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Pinhole Camera

Pinhole cameras show that light rays travel in straight lines.

Pinhole cameras have been known as far back as ancient China. Mo Ti described how a small hole could cast an image in the 4th century BC.

In the 11th century, the Arabic scientist Al-Haytham wrote a book on optics that analysed previous scientific theories, and laid the foundations for later European studies of light. This book included a systematic account of the pinhole camera, and how it shows that light travels in straight lines.

The camera obscura developed from the pinhole camera by placing a closed box behind the hole. This allowed copying of the image produced by the pinhole. The image of a pinhole camera is reversed. Light that enters the pinhole from the top of the object ends up at the bottom of the screen, and vice versa. Portable camera obscuras were easily made, and they became very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Camera obscuras and pinhole cameras are still used today. Because their images are formed geometrically, they have many advantages. They can form clear images of objects at different distances and they do not have the aberrations suffered by lenses.


The image of a pinhole camera
magnifyThe image of a pinhole camera


A 19th century camera obscura
magnifyA 19th century camera obscura


Photograph taken by a pinhole camera
magnifyPhotograph taken by a pinhole camera
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