Camera obscura - what is it? "Great-grandfather" of the camera
Camera obscura - what is it? "Great-grandfather" of the camera

The camera obscura is a prototype of the modern camera. It was this simple device that helped our ancestors capture the brightest moments of life.


Camera obscura is the simplest optical device that allows you to reproduce the image of objects. It is translated from Latin as "dark room", which most clearly reflects the device's device. It is a box with a hole, as well as a frosted glass or paper screen. Penetrating through a makeshift lens, the light transfers the contours of the object to the surface.


Historical information

The history of photography spans more than one century. Naturally, it is inextricably linked with such a device as a camera obscura. The first mention of it dates back to the 5th century BC. The Chinese philosopher Mao Tzu described an interesting phenomenon in his works: an image appeared on the wall of a dark room. Aristotle also described similar situations.

The next stage can be considered the X century. Ibn Alkhazen (Arab scientist) while studying the Sun, made special observation tents. It was he who, in parallel with the creation of a new theory of light propagation, explained the principle of the camera obscura.

The history of photography is inextricably linked with the development of astronomy. So, initially the camera obscura found its application in observations of a solar eclipse (XIII century). But Leonardo da Vinci used this device in his painting classes, which he wrote about in detail in his works. Since then, many artists have used the camera obscura in their work.

The idea to equip a camera with a lens first appeared in 1550 with the Italian physicist G. Cardano. He concluded that this innovation would significantly improve image quality. A few years later, another Italian - D. Barbaro - proposed to additionally diaphragm the lens.

Tricks of artists

Despite the fact that the camera obscura is a tool of ancient astronomers and opticians, it was the work of artists that stimulated scientists to create photographs. In an effort to facilitate their work, artists actively used this device. So, with the help of a pinhole, artists projected an image onto paper or plaster, after which they circled it with charcoal, pencil, paint or other materials. It was this action that prompted physicists to think that the camera should not only project, but also capture the image.

Thus, the realism of the work of most artists is a merit not only of their personal skill, but also of the camera obscura. It has been proven that the luxurious portraits of Carmontel and the picturesque cityscapes of Belotto are the result of using this device. And even in the 19th century, when the obscura began to transfer the image to paper, artists usedthis property by lightly coloring the lithographs with watercolors.

Working principle

A rather primitive, but at the same time complex device is the camera obscura. The principle of operation is that, passing through the hole on the front side of the device, the sun's rays create an image on the screen. In this case, it will turn upside down.

It is worth noting that low-definition images help to make a camera obscura. Photos come out pretty blurry. Sharpness can only be increased by reducing the aperture of the "lens", which minimizes the impact of extraneous rays on the screen. However, only a large hole can make the image bright.


Prototype of a modern camera

The first camera obscura was rather primitive. In addition, at the output it gave an inverted image, which is not very convenient. But by 1686, Yoganess Tsang had upgraded the device, resulting in the first portable camera. He equipped the device with mirrors, placing them at an angle of 45 degrees. They projected the image onto a horizontal platinum.

The development of photography did not stop there. Scientists constantly improved the device, equipping it with lenses that not only expanded the viewing angle, but also made the images clearer. As a result, they managed to get a small mobile camera that produced fairly clear photos.


Knowing how the camera obscura works, some resourceful people made real homemadecinemas. So, having drilled a small hole in the outer wall, it was possible to observe on the opposite plane what was happening on the street. In the absence of television, this was quite interesting entertainment. But this is, of course, a primitive use of the pinhole principle.

The so-called "stenope" has become a more progressive invention. This is a kind of camera in which a small hole is provided instead of a lens. Pictures taken with this device are soft, but quite deep. At the same time, an almost ideal line of perspective is noted. This device is popular even among modern photographers.

In 1807, Wollaston invented the camera lucida. It was a prism with four sides. By placing it at a certain angle, it was possible to transfer the image to paper. Thus, lucida fell in love with artists who made very accurate sketches and sketches with it.

How to make your own camera

When reviewing photographic equipment, few people think about what the first cameras were like. Of course, you can find information on the Internet or in encyclopedias, but it will be much more interesting and informative to make a camera yourself. To do this, you will need a regular matchbox. On its front side, you need to make a small hole (no more than half a millimeter, otherwise the camera will not work). At the bottom of the box you need to put photo paper or film. Now place the makeshift camera so that its "lens" is directed to the street. 4-5 hours later when you openmatchbox, you will see that the contours of the object are displayed on the paper (film).

For professionals

The camera obscura is a simple but quite interesting device that occupies modern minds. Of course, you can make a primitive device out of a matchbox, shoebox or tea can, but if you are serious about photography, you can make a camera close to the original. Thus, by combining modern technology and age-old knowledge, you can create quite original pictures.

You will need:

  • camera cover;
  • a square piece of aluminum (can be cut from a beer or soda can);
  • needle;
  • black tape;
  • sandpaper;
  • scissors;
  • drill.

Drill a hole with a diameter of 5 mm in the cover of the camera body. Carefully sand down any bumps with fine sandpaper so that the plastic fragments do not get into the camera.

Next, the hole must be made in a piece of aluminum. This can be done with a needle, piercing the material 7 times. This fragment also needs to be carefully polished, and then attached to the lid with electrical tape. It is important that the center of both holes match.

Now all that's left is to attach the cap to the lens and start shooting. Given that the aperture will be small, experts recommend using a tripod. To make the pictures clearer, a flash is used for additional lighting.


Back in ancient timesages the wise knew how the camera obscura worked. From the sphere of science, this device gradually migrated to the field of art. As it turned out, the amazing realism and documentary accuracy of the work of many artists is the result of using the obscura. Nevertheless, the device was most widely used in the field of photography. It was thanks to primitive black boxes that our ancestors were able to capture the most important moments that are priceless for history.

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