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The Old Masters' Secret Tool for Today's Artists & Photographers. Wooden Camera for Drawing, Painting & Taking Unforgettable Photos! Read more

pledged of $12,500 goal

This project will only be funded if at least $12,500 is pledged by .

The Old Masters' Secret Tool for Today's Artists & Photographers. Wooden Camera for Drawing, Painting & Taking Unforgettable Photos!

About this project

Press Release

About this Camera Obscura

We are building very high quality camera obscuras, handbuilt with walnut hardwood. We are using dovetail joinery for its strength and beauty and to add to the overall quality of the piece. Each camera obscura has a tripod mounting screw, that can be attached to any standard tripod.

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This camera obscura has an internal first-surface mirror that reflects the image to the top of the box and flips the image right-side-up. This is a big improvement over our last camera obscura model and allows the image to be photographed, filmed and drawn more easily. This camera obscura also sports a very useful lid/shade and can be moved up and down or removed as needed. This helps protect and keep unwanted light off the screen.

This camera obscura is about a 6.5 inch (16.5cm) cube and only weighs 3lbs (1.36kg). You can take it anywhere and it's easy to store or display!

The lens tube is formed from seamless brass tube to give you a solid authentic use and feel. The lens is an uncoated spherical glass lens 38mm in diameter. The standard lens that comes with the Basic and Deluxe Camera Obscura will allow you to focus on objects about 2 feet away to infinity.

The ground glass screen is used for viewing the image, and the clear screen is used with a piece of tracing paper to trace the image. The useable screen image size is about 5 inches (12.7cm) square.

The Fresnel lens that comes with the Deluxe Camera Obscura is basically a flat plastic lens that's the same size as the ground glass screen. When you place the Fresnel lens on the screen it gives you a fuller image. The camera obscura's image is brighter in the center; the Fresnel lens makes the whole screen bright. Below you can see the effect the Fresnel lens has on the image. And remember if you get the Fresnel lens, you can still choose when and if you want to use it depending on what you are doing the effect you are going for.

The focus cloth that comes with the Deluxe Camera Obscura helps block out extra light, so you can see the image more clearly. This is very helpful. This focus cloth is white on the outside to reflect away heat and black on the inside to lessen light reflecting back onto the image.

Two close-up lenses come with the Deluxe Camera Obscura. They are used to focus on and enlarge close objects. The “standard close-up” lens focuses on objects from about 5 to 9 inches away (13 to 23cm) and enlarges up to 1.5X. The “super close-up” lens focuses on objects about 2 inches (5cm) away and enlarges 2.5X.

Camera Obscura Close-up Photography by LIZ CELOTTO
Camera Obscura Close-up Photography by LIZ CELOTTO

The Camera Mount that comes with the Deluxe Camera Obscura attaches to your camera obscura and allows you to easily take pictures and video of your camera obscura's image. This is a very useful accessory that will help you capture images like the ones you've seen here and on our Flickr page. Our new Camera Mount is more stable than the one from our last project and even has a way to attach the focus cloth to the Camera Mount to hold it all together as you work.


Artistic Uses for this Camera Obscura

There are two main ways to create art with this camera obscura. One is to observe the image and paint on a separate canvas. The other is to draw directly on the image.

Observing the Image and Paint on a Separate Surface

The image projected by a camera obscura is like no other image you will ever see. It has a beautiful and profound effect on a subject. It simplifies while adding depth and enriching color. It looks more vivid than life, like you can reach out and grab it.

Here is a LINK to a great article explaining why and how Vermeer used a camera obscura. The information is divided into five areas: perspective, tonal rendering, composition, handling of light, and peculiar effects produced uniquely by the camera obscura.

The camera obscura sees the same way we see with our eyes. When you look at an object it is sharp in focus and everything else softens into the background, but as soon as you look to see the soft background it become the sharp foreground. But with this camera obscura you can observe a scene the way your eye sees it without your eye's constant refocusing. Observing the camera obscura's image will teach you how to paint the way you see, which will add untold depth to your work.

Besides the beautiful effect, drawing from a camera obscura's two-dimensional image is easier than drawing from a live three-dimensional field: in the same way that it is easier to copy a picture than paint from life. The camera obscura translates the 3D into the 2D—-helping you better capture depth in your painting.

You can also draw a grid on the screen, so you can use the grid method to draw from life with your camera obscura! Just draw a grid of equal ratio on your work surface (paper, canvas, wood panel, etc). Then you draw the image on your canvas, focusing on one square at a time, until the entire image has been transferred.

Drawing Directly on the Image

You can also draw directly on the image: either by placing a piece of clear plastic over the ground glass and drawing on that, or by using the clear acrylic glass screen with a piece of tracing paper over it. The image will project right onto your paper and look like a TV screen that you can draw on.

Just remember that the screen size is 5 inches (12.7cm) square , so if you use the tracing method your drawing can only be as big as the screen.

Photograph and Cinematography

As mentioned in the campaign video the camera obscura's image can be captured by still or motion cameras and will add a rich vibrant depth to your photograph or cinematography.

See the cellist Tina Guo's arrangement of Après Un Reve in the music video below. The cello scenes were shot thru one of my camera obscuras and then combined with intimate footage of Eli Presser's amazing puppet work

This really captures the unique look and depth of a camera obscura's image. Every scene with the woman and the cello is actual footage from the camera obscura's screen. A video camera was mounted to the camera obscura to film the screen.

The video does an excellent job of capturing the obscura's image the way it looks in real life and dramatically demonstrates the obscura's ability to focus on one object at a time and jump from far to near with a simple slide of the lens.

Behind the Scenes Photo from the video above
Behind the Scenes Photo from the video above

Photography Taken Through Our Camera Obscuras:

See more on our Flickr page and

Button Lady by Robert Hirsch ©
Button Lady by Robert Hirsch ©
Jade by Paul Cotter
Jade by Paul Cotter
Farm by Martin Jørgensen
Farm by Martin Jørgensen

 See more on our Flickr page

History and Background of the Camera Obscura

Camera obscura means “dark room” and it really is that simple. Just make a hole in the wall of a dark room, and you will see a hazy up-side-down image of the outside world. This basic principle has been recorded in China as far back as 500 BC and mentioned by great thinkers from Aristotle to Leonardo Da Vinci, and the first clear description of this principle was given by Ibn al-Haytham.

Now make that hole bigger and add a lens to focus the light. And you will get a brighter clearer image.  And by the 1600’s the whole “room” was shrunk down to the size of this wooden box, so it would be portable. And the image was projected onto ground glass, so it could be seen from outside the box, and a mirror is added to flip the image right-side-up. This is how the camera obscura being Kickstarted hear works.

In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries many artists were aided by the use of the camera obscura: Jan Vermeer, Canaletto, Guardi and Paul Sandby are just a few who used the camera obscura to make their beautiful masterpieces.  Find out More about Vermeer and the Camera Obscura.

Below is a very interesting interview with David Hockney, where he explains and demonstrates the use of camera obscuras and camera lucidas in the artwork of the Old Masters chronicled in his book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters.

Tim's Vermeer is the most recent attempt to answer how 17th century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer managed to paint so photo realistically. Find out more about the movie HERE.

Below is a fun sketch from my last camera obscura project. It runs down some of the history and controversy about the camera obscura. This video shows the camera obscura model from our last campaign, but the concept remains the same.

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 Designing The New Camera Obscura

To see a little about the camera obscuras that I've built in the past, you can go to my last camera obscura project and scroll down to the “Les' Camera Obscuras” section.

In designing this camera obscura it is more or less just the next evolution of the model that I Kickstarted in 2014. So looking back at my last camera obscura project will give you lots of insight on how this camera obscura was designed. Go HERE and scroll down to the “Designing This Camera Obscura” section of that project for more information on the designing process.

I designed this new camera obscura with some feedback from backers and some in the art supply industry. The two biggest concerns were why the image had to be up-side-down and that the image would be easier to draw and observe if it was at the top of the box rather than on the back. I knew just how to fix those things—just turn the camera obscura on it's side, with the screen facing up, move the lens, and add a first-surface mirror to bounce the image. In fact, that's basically what I did to make the 2015 prototype you see pictured in this project—I took a camera obscura from the 2014 project, turned it on its side, cut a new lens hole, and built the lid/shade out of a piece of walnut. See the sketch below of the changes in the 2014 and 2015 camera obscura models.

I could have done this with the first 2014 project, but I was trying to keep the design as simple as possible. But now that I've seen that there is still a demand for camera obscuras, I feel more confident that we can raise funds for a slightly more complex design. The main two components that make this new camera obscura more complex are the first-surface mirror and the lid/shade. Having built all kinds of camera obscuras in the past, making these two changes was as simple as pulling from previous designs. The mirror is cut out of first-surface acrylic mirror, so it will be shatter proof. And I designed the lid/shade to have a friction fit that stays in place where you put it, or it can be removed when needed. And while these upgrades increase the cost a little, we now have a bold new design that will provide a better experience for our backers. A couple pictures I took during the process are below.

Production Plan

I am using the same woodworking show as I did with my 2014 camera obscura. I've already ordered several runs of my old design from them, so the process is well established. I've gone over the changes in the new design with them, and they are ready to go as soon as I give them the order and finalize a few details. So depending on the size of the order, I should be able to get the camera obscura boxes delivered 2 to 4 weeks after I get the funding. 

Building Pictures from the 2014 Project
Building Pictures from the 2014 Project

This time around I'm opting to have all the camera obscura boxes assembled by the woodworking shop. They do a great job, and if I make it simple for them by having all the boxes done the same way it helps me negotiate a better price. Like with the last project, I will apply the lacquer finish myself. I'm leaving enough finds to hire some help as needed, and giving you the option to do the final sanding and lacquer or oil finishing yourself to get a discount. I'll make a video to walk you through it, and you can see my rewards for the different options.

From my years of building camera obscuras and last year's project, I already have of all the suppliers lined up for the optics—I've done this many times and it will just be a matter of getting it ordered and putting everything together—same as last year. This again may be the most time consuming part, so that is way I am giving myself until August to ship these rewards. It is just a matter of lead time from these suppliers and the time it takes to put it all together. And this time I'm setting aside funds to hire out some of the glass grinding, so I don't end up having to do it all myself again.

I make the brass lens tubes out of long pieces of solid seamless brass tube, which I cut down and finish into nice two inch tube pieces. I then glue in rubber tube rings that hold the lenses in place. The lens fits in the lens tube between to rubber rings and can be removed and changed out with the close-up lenses as needed. I can do as many of these lens as we will need within one or two working week.

In all, there should be plenty of time to get these shipped out by August, and it is very likely that I will be able to ship them out as early as July. This will all depend on how many pledges we get this time around.

More Pictures

Risks and challenges

Our woodworking shop is solid. We've been working with them for a while, and what we are giving them is still a relatively small order compared to what they produce on a regular basis.

Like last time, I think the most likely obstacle might be that if I end up needing to order higher quantities of optics from my usual suppliers, it might take a little extra time to get all of the parts delivered and put together. But I will again be proactive about this and ensure that as I see pledges coming in, I will have all of the parts lined up and ready to order.

A project with so much hand work and where quality is so important, the biggest risk is the risk of delay. We do not anticipate that we will be delivering later then estimated, and we will make every effort to deliver on time, but short delays can always occur.

We've successfully fulfilled my rewards for my ZOEFLIX, 2014 Camera Obscura and Camera Lucida Kickstarters. My backers got their quality rewards within the time frame estimated and were very happy with their devices! We have a great track record that will continue with this project.

I am experienced in consumer product development and fulfillment, and I have shipped thousands of orders all over the world. Costs have been accurately calculated, quality is a priority, and any problems or difficulties will be managed in a proactive and professional manner while keeping the promises I have made to our backers in mind.

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