The camera itself is based on optical principles known at least since the age of Aristotle; indeed, a filmless version was in use in the mid-1500s as a sketching device for artists. Called the camera obscura (Lat., = dark chamber), it consisted of a small, lightproof box with a pinhole or lens on one side and a translucent screen on the opposite side. This screen registered, in a manner suitable for tracing, the inverted image transmitted through the lens. The human eye was the prototype for this device, which functioned as a primitive extension of seeing. Most experiments in photographic technology were directed toward perfecting the medium as a surrogate, more sophisticated eye.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.