Toronto. When Englishman Dick Maddox announced the dry plate in 1870, he set a course for the future of photography. The invention and expansion of celluloid materials set the stage for emulsion substrates lighter than glass. Around 1886 roll film was suggested using the flexibility of celluloid. And in 1888 George Eastman announced the creation of the Kodak camera to compete with others in the roll film industry.
For the first few years, the backing material although transparent was not optically clear so camera and exposed film was shipped back to Rochester where the film was stripped from the backing and placed on flat glass tables. The negatives were set out in sunlight to contact print. These prints were returned with the camera and a fresh film roll to the owner.
Over the years, manufacturers worked diligently to increase film sensitivity (ASA/ISO rating), reduce the grain (especially when the minicam revolution took off), and expand the sensitivity band more and more into the yellows, oranges, and reds as the films moved towards panchromatic emulsions. For a time after the minicams showed up on the market, private industry attempted to create developers that reduced the metallic silver’s clumping tendency thereby make the developed film “fine grain”. In the 1940s, ASA 100 or 160 was considered to be very fast (Super XX for example). Kodak offered Verichrome, a film with TWO light sensitive emulsions, one slow and one “fast” to ease the dilemma of the occasional snap-shooter trying to choose a suitable film.
By the end of the days of film a speed of ASA 800 was attained and with fast lenses and slower shutter speeds it allowed indoor photographs by natural illumination. Modern day smart phones of course far exceed the highest ASA/ISO rating of yesteryear. The excellent 1975 book “Images & Enterprise” by Reese V Jenkins serves as a wonderful reference for the early roll films.