Did You Know: The World’s First Portable Motion Picture Camera was a 12fps ‘Rifle’


Here’s a fun piece of photographic/cinematographic history: the first ever portable motion picture camera was invented by a French scientist named Étienne-Jules Marey, and it was in the shape of a gun. Sort of a great grandfather to the the Mark III Hythe Machine Gun Camera used by the British during WWI to train aerial gunners, the Fusil Photographique (or “photographic rifle”) made its debut on the scene all the way back in 1882.


Marey’s rifle camera was designed to take motion pictures of birds in flight. Twelve exposures would be shot in a second and captured on a circular gelatin plate. Each shot was exposed for 1/720th of a second and the resulting footage served to help Marey study the movement of animals, insects, birds and even humans.

He would line up his subject by pointing the rifle at them, alter the length of the barrel to achieve proper focus, and then literally ‘shoot’ 12 exposures in quick succession. And because the rifle was so much lighter, smaller and more moveable than a stationary camera, he was able to track his subject as he shot — Marey essentially invented panning.


One of these guns is actually on display in his hometown of Beaune, at the Musée Étienne-Jules Marey, alongside some of the original plates that you can rotate and “watch” — sort of like the original GIF.

(via The History of The Discovery of Cinematography)