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Camera Lucida

CAMERA LUCIDA, an optical instrument invented by Dr William Hyde Wollaston for drawing in perspective. Closing one eye and looking vertically downwards with the other through a slip of plain glass, e.g. a microscope cover-glass, held close to the eye and inclined at an angle of 45° to the horizon, one can see the images of objects in front, formed by reflection from the surface of the glass, and at the same time one can also see through the transparent glass. The virtual images of the objects appear projected on the surface of a sheet of paper placed beneath the slip of glass, and their outline can be accurately traced with a pencil. This is the simplest form of the camera lucida. The image (see fig. 1) is, however, inverted and perverted, and it is not very bright owing to the poor reflecting power of unsilvered glass. The brightness of the image is sometimes increased by silvering the glass; and on removing a small portion of the silver the observer can see the image with part of the pupil while he sees the paper through the unsilvered aperture with the remaining part. This form of the instrument is often used in conjunction with the microscope, the mirror being attached to the eye-piece and the tube of the microscope being placed horizontally.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 2.

About the beginning of the 19th century Dr Wollaston invented a simple form of the camera lucida which gives bright and erect images. A four-sided prism of glass is constructed having one angle of 90°, the opposite angle of 135°, and the two remaining angles each of 67°. This is represented in cross-section and in position in fig. 2. When the pupil of the eye is held half over the edge of the prism a, one sees the image of the object with one half of the pupil and the paper with the other half. The image is formed by successive total reflection at the surfaces b c and a b. In the first place an inverted image (first image) is formed in the face b c, and then an image of this image is formed in a b, and it is the outline of this second image seen projected on the paper that is traced by the pencil. It is desirable for two reasons that the image should lie in the plane of the paper, and this can be secured by placing a suitable lens between the object and the prism. If the image does not lie in the plane of the paper, it is impossible to see it and the pencil-point clearly at the same time. Moreover, any slight movement of the head will cause the image to appear to move relatively to the paper, and will render it difficult to obtain an accurate drawing.

Before the application of photography, the camera lucida was of considerable importance to draughtsmen. The advantages claimed for it were its cheapness, smallness and portability; that there was no appreciable distortion, and that its field was much larger than that of the camera obscura. It was used largely for copying, for reducing or for enlarging existing drawings. It will readily be understood, for example, that a copy will be half-size if the distance of the object from the instrument is double the distance of the instrument from the copy.

(C. J. J.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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