Lumière  –  Vintage Camera Brand

Lumière Brand Overview

Lumière logo

Founded: 1860 — Besançon, French Empire
  (modern day France)
Currently: Lumière Imaging

Lumière Brand History

Lumière was a film and camera manufacturer founded in 1860 by portrait painter turned photographer Antoine Lumière in the French city of Besançon. Much of the success of the company, however, can be attributed not to Antoine himself but to his sons Auguste and Louis. In the midst of the Franco-Prussian war, Antoine moved the family to Lyon and set up a workshop where he produced glass plates (a precursor to sheet film). After a decade of struggling, Auguste and Louis (who were now in their late teens) effectively saved their father’s company by designing machines to help streamline production with Louis even devising an innovative (and, perhaps more importantly, commercially successful) new type of photographic plate emulsion they named “Etiquette Bleue” (Blue Label) in 1882. The first of several large scale Lumière factories was established in 1883 and by 1893, the business was officially taken over by the two sons.

Inspired by Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope (a device similar to the Mutoscope, a coin-operated peep show machine once popular in the United States and United Kingdom) which was essentially a mechanically operated flip book, Antoine encouraged his sons to develop a method that would allow more than a single person to view a moving picture at the same time. Designed and prototyped by the brothers Lumière with the help of the company’s chief engineer Charles Moisson, the Cinématographe Lumière (and cinema as we now know it) was born. Using perforated celluloid film treated with their very own “Etiquette Bleue” emulsion, this groundbreaking device was not only capable of recording moving pictures at 16 frames per second but once a focused light source was placed behind the machine, it also functioned as a movie projector or a film duplicator. Weighing in at just over seven kilograms (about 16 pounds) and being hand-crank operated, the Cinématographe Lumière was as portable as it was versatile, especially compared to Edison’s hulking, view-only Kinetoscope which was roughly the size of a chest of drawers and required an external power source.

On December 28, 1895, Auguste and Louis went to the heart of Paris and rented out the basement of the Grand Café for their first public screening, charging an admission fee of one franc to an audience of 33 people. They exhibited ten short films, each less than a minute long, showing everyday things such as workers streaming out of the Lumière factory after a long day, a blacksmith hammering away at his anvil, and boys diving into the sea from a narrow pier. It was a sensational success, astonishing audiences and generating such a buzz that the two brothers were able to open theaters in London, Brussels, and New York City the following year. Cinématographe operators were trained and dispatched to distant corners of the globe, amassing a collection of more than 1,400 films over the next decade.

As if creating modern cinema weren’t enough, in 1903, the brothers patented an early type of color-sensitive photographic plate they branded as Autochrome Lumière. Although other types color photography existed at the time, results were difficult to achieve, often unreliable, and distractingly unrealistic whereas Lumière’s brand new process offered consistency as well as relative ease of use. As such, Autochrome Lumière was quickly adopted, making a fortune for the company and becoming the unofficial standard for color photography for decades to come. In 1905, the company began publishing an annual called Agenda which reported on breakthroughs in the field of photographic technology. At the end of 1910, Lumière merged with the J. Jougla Company—a rival photographic plate manufacturer in Paris—and formed l’Union Photographique Industrielle (the Industrial Photographic Union). However, both companies would continue doing business under their respective names alongside additional UPI branding.

Not content to only offer photographic plates, Lumière expanded into cameras starting in 1901 with the experimental Périphote, a cumbersome and unusual panoramic camera with a lens that rotated around a film-lined cylindrical drum. The company made a more earnest attempt at entering the camera market during the early 1920s with a folding stereo camera called the Sterelux followed in the 1930s by conventional folding cameras such as the Lumirex, collapsible viewfinder cameras like the Eljy, and the Scoutbox line of box cameras until the Second World War shut down Lumière’s assembly lines. After World War II, production started up again, primarily consisting of updates to existing model lines for the next decade or so.

In 1962, Lumière was acquired by the Swiss chemical conglomerate Ciba AG which in turn bought shares in the British camera and film manufacturer Ilford one year later. With Ciba now at the helm, the company ceased all camera manufacturing and began selling rebranded Dacora models bearing the name “Cilmatic” (a portmanteau of Ciba and Lumière) until the early 1970s, by which time Ciba had gained full ownership of Ilford and withdrew Lumière from the camera industry entirely in order to focus on photographic films and papers. In 1982, Lumière was rechristened as ILFORD France. Sometime around 2006, ILFORD France returned to its roots and changed its name to Lumière Imaging but continues to be a distributor of photographic papers and films (including Ilford products) as well as miscellaneous photographic supplies such as tripods, monopods, and studio lighting.

Interested in starting or growing your own collection of Lumière cameras?
Check eBay to see what’s available.

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, WI, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), p 440-443.

Union Photographique Industrielle Agenda Lumière-Jougla, 1914. (Paris, France: Librairie Gauthier-Villars, 1914), p 3-4, 14-18.

Josef Maria Eder, translated by Edward Epstean History of Photography. (New York City, New York, USA: Dover Publications, Inc, 1945), p 432, 519-520, 695.

“The Lumière Brothers: Pioneers of cinema and colour photography,” The National Science and Media Museum,

“March 22, 1895: Screening of the Lumière Brothers’ First Film,” The American Physical Society,

“Lights! Camera! Action! How the Lumière brothers invented the movies,” National Geographic,

“Ilford’s History,” ILFORD Imaging Europe GmbH,

“Antoine Lumière,” Wikipedia,ère

“Auguste et Louis Lumière,” Wikipedia,ère

“Cinematograph,” Wikipedia,

“Salon Indien du Grand Café,” Wikipedia,é

“Autochrome Lumière,” Wikipedia,ère

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