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17 Tent Camera Obscura c. 1825

image of Tent Camera Obscura c. 1825

image of Tent Camera Obscura c. 1825

I obtained the camera obscura from an auction in Cologne, Germany after I became interested in scientific instruments when I was an intern here at the MHS. I made a replica of an early 19th c. reflex camera obscura and I'm now in the process of replicating this example.

The challenge for me is in sourcing the materials, using the fabricating techniques in both wood and metal, and designing the optics used by scientific instrument makers nearly two centuries ago. A case in point was making the meniscus prism, which had to be ground by hand after measuring the radius of curvature of the original and calculating its focal length.

The meniscus prism is used in place of a lens and mirror. This was a key stage in the development of optics used in camera obscuras. It was made by the French scientific instrument makers Vincent and Charles Chevalier (father and son) in 1823 and reduces spherical aberration - a distortion that occurs at the edge of images found with early lenses. The hypotenuse face of the prism is plane and totally reflects light internally - as a mirror does. The two adjacent faces are curved in order to focus the light and produce an image.

The engraving on the prism mount is: BREVETÉ Invente Par Vincent et C. Chevalier Opt.ns Quai de l'horlge No.69 Paris

Collection: Roger Smith, Camera Obscura maker and restorer, Oxfordshire

In 1803 Jacques Louis Vincent Chevalier (1770-1841) re-established his late father’s business, which by then no longer existed. He worked in partnership with his son, Charles Louis Chevalier (1804-1859), but, in 1832, Charles fell out with his father and established his own business.
Before separating, they published a description of this instrument.


See: V. and C. Chevalier, Notice sur l’usage des chambres obscures et des chambres claires, Paris 1829.
Scientific Instrument Society, Bulletin No. 39 (1993), pp.11-14.

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