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Pinhole Photography Club

The pinhole camera
The first type of camera ever invented was called a camera obscura, which is Latin for "dark room." At first, that's exactly what it was - a dark room with a tiny hole that allowed a narrow beam of light to enter. This beam produced a "real image" of outside objects on the wall opposite the hole (it didn't take pictures, though - light-sensitive materials like film weren't invented until much later). A pinhole camera is just a portable version of this ancient camera obscura. (It's a bit inconvenient to carry a room with you to take pictures of your family vacation!)

Alhazen (Ibn Al-Haytham), a great authority on optics in the Middle Ages who lived around 1000AD, invented the first pinhole
camera, (also called the Camera Obscura} and was able to explain why the images were upside down. The first casual reference to the optic laws that made pinhole cameras possible, was observed and noted by Aristotle around 330 BC, who questioned why the sun could make a circular image when it shined through a square hole.

The first published picture of a pinhole camera obscura is apparently a drawing in Gemma Frisius' De Radio Astronomica et Geometrica (1545). Gemma Frisius, an astronomer, had used the pinhole in his darkened room to study the solar eclipse of
1544. The very term camera obscura ("dark room") was coined by Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). At his time, the term had come to mean a room, tent or box with a lens aperture used by artists to draw a landscape. The lens made the image brighter and focused at a certain distance. Thus this type of camera differed from the pinhole camera obscura used by Frisius in 1544. In the 1620s Johannes Kepler invented a portable camera obscura. Camera obscuras as drawing aids were soon found in many shapes and sizes. They were used by both artists and amateur painters.

During the 19th century several large scale camera obscuras were built as places of education and entertainment. The meniscus lens, superior to the bi-convex lens, improved the quality of the the projected images. Several buildings or towers with camera obscuras remain today: The Camera Obscura at Royal Mile, Edinburgh; the Great Union Camera at Douglas, Isle of Man; the Clifton Observatory at Bristol, England; the camera obscura at Portmeirion, North Wales; the Giant Camera at Cliff House, San Francisco; the camera obscura at Santa Monica, California, the camera on the Mount Oybin in Germany, and others. A few large scale camera obscuras have been built in the 20th century.

The First Pinhole Photographs

Sir David Brewster, a Scottish scientist, was one of the first to make pinhole photographs, in the 1850s. He also coined the very word "pinhole", or "pin-hole" with a hyphen, which he used in his book The Stereoscope, published in 1856.

Modern Camera

In a modern camera, a lens is used to bend light waves into a narrow beam that produces an image on the film. In a pinhole camera, the hole acts like a lens by only allowing a narrow beam of light to enter. It forms the same type of upside-down, reversed image as a regular camera, so you can see how a camera works by making a pinhole viewer. (Read more about how cameras work here.)

With photographic paper and the right developing materials, you can make a pinhole camera that will actually produce photographs.