The question stirred up much controversy. More controversy, in fact, than I would have ever imagined. Check it out:
"It used to stand for "brief", before the age of flashbulbs, the term "bulb" was adopted later. Basically, for cameras without flash synchronisation, one holds the shutter open on "B", fires the flashgun manually, then closes the shutter, hence "bulb" ;-) -Chris Eve "
I think the 'bulb' setting is called that because they often used an
air bulb connected to the shutter release by a tube. I think you can still
find air releases in some of the larger, denser catalogs, like Porter's
Camera (no relation). Think of the shutter release on those old, glass
emultion cameras with the huge lens bellows and the black covers that had to
be slid out so that the plate could be exposed; they had an air bulb.
"I actually emailed you in answer to your question in the
"definitions" part of your site about the origin of the "B" for bulb;
I quote from the Focal Encyclopedia,
"Bulb Exposure (B). Another term for a brief exposure - in which the shutter remains open only so long as the shutter release is held down. The word originated with the early pneumatic shutter release."
So now you know.
Incidentally I found you via your Junk Store Cameras - nice one!
All the best,
"-- as in before synchronized (with the shutter) flash. As in
before flash bulbs. As in open the lens cover, "say cheese," and light the
Don't ask me how I know this; I remember reading it somewhere..."
" I heard that the bulb setting goes back to the time
when shutters weren't
to the flash. You opened the shutter and fired the flash, then closed the
I guess the name just stuck for the setting. Many old shutters had a "T"
the first press opened the shutter and you pressed it again to close, this
was for time exposures. Probibly very useful owing to the fact that high
speed film in those days was
[What I found interesting about this next bit of "bulb" information is that the writer went further than a simple explanation. He went on to speculate as to what might have happened to those air bulbs after their useful life had ended. -MM]
"In one site area you asked why long exposure is called "bulb." In the very early days (wet plate era) shutters were released by a squeeze bulb attached to a long, thin air hose. If you wanted the shutter to just click you set it for that, squeezed, click. If you wanted it to stay open as long as you kept squeezing the bulb, you set it for bulb, and then the bulb governed exposure.
Why did they need a bulb on a hose to release the shutter anyway? The photographer was behind the camera, composing on a ground glass under a big black cloth hood and he needed a device to trip the shutter which was way up front (these early wooden bellows cameras were huge) without moving from his view so it was a kind of remote control.
I have no idea what happened to all those bulbs on hoses once they were obsolete but possibly the enema got its start that way. Early photographers must have fantasized about doing that with them to the guy who invented this cumbersome device.
David Kwechansky, Toronto"
It was interesting reading the comments about the `bulb exposure' and yet again I have
come upon a misconception that bothers me whenever I see it on TV or in the movies and
that is the photographer actually taking the picture while he is under the focusing cloth.
This is usually done with one hand holding a flash powder gun. -Francis Roy
"Bulb" comes from unsynchronised shutters. One attached the flash, set the shutter to "B" and flicked the switch as fast as you could. Honest! Well, at least that's what it says in my old Kodak Tourist Manual.
Terry Griffin - Toronto Canada
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