A brief history of the flash from the explosive powder to LEDs

The first known photograph was made in 1826 by French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niépce. It was called “window View” and is perfectly preserved to our days. The exposure lasted for as much as eight hours in bright sunlight. Of course, with such a long exposure to photograph living people was impossible.

«Вид из окна» первая фотография в истории
“The view from the window” the first photograph in history

With the improvement of process and new materials mean exposure time was greatly reduced. However, early on it was clear that the photographers would be difficult to do without additional light sources. So the development of the flashbulbs kept pace with the evolution of photography in General. For 150 years the outbreaks has been transformed both physically and chemically and, rising from the magnesium powder to the ultra-small and powerful LEDs. To restore the full chronology of events is impossible today, since different inventors proposed different solutions to the problem of lack of light independently from each other, so we are going to talk about the main stages of the evolution of outbreaks.

How it all began?

In 1859, German scientist Robert Bunsen and his English colleague G. Roscoe suggested the use of light burning magnesium. This discovery became the basis for numerous experiments in the course of several decades. In 1865, Charles Smith was in the process of landscape photography in Egypt has experienced a mixture powder of magnesium and gunpowder, however, the result was unsatisfactory. However, this result was enough to realize the allegiance of the direction. Soon followed by attempts to mix the magnesium with other compounds. The final step was the preparation of a mixture of magnesium with potassium chlorate, made by Adolf Myth and Johan Gedik. So it was invented that went down in history under the name of flash powder (flash powder).

Процесс использования порошковой вспышки
The process of using flash powder

Of course, then no synchronization of the camera with flash was not, and the survey was carried out in several stages. The camera had to be on a tripod, and the powder was on a special stand. The shutter was opened, triggered the flash, then the shutter was closed. Ignite the powder had to manually, with the use of wick or long matches. The power and duration of the light pulse was determined by the amount of mixture of magnesium powder with potassium chlorate.

Типичная подставка для использования порошковой вспышки
A typical stand for the use of flash powder

For the location of the powder metal was used the groove on a long handle, which was then called flash lamp (flash lamp). Today the concept of lamps has changed. And at the end of the nineteenth century photographers have mastered the production of simple synchronizers. In General, the role of synchronizer-twin-spoke wire, one end of which is connected to the camera, and the second activator with the flash, which was a one-time cap. The piston gave the spark that lit the powder – simple as that.

Использование порошковой вспышки в наши дни
The use of flash powder in our days

The main problem with these outbreaks was the risk of fire and release of large amounts of smoke. The burns were common injuries among professional photographers, often suffered and the people around them. Re shooting indoors was only possible after airing. But the development of the synchronizers and the location of the flashes on separate stands has allowed to reduce injuries. The latest advancement in powder outbreaks was the use of electronic. The most famous, perhaps, was the set from Victor company Jas. H. Smith & Sons Co., which included an arm with the groove of the lighter and the jar of powder. There were more kits available, in which “lamp” were smaller and lighter, and a system of electric ignition were missing.

Комплект Victor от Jas. H. Smith & Sons Co.
Set Victor from Jas. H. Smith & Sons Co.

Более поздняя баночка с порошком для вспышек
Later jar of powder for flares

In parallel there was the development of electric flashes. And despite the fact that the first working models appeared in the nineteenth century, the powder was actively used until the 60s of XX century.

Powder go away

In 1927, General Electric released a disposable flash bulb, which was called flash bulb. In fact, such outbreaks were produced in Germany, the company Vacublitz, but more often they were referred to as the production of General Electric.

Лампа-вспышка с магниевой фольгой внутри
Flash lamp with magnesium foil inside

Instead ignite the powder in the open area of flash new generation used magnesium foil, which was located in a glass bulb filled with oxygen. This decision, however, did not last long – from time to time the ignition of the magnesium inside the flask was tearing her to pieces, so replaced the glass came in transparent plastic.

Более компактная модель лампы-вспышки
A more compact model of the flash

But, of course, and this option was far from ideal. The outbreak was disposable and replaced after use was associated with a number of inconveniences.

The light bulb became so hot that it was impossible to take the hands

But from a technical point of view, the problem was much broader than that. The sensitivity of photographic plates by the time increased, for shooting required a shorter exposure. Flash lamp with a magnesium foil was ignited not instantly – she needed some time to achieve the maximum power. This was the most fundamental difference from modern electronic flashes. Camera sync then leave a small delay: in fact the flash fire before the shutter opens, which worked at the time of its greatest brightness.

Blitz for once

Obviously, the most annoying use of flares was a need to change them regularly. But in the late 60s there was a convenient invention, partially solved this problem. First Amateur flash (compact, easy to use and cheap) came with the filing of Kodak. They are simply called blocks (because of its shape) and were designed for use on compact Instamatic family of cameras.

Kodak Instamatic и вспышка FlashCube
Kodak Instamatic and FlashCube flash

This model was not reusable in the full sense of the word, it consisted of four one-time flashes – one on each side except top and bottom. When the picture is taken with flash, the cube can be rotated 90 degrees for reuse.

Kodak FlashCube
Kodak FlashCube

Комплект вспышек-кубиков General Electric
Kit flash cubes General Electric

A similar model later became a produce and General Electric. Cubes sold in set of three pieces, which ultimately gave the opportunity to make up to 12 photos with the flash. However, from time to time separate faces FlashCube has not worked, and on average you can count to 10 flashes from the box. From the point of view of marketing the invention FlashCube was brilliant. First, they looked beautiful and unusual – people liked. And secondly, solve the problem of turning the flash into a raw material only partially.

The photographers were spared from having to change the flash after each shot, to remove easier, but to pay for outbreaks they continued on a permanent basis

Electronic flash, the crown of creation

Truly reusable device became only the electronic flash with a flash lamp in the base. Flash lamps existed in the days of disposable flash bulbs, the first working sample on the basis of xenon tube was created in 1939, but the true heyday of electronic flashes came in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

First Studio monoblock was developed by Bowens to the early 60s, and the pulse producing lamps, the company has mastered in 1947. Its products to this day remains the most revered among professional photographers.

Современный студийный моноблок Bowens
Modern Studio monolights Bowens

Design electronic flash implies a capacitor for energy storage, which is released in the xenon tube in the form of a bright light pulse. Unlike previous generations of flashes, this impulse was very intensive and short. Fundamentally the electronic flash device has not changed for several decades, evolved only separate components: the xenon lamp and the capacitors.

The development of the flashes mounted on the camera went on his way. Here the main accelerator was the birth of universal mount – hot Shoe (hot shoe), which has become a standard in 1963. On Soviet cameras this connector came a little later, in the 70-ies.

Nikon Speedlight SB900 – одна из самых навороченных накамерных вспышек
Nikon Speedlight SB900 is one of the most tricked out camera flash units

Modern on-camera flashes have such capabilities that simply weren’t possible photographers of the 70s. the Camera transmits data on exposure measurement and the object distance and the focal length of the lens and adjusts the flash power and move the unit with the lamp for determining the optimal angle of dispersion.

Built-in flashes in cameras work on the same principle, and all of the electronic components are embedded in the body of the camera itself. Physical size to impose certain restrictions on power, so integrated flash greatly inferior in power to external flashes. Power Studio monolight traditionally indicated in joules, while the built-in and on-camera flashes are characterized by a guide number (guide number).

Встроенная вспышка в беззеркальной камере Sony
The built-in flash in the Sony mirrorless camera

In short, this is a relative number that describes the flash power, and allows you to easily calculate the correct exposure for pulsed lighting. Doubling the guide number means doubling the distance at which possible normal shooting. Well, for digital cameras most often stated something like “11 meters at ISO 100”.

LED, present and future

Led flash became widespread with the development of cameras in smartphones. In some models, for example, Nokia Lumia 1020, installed a xenon flash, but the most popular were the led flash. Their main advantage consists in possibility of use both in pulsed and in continuous mode for photos and videos.

Встроенная камеры и вспышка в iPhone 5S
Built-in camera and flash in the iPhone 5S

Power led flashes small, but to illuminate close subjects enough. Plus built-in led flash can be used as a flashlight – almost all smartphones today have this feature.

If we talk about professional photography, led sources can be used only in constant light, and need it mainly for shooting video. Well, from the point of view photos of real alternative the flash with a xenon lamp yet.