The photograph taken by Robinson is perhaps the more famous of the two, having been more largely distributed than its rival image. This is perhaps because a high resolution copy is available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Robinson photograph shows the central funnel of a tornado with two smaller offshoots, one at each side and a surrounding dust fountain. Above the funnel menacing clouds are gathering. Many people say that the photograph appears to have been retouched, and indeed this may well be the case as a contemporary article carried in the New York Times of that year mentions that the photograph has undergone slight retouching, this is most likely done to make the image more dramatic, as copies of the picture were being sold as the first tornado captured on film.
The Robinson photograph was said to be taken in August 1884 and is often accompanied by the following stock text, said to have been written on the back of the photograph:"The storm passed 22 miles west of the city. It was first noticed at 4 o' clock, p. m., moving in a southeasterly direction, remaining in sight over two hours; killing several people and destroying property in its course".
The first mention of the photograph in a reliable context comes from the New York Times, an article of November 23 1884 notes that a Mr J Dewolf was selling several copies of a photograph taken by Mr F N Robinson, "who happened to be taking some instantaneous photographs at the time". It reports that the photographs were examined by professor E S Holden, director of the Washburn Observatory (who went on to become President of the University of California in 1885), who thinks the photographs are genuine. The article notes that the photographs have undergone slight retouching, (this could account for the appearance of the dramatic clouds which seem to be out of place in the image), but that it does not materially detract from their authentic character.
The second photograph is less well known and is much less described. It is said that on April 23, 1884, in Anderson County, Photographer A. A. Adams, who operated a gallery in Westphalia, a small railroad town, in Kansas took this photo of the storm from a downtown street corner as the tornado passed just northwest of the town. The earliest mention of this account is found in The Garnett Journal of Friday, May 17, 1907. Although this is later in date than the new york times article, it does mention that Adams was selling copies of his print, this opens up the chance that earlier evidence may come to light proving the earlier date this photograph was taken.