Although the ability to capture an image in a permanent way wasn't discovered until the 19th century, the ancestor of the camera was first used as early as 470 BCE.
The camera obscura (Latin; camera for "vaulted chamber/room", obscura for "dark", together "darkened chamber/room") is a device that projects an image of its surroundings onto a screen. It was used for entertainment and by artists to create realistic drawings. It was also the inspiration that led to the invention of photography, the ability to permanently capture the image made by such a device.
The Camera Obscura is usually a box with a hole in one side. "Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved." By the 18th century, camera obscura experts were using mirrors inside device, resulting in a upright projected image.
The size of the pinhole in the side of the box is very important. If it is too large, the image is quite blurry. The smaller it is, the sharper the image. However, if it is too small, the image becomes too diffracted and blurry.
Timeline: (source: wikipage about camera obscura)
- 470-390 BCE: Mozi, a Chinese Philosopher and founder of Mohism mentions the camera obscura, referring to it as a "collecting plate" or "locked treasure room."
- 384-322 BCE: Aristotle use a similar device to look at a partially eclipsed sun projected onto the ground
- 4th Century: Theon of Alexandria, a Greek scholar, observed that "candlelight passing through a pinhole will create an illuminated spot on a screen that is directly in line with the aperture and the center of the candle."
- 6th Century: Anthemius of Tralles, a Byzantine mathematician and architect, used a type of camera obscura in his experiments.
- 9th Century: Alhazen was the first to explain the devise as understanding that the projection on the screen is an image of what is on the outside of the aperture or pinhole. He demonstrated this by experimenting with candle light placement and multiple light sources.
- 1031-1095: Shen Kuo, Chinese scientists, was the first to apply geometric and quantitative atributes to the image.
- 13th Century: Roger Bacon in England repeated Aristotle's use of the camera obscura to safely observe solar eclipses.
- 1452-1519: Leonardo da Vinci wrote about the camera obscura in his book, "Codex Atlanticus", including descriptions and illustrations of the device in use.
- 17th Century: Dutch artists including Johannes Vemeer, known for their attention to detail in their paintings, likely used the camera obscura in creating their works of art.
- 1604: The device was first called "camera obscura" by German astronomer Johannes Kepler.
- 18th Century: Developments and improvements to the device by Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke, allowed the camera obscura to be portable. Something that was very important for artists while on travels.
- 1820-1839: The portable model of the camera obscura was used by Joseph Nicephore Niepce, Louis Daguerre and William Fox Talbot for creating the first photographs.