Camera Obscura

The Camera Obscura is Back! kickstarter-badge-funded

Draw, Paint, Capture the Image.

Back for a Limited Time on Kickstarter!


Deluxe Walnut Camera Obscura

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►Full camera obscura with lid/shade and mirror with glossy finish and all!
►Lens tube with 1 standard lens and 2 Close-up lenses
►2 screens: 1 ground (frosted) and 1 clear screen
►Focus Cloth
►Fresnel Lens
►Camera Mount

About this Camera Obscura

This is a very high quality camera obscuras, handbuilt with walnut hardwood. We use dovetail joinery for its strength and beauty and to add to the overall quality of the piece. Each camera obscura has a tripod mounting screw, that can be attached to any standard tripod.

This camera obscura has an internal first-surface mirror that reflects the image to the top of the box and flips the image right-side-up. This is a big improvement over our last camera obscura model and allows the image to be photographed, filmed and drawn more easily. This camera obscura also sports a very useful lid/shade and can be moved up and down or removed as needed. This helps protect and keep unwanted light off the screen.

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This camera obscura is about a 6.5 inch (16.5cm) cube and only weighs 3lbs (1.36kg). You can take it anywhere and it’s easy to store or display!

The lens tube is formed from seamless brass tube to give you a solid authentic use and feel. The lens is an uncoated spherical glass lens 38mm in diameter. The standard lens will allow you to focus on objects about 2 feet away to infinity.

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The ground glass screen is used for viewing the image, and the clear screen is used with a piece of tracing paper to trace the image. The usable screen image size is about 5 inches (12.7cm) square.

The Fresnel lens is basically a flat plastic lens that’s the same size as the ground glass screen. When you place the Fresnel lens on the screen it gives you a fuller image. The camera obscura’s image is brighter in the center; the Fresnel lens makes the whole screen bright. Below you can see the effect the Fresnel lens has on the image. And remember, you can still choose when and if you want to use it depending on what you are doing the effect you are going for.
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The focus cloth helps block out extra light, so you can see the image more clearly. This is very helpful. This focus cloth is white on the outside to reflect away heat and black on the inside to lessen light reflecting back onto the image.

The two close-up lenses are used to focus on and enlarge close objects. The “standard close-up” lens focuses on objects from about 5 to 9 inches away (13 to 23cm) and enlarges up to 1.5X. The “super close-up” lens focuses on objects about 2 inches (5cm) away and enlarges 2.5X.

The Camera Mount attaches to your camera obscura and allows you to easily take pictures and video of your camera obscura’s image. This is a very useful accessory that will help you capture images like the ones you’ve seen here and on our Flickr page. Our new Camera Mount is more stable than the one from our last project and even has a way to attach the focus cloth to the Camera Mount to hold it all together as you work.
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Artistic Uses for this Camera Obscura

There are two main ways to create art with this camera obscura. One is to observe the image and paint on a separate canvas. The other is to draw directly on the image.

Observing the Image and Paint on a Separate Surface

The image projected by a camera obscura is like no other image you will ever see. It has a beautiful and profound effect on a subject. It simplifies while adding depth and enriching color. It looks more vivid than life, like you can reach out and grab it.

Here is a LINK to a great article explaining why and how Vermeer used a camera obscura. The information is divided into five areas: perspective, tonal rendering, composition, handling of light, and peculiar effects produced uniquely by the camera obscura.

The camera obscura sees the same way we see with our eyes. When you look at an object it is sharp in focus and everything else softens into the background, but as soon as you look to see the soft background it become the sharp foreground. But with this camera obscura you can observe a scene the way your eye sees it without your eye’s constant refocusing. Observing the camera obscura’s image will teach you how to paint the way you see, which will add untold depth to your work.


Besides the beautiful effect, drawing from a camera obscura’s two-dimensional image is easier than drawing from a live three-dimensional field: in the same way that it is easier to copy a picture than paint from life. The camera obscura translates the 3D into the 2D—-helping you better capture depth in your painting.

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You can also draw a grid on the screen, so you can use the grid method to draw from life with your camera obscura! Just draw a grid of equal ratio on your work surface (paper, canvas, wood panel, etc). Then you draw the image on your canvas, focusing on one square at a time, until the entire image has been transferred.

Drawing Directly on the Image

You can also draw directly on the image: either by placing a piece of clear plastic over the ground glass and drawing on that, or by using the clear acrylic glass screen with a piece of tracing paper over it. The image will project right onto your paper and look like a TV screen that you can draw on.

Just remember that the screen size is 5 inches (12.7cm) square , so if you use the tracing method your drawing can only be as big as the screen.
Photograph and Cinematography

As mentioned in the campaign video the camera obscura’s image can be captured by still or motion cameras and will add a rich vibrant depth to your photograph or cinematography.

See the cellist Tina Guo’s arrangement of Après Un Reve in the music video below. The cello scenes were shot thru one of my camera obscuras and then combined with intimate footage of Eli Presser’s amazing puppet work

This really captures the unique look and depth of a camera obscura’s image. Every scene with the woman and the cello is actual footage from the camera obscura’s screen. A video camera was mounted to the camera obscura to film the screen.

The video does an excellent job of capturing the obscura’s image the way it looks in real life and dramatically demonstrates the obscura’s ability to focus on one object at a time and jump from far to near with a simple slide of the lens.

History and Background of the Camera Obscura

Camera obscura means “dark room” and it really is that simple. Just make a hole in the wall of a dark room, and you will see a hazy up-side-down image of the outside world. This basic principle has been recorded in China as far back as 500 BC and mentioned by great thinkers from Aristotle to Leonardo Da Vinci, and the first clear description of this principle was given by Ibn al-Haytham.

Now make that hole bigger and add a lens to focus the light. And you will get a brighter clearer image. And by the 1600’s the whole “room” was shrunk down to the size of this wooden box, so it would be portable. And the image was projected onto ground glass, so it could be seen from outside the box, and a mirror is added to flip the image right-side-up. This is how the camera obscura being sold here works.

In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries many artists were aided by the use of the camera obscura: Jan Vermeer, Canaletto, Guardi and Paul Sandby are just a few who used the camera obscura to make their beautiful masterpieces. Find out More about Vermeer and the Camera Obscura.

Below is a very interesting interview with David Hockney, where he explains and demonstrates the use of camera obscuras and camera lucidas in the artwork of the Old Masters chronicled in his book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters.

Tim’s Vermeer is the most recent attempt to answer how 17th century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer managed to paint so photo realistically. Find out more about the movie HERE.

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Camera Obscura

►Full camera obscura with lid/shade and mirror with glossy finish and all!
►Lens tube with 1 standard lens and 2 Close-up lenses
►2 screens: 1 ground (frosted) and 1 clear screen
►Focus Cloth
►Fresnel Lens
►Camera Mount

More information and pictures can be found on the campaign page.

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