A pinhole camera is a simple camera without a lens and with a single small aperture — effectively a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light from a scene passes through this single point and projects an inverted image on the opposite side of the box. The human eye in bright light acts similarly, as do cameras using small apertures.
Up to a certain point, the smaller the hole, the sharper the image, but the dimmer the projected image. Optimally, the size of the aperture should be 1/100 or less of the distance between it and the projected image.
A pinhole camera's shutter is usually manually operated because of the lengthy exposure times, and consists of a flap of some light-proof material to cover and uncover the pinhole. Typical exposures range from 5 seconds to hours and sometimes days.
A common use of the pinhole camera is to capture the movement of the sun over a long period of time. This type of photography is called Solargraphy.
The image may be projected onto a translucent screen for real-time viewing (popular for observing solar eclipses; see also camera obscura), or can expose film or a charge coupled device (CCD). Pinhole cameras with CCDs are often used for surveillance because they are difficult to detect.
Invention of pinhole camera
As far back as the 4th century BC, Greeks such as Aristotle and Euclid wrote on naturally-occurring rudimentary pinhole cameras. For example, light may travel through the slits of wicker baskets or the crossing of tree leaves. (The circular dapples on a forest floor, actually pinhole images of the sun, can be seen to have a bite taken out of them during partial solar eclipses opposite to the position of the moon's actual occultation of the sun because of the inverting effect of pinhole lenses.)
The 10th-century Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) published this idea in the Book of Optics in 1021 AD. He improved on the camera after realizing that the smaller the pinhole, the sharper the image (though the less light). He provides the first clear description for construction of a camera obscura (Lat. dark chamber). As a side benefit of his invention, he was credited with being first man to shift physics from a philosophical to an experimental basis.
In the 5th century BC, the Mohist philosopher Mo Jing (墨經) in ancient China mentioned the effect of an inverted image forming through a pinhole. The image of an inverted Chinese pagoda is mentioned in Duan Chengshi's (d. 863) book Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang written during the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Along with experimenting with the pinhole camera and the burning mirror of the ancient Mohists, the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) Chinese scientist Shen Kuo (1031–1095) experimented with camera obscura and was the first to establish geometrical and quantitative attributes for it.
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