Camera obscura

Antique “portable” camera

Vintage folding wooden camera with lens, made probably in England, 1880’s

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Size: 8″ x 8″ (closed)

Early photographic cameras were usually in the form of a pair of nested boxes, the end of one carrying the lens and the end of the other carrying a removable ground glass focusing screen. By sliding them closer together or farther apart, objects at various distances could be brought to the sharpest focus as desired. After a satisfactory image had been focused on the screen, the lens was covered and the screen was replaced with the light-sensitive material. The lens was then uncovered and the exposure continued for the required time, which for early experimental materials could be several hours or even days. The first permanent photograph of a camera image was made in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce using a sliding wooden box camera made by Charles and Vincent Chevalier in Paris.

Similar cameras were used for exposing the silver-surfaced copper Daguerreotype plates, commercially introduced in 1839, which were the first practical photographic medium. The collodion wet plate process that gradually replaced the Daguerreotype during the 1850s required photographers to coat and sensitize thin glass or iron plates shortly before use and expose them in the camera while still wet. Early wet plate cameras were very simple and little different from Daguerreotype cameras, but more sophisticated designs eventually appeared. The Dubroni of 1864 allowed the sensitizing and developing of the plates to be carried out inside the camera itself rather than in a separate darkroom. Other cameras were fitted with multiple lenses for photographing several small portraits on a single larger plate, useful when making cartes de visite. It was during the wet plate era that the use of bellows for focusing became widespread, making the bulkier and less easily adjusted nested box design obsolete.

For many years, exposure times were long enough that the photographer simply removed the lens cap, counted off the number of seconds (or minutes) estimated to be required by the lighting conditions, then replaced the cap. As more sensitive photographic materials became available, cameras began to incorporate mechanical shutter mechanisms that allowed very short and accurately timed exposures to be made.

The electronic video camera tube was invented in the 1920s, starting a line of development that eventually resulted in digital cameras, which largely supplanted film cameras around the start of the 21st century.

One thought on “Camera obscura

  1. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.

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