A Look into Camera Obscuras
This website aims to provide a resource for those interested in the history, theory,  development, and use of camera obscuras. 
The optical principle of the camera obscura has been known since antiquity, and has been used in astronomical, military and artistic contexts - it also provides the simple pleasure of observing moving, full colour images. Which is why it still fascinates many. I particularly like this quote from Huygens in 1622 writing to his parents from London: 

“ ( the camera obscura ) . . . certainly produces admirable effects in reflection- painting in a dark room. It is not possible to describe to you the beauty of it in words: all painting is dead by comparison, for here is life itself or something more noble, if only there were words for it. Figure, contour, and movement come together naturally therein, in a way that is altogether pleasing”

The best place to start is with a description of camera obscuras :

What is a camera obscura*

It is a name given to optical devices, which all have in common an aperture through which light enters a dark chamber forming an image of the outside scene on a screen. The chamber can be a room, a box, or a tent and the aperture can be a small hole, or a lens. Camera obscuras can be permanent as in a room or a purpose built construction, or portable as the camera obscuras shown above. Reflex camera obscuras have an internal mirror which reflects the light onto a translucent screen for viewing the image formed.

 The phenomena of images forming when light passes through a small gap in the leaves of a tree was noticed by Aristotle and Leonardo de Vinci during eclipses of the sun. As the moon passed in front of the sun the image formed on the ground became a crescent shape, This diagram shows how the light forms an inverted (i.e. upside down) image on the screen. The earliest type was simply a room with a hole in a wall or in a window blind.

An early room-type camera obscura

A name first coined by Joanne Keppler in the early 1600's .The words ‘camera obscura’ come from Latin meaning’ dark room’. In fact Italian for’ room’ still is ‘camera’. Or another example from law is when evidence is heard ‘in camera’ which means in the judge’s private room.


Welcome to the world of camera obscuras.

Camera Obscuras shown:

Starting top left

A reproduction made by the author of an early 19th c. reflex type in the Museum of History of Science, Oxford.


Top right

‘Vermeers Camera’ invented by Anson Cross in 1934.

Bottom right

The optics of a Tent Camera Obscura containing a meniscus prism by Chevalier 1825.

Bottom left

Collapsible type for use in the field by E.Picard 1890 - invented by Commander Blain a French militia man in 1889.

The central camera obscura is by Ernst Planck a German toy maker, made of tin plate c. 1900.

photographic montage courtesy of The Scientific Instrument Society.