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A Short History Of The Camera - The Optical Lens And The Camera Obscura Come Together
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A Short History of the Camera  -  The Optical Lens and the Camera Obscura Come Together

The discovery and development of the optical lens is of extreme importance in the history of the camera. This article will discuss light, optical lens development and its union with the camera obscura, as it was then known.

It is a wonder, just how many destructive fires, in ancient times, were blamed on evil spirits, or the unfortunate soul that happened to be there when such fires got started (since there is no way a piece of clear glass could have caused the fire!)

Very little, at the time, was understood about light and how transparent objects it passes through, can change the light's properties, in fact, bend them according to the shape of the object.

Surely, this occurrence has been observed. Thus came the first man-made lenses to replicate the phenomenon of focusing sunlight into a tiny area...and what this can do...

The Earliest Lenses and How They Were Used

The earliest lens known to exist is the famous Nimrud Lens. Created in Assyria more than three-thousand years ago, this was known to ancient peoples as a "burning-glass."

Burning glasses were known all over the ancient world by the time of the Roman Empire (which had them herself,) and can be found in many places in the Old World.

Burning, however, was not the only known usage for these artifacts. There are many ancient reports of such lenses being used as magnifying glasses. It is not know when folks began using them to work with very delicate and tiny things. It is evident that people recognized that shaping and polishing these lenses a certain way suddenly opened windows into the world unseen, thus lens crafting emerged.

At Last! A Way to Bend Light!

In space, light travels in an arrow-straight line. In a state of nothingness, light does not bend, and will continue into infinite, until it contacts matter. Depending on the matter's composition, (transparent, translucent, and degrees of reflexibility & absorbtion.) the light can be intercepted and altered. Water, for example, seem to "bend" light when it travels through through water. The composition of water does refract light. This can be controlled, and we've learned early on with the aid of glass.

Glass, calcite, water, and other minerals refract light according to their shape, as well as composition. Creating a convex lens [shaped '()'] allowed objects to appear closer and bigger...and made quite a primitive, but highly effective lighter.

The Lens Marries Camera Obscura in Perfect Matrimony!

This is where history of the camera was in the making. Sometime, during the 1280s, someone discovered that shaping the lenses that were being created out of cutting glass orbs in half vastly improved the effects these early magnifiers. First known as "reading stones," giving rise to eyeglasses, further advancing, in lens technology, to microscopes, telescopes and lens-powered camera obscuras.

Now the camera obscura was no longer confined to the rooms and light proofed crates that made them effective. The lens replaced the tiny hole with a much larger one, letting in far more light and having the properties within them to allow for much smaller cameras.

Yet to be discovered was the concept of photosensitivity in certain materials...at least to the point where it could be recognized as a useful medium in creating permanent representations of the scenery without manually-tracing them out and them using traditional art to represent them.

It is not know when lenses began to be employed in the camera obscura, but when it did, it was a techological feat from which all of our cameras today have come into being. These developments would soon lead to the spawning of photography

To Recap:

  • The optical lens is an important epoch in the history of the camera.
  • We have seen that the Greeks and Chinese were the first to discover light-focusing mediums in the natural world that they could replicate for igniting fires.
  • Burning stones can be found all over the ancient world and are common artifacts today.
  • The ancient world is also credited for using split orbs as magnifying glasses.
  • What began as reading stones, became corrective lenses for eyesight, thus eye glasses.
  • With lens crafting, came the telescope, and later, the microscope.
  • The advancement of lens technology, especially throughout the Renaissance, gave rise to lens-equipped camera obscuras. These certainly produced the much smaller, more efficient, next generation cameras of the day.

Optics technology continues to advance, even in our most advanced cameras today!


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