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Weekend: Pinhole Camera: A Short History

The Birmingham Post (England), April 27, 2002 | Go to article overview

Weekend: Pinhole Camera: A Short History


The pinhole camera is believed to have originated in ancient China in about the fifth century BC.

Chinese writers had discovered by experiments with screens, pagodas and pinholes that light travels in straight lines, and the philosopher Mo Ti was probably the first to record the formation of an inverted image with a pinhole and screen.

Mo Ti was aware that objects reflect light in all directions, and that rays from the top of an object, when passing through a hole, will produce the lower part of an image.

In the west, Greek philosopher Aristotle (fourth century BC) commented on pinhole image formation in his work Problems.

In Book XV, 6, he asks: 'Why is it that when the sun passes through quadrilaterals, as for instance in wickerwork, it does not produce a figure rectangular in shape but circular?'

In Book XV, 11, he asks further: 'Why is it that an eclipse of the sun, if one looks at it through a sieve or through leaves, such as a plane-tree or other broad-leaved tree, or if one joins the fingers of one hand over the fingers of the other, the rays are crescent-shaped where they reach the earth?

Is it for the same reason as that when light shines through a rectangular peep-hole, it appears circular in the form of a cone?'

In the following centuries the pinhole technique was used by optical scientists in various experiments to study sunlight projected from a small aperture.

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