the impressive technology behind

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When we talk about technology, we do not stop talking about all the contemporary advances and we tend to forget about those of the past. Well, a daguerreotype made by Charles Fontayne and William Porter in 1848 in Cincinnati (Ohio) reaches a resolution higher than that of any current camera: 140,000 Mp. The level of detail is impressive.

The daguerreotype that we are going to see is a unique work. It couldn’t be scaled up or down, so it’s the size of the sensitive plate that could fit into the camera they used. And despite all the problems, the quality they achieved surprises locals and strangers when we see it scanned.

The daguerreotype and its legendary sharpness

the daguerreotype was introduced to the world in 1839, on August 19 of that year. It was the first patent-free process to fix reality. It was expensive, difficult and dangerous. In return, you got amazing results.

Thanks to the release of the patent, the invention reached practically everyone and they managed to quickly improve the technique to improve results and above all reduce exposure times. The keys to its quality and sharpness are two:

scanned daguerreotype

A fragment of the panorama

  • The sensitive surface was polished silver plated copper plate which is polished again until it becomes a mirror. It is then made light sensitive with iodine vapors. Once exposed, it reveals itself with dangerous mercury vapors.
  • Sharpness would be unthinkable without lenses. At first they only had simple meniscus lenses with closed diaphragms. But in just two years, the Petzval lenses arrived. These lenses, made by Voigtländer, had two sets of double lenses that corrected various optical problems such as chromatic aberration and distortion. Furthermore, it was 16 times brighter than the lenses introduced in 1839.

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Another point in its favor is that the daguerreotype was a single copy. The result is a positive, so it does not have to be positive. I didn’t have to go through another process. They were forced to make large plates to make them look good, and this had an impact on the final quality.

Although the process was released by the French government, the machines could only be made by those who signed with Daguerre. So the official daguerreotype cameras, which barely lasted on the market (1839-1855), were the Giroux and the Susse brothers. A complete team cost approximately three average salaries.

Copies of Charles Fontayne and William Porter

And we come to one of the best examples of the magic of daguerreotypes. When everything was done well, the final quality was impressive. Charles Fontayne and William Porter photographed the Cincinnati (Ohio) Riverwalk with 8 daguerreotype plates. A panorama that shows the more than 3 km of the walk, which we can see in its entirety here.

Thanks to the restoration and scan quality From the prints, they realized that they could enlarge this photograph to 400×50 cm, which is equivalent to a 140,000 Mp camera. A real barbarity today. And of course, with perfect sharpness, where you can see every last detail.



This photograph came to the fore in 1985. It was hung in an exhibition in which the poor condition it was in was seen. After an agreement with the George EastmanHouse, began its restoration. They soon saw that it was impossible to restore the original, so they decided to digitize it and generated a 7GB file that was painstakingly restored.

The light, the long exposure time, and that closed diaphragm allow all the advertising posters to be seen in detail, turn the water into a mirror and make the whole world disappear until turn it into a deserted city.

And this photograph is not a rarity, because it is not necessary to go that far. If we look at our revered Jean-Laurent, the French photographer based in Spain in those years, he also made the same type of photographs. And if I remember correctly, at the exhibition of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernandoa much larger enlargement could be seen along the way.

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The daguerreotype endured very little in the market due to the difficulties it caused, its high costs and because it did not allow multiple copies. But it is one of the highest quality processes that have ever been manufactured. Today we have to find a substitute for mercury vapors, lower the cost of silver and surely it would continue to leave us speechless.

When we talk about technology, we do not stop talking about all the contemporary advances and we tend to forget…

When we talk about technology, we do not stop talking about all the contemporary advances and we tend to forget…

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