a 45-degree angle, then goes up through a focusing screen, bounces around inside the pentaprism --- to correct the image from right to left and to right-side up --- and meets your eye in the viewfinder. When you depress the shutter button, the mirror flips up momentarily, the image goes straight and the shutter curtain opens and closes, exposing the film. The principle is the same in a digital SLR, except there is no shutter curtain or film. Instead, a charge-coupled device, or CCD, operates to capture the image digitally when the mirror flips up. The primary advantage of the SLR -- being able to see the same image your media will record -- allows the camera to use a wide variety of lenses, from wide-angle to telephoto. Typically, the SLR format has been confined to the 35 mm format or medium format cameras, whether they use film or digital media.


  • Point-and-shoot cameras started with George Eastman's original Box Brownie in 1900. The camera came with film in it, the photographer took photos, then sent the entire camera back to Rochester, N.Y.'s Eastman Kodak Co. for developing. The company returned your images and the camera loaded with fresh film. The point-and-shoot camera has become quite streamlined since then, so much so that you can stick one in your pocket. This type of camera has a lens through which you compose your photo and another that takes the picture. You do not need to focus this type of camera, and in most cases the shutter speeds and aperture settings are taken care of by the camera, especially in digital models.


  • Twin-lens reflex cameras had a vogue in the 1950s as both professional and consumer-level cameras. They typically used medium-format film such as 120 or 220. Some, especially for consumers, could be considered point-and-shoot cameras. Essentially, there is one lens over the other on the front of the camera. You look down from above into the viewfinder with the camera held at waist level. The bottom lens actually takes the photo. In professional model TLRs, you can focus the lenses and set shutter speeds and aperture openings. These TLR cameras have not been continued into the digital age.


  • Rangefinder cameras came in a variety of film models, but may not be available in digital versions. Some were amateur cameras, but some were prized by professional photographers for many years. Higher-level rangefinders had interchangeable lenses. The camera works by having two lenses attached to the viewfinder, one at either end of the front of the camera. As you turn the focus ring on the lens, you see two overlapping images of the scene in front of you. To focus, you bring those two images together to form one image. Because you do not see through the same lens that takes the photo, rangefinders typically had an upward limit of a 135 mm lens.

View Camera

  • The view camera was the first type of camera used widely by photographers. It has a large ground-glass focusing screen on one end, a bellows in the middle and a lens with a shutter and aperture at the other. The image on the glass is upside down and reversed left to right. Typically these cameras capture single images on sheets of film from 4 inches by 5 inches up to 8 inches by 10 inches. Photographers such as Matthew Brady in the American Civil War and Ansel Adams in the early part of the 20th century used these cameras.


  • Lomo is one of the more unusual camera types in that the cameras are basic point-and-shoot models, but they take 120 film for a large 2.25-inch-by-2.25-inch negative. The cameras themselves typically consist of cheap plastic bodies with cheap plastic lenses. They give little depth of field and produce low-contrast images.

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