Editorial Feature

What is a Pinhole Camera?

A pinhole camera, also known as camera obscura or "dark chamber", is a simple camera that has a single small aperture called pinhole instead of a lens.

The main components, apart from the pinhole, are a light-proof box or chamber and a simple type of film.

The concept of a pinhole camera was published in the Book of Optics in 1021 AD by Persian scientist Ibn al-Haytham. However, the first successful photograph using the pinhole camera was taken only in 1850 by a Scottish scientist Sir David Brewster.

The pinhole camera creates an image based on the rectilinear propagation of light. Each point on the surface of an illuminated object reflects rays of light in all directions. The pinhole allows a certain amount of these rays to continue on their course until they reach a projection plane where they produce a reverse image of the object.

The images created by pinhole images are softer (less sharp) than images created using a lens. The images have nearly infinite depth of field, and wide-angle images are absolutely rectilinear. The pinhole camera can be constructed easily in a number of ways using a number of materials.

The camera can be made in all kinds of shapes and sizes. There are single and multiple hole versions as well. Curved film planes are incorporated for panoramic images. Thus pinhole cameras will vary in the following areas:

  • Focal length
  • Number of pinholes
  • Pinhole diameter
  • Image format
  • Flat or curved film plane
  • Type of light-sensitive material

Pinhole cameras are created and used by many as a hobby. They have been used in art and science as well. Initially, they were widely used in astronomy to study solar eclipses. Then it was adapted in nuclear physics. Pinhole cameras can be used to photograph high-energy X-rays and gamma rays and in surveillance and spy cameras. They can also be combined with a lens to photograph miniature models.

Sources and Further Reading 

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