British photographic history

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When 21st century high-tech meets 19th century photography ...

The image was considered to be one of the finest examples, if not the most famous, in the history of
daguerrean photography. Taken in 1848 by Charles Fontayne and William Porter, it was a panorama spanning some 2 miles of the Cincinnati waterfront. They produced it using eight 6.5 by 8.5inch daguerreotype plates, a then-new technology, that in skilled hands of 19th century photographers was capable of displaying mind-blowing resolution.

Fast forward to 2006. To safeguard the image, Van Skalk, the manager of the Cincinnati Public Library, transported the photo to the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York to begin stabilization and conservation work using the most advanced methods of photographic preservation.

Using state-of-the-art digital microscopy, it exposed previously undetected damage to the image - information critical for the preservation specialists. But more importantly, due to the impressive quality of the 19th century daguerreotype, the digital microscope was able to provide an undistorted 30x magnification of the photo - an enlargement revealing unprecedented historic detail of Cincinnati's past.

After the restoration, the historians made a guess on the time and date the photos were taken by using old steamboat records, analysing the angle of shadow etc. They figured the shots must have been taken just before 2pm.

Guess what. There was a clock tower in one of the photos. And using the high-tech microscope scanner, the clock tower showed a time of .......

Read the full report here to find out the answer!

P.S. Use the zoom feature on that site or this other site here - I was amazed at the sharpness of the images - puts my 21st century digital camera to shame!

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Comment by Michael Wong on October 29, 2010 at 9:27
Apparently, conservators at George Eastman House in Rochester estimated that one would need a 140,000 megapixel digital camera to match the resolution in each plate! Here's a then and now photo:

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