The Camera Obscuras at War

We are interested in the many ways that camera obscuras have been used through the ages. In Cassell's Complete Book of Sports and Pastimes published in 1882, there is a description of the use of a camera obscura in the defense of Venice in 1859. The Austrians who held the city built a camera obscura overlooking the harbor. Torpedoes were sunk in the harbor and their positions marked on the table. When the operator saw an enemy ship projected over the marked spot the torpedo has detonated.

The book The British Navy: Its Strength, Resources, and Administration, also published in 1882, points out that the smoke of battle, fog, or darkness rendered the system useless.

Camera obscuras were used for training and bombing practice in both World War I and World War II.

The 6 1/2" X 8 1/2" glossy photograph below is stamped "Sep 15 1918" and "Committee on Public Information". It shows the interior of a portable camera obscura used for aviation training or bombing practice in World War I. In use the turned back covere would be lowered to render the interior dark. As the projected image of an airplane moved across the table its path could be traced and its speed could be measured with the metronome seen on a shelf on the left side of the tent.



We have seen this image printed in publications of the time with a caption stating that the tent was for use "ON" planes. This seems obviously wrong since the lens is overhead and it would project an image of the sky down onto the table which would be useless.

The photograph in the next row below, labeled as "Hamilton Field, California" and dated "9/16/35" shows changes in the use of the camera obscura in military aviation between 1918 and 1935.

The body of the camera obscura is now a metal capsule with a lens mounted on the top. The metronome has been replaced with a rack of electronic equipment connected to the camera obscura. In a close up we see though an open window, a young man wearing head phones with a pencil poised over a drawing board that is tilted at the same angle as the lens.

In the background are several 1930 era airplanes.

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What is a camera obscura?

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Frequently Asked Questions about the Camera Obscura (please check this page before sending email questions)

Links and a Bibliography about the camera obscura

Map and illustrated diary of
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US camera obscuras

Map and illustrated diary of
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Great Britain camera obscuras

Images of camera obscuras from our collection.

Some Images from our collection
The Camera Obscura at War < You are here
Advertising flyer for a Camera Obscura
Trade Cards with Camera Obscuras
Lost UK Seaside Camera Obscuras
Other Lost UK Camera Obscuras
Lost US Seaside Camera Obscura
Lost US Park Camera Obscuras
Melville Garden Camera Obscura
Other Lost US Camera Obscuras
Lost European Camera Obscuras
No, it's not a camera obscura

Portable and box camera obscuras from our collection.
Wooden Camera Obscuras
Metal Camera Obscuras
Camera Obscuras with the Lens at the Top
Cardboard Camera Obscuras
A French Artist's Camera with supplies
Vermeer's Camera, a 1934 teaching camera
Camera Obscura Publications

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Modified 11/2007