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The Camera Obscura
The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, houses a public camera obscura in a small summerhouse on the Observatory courtyard next to Flamsteed House.
It is open to the public during Museum opening hours. The camera obscura uses a lens and rotating mirror to project a close-up real-time moving panorama of Greenwich and the Thames, the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Naval College. The image is projected onto a circular table and looks best in bright weather. To see the image properly, visitors need to spend a few minutes in the camera obscura to allow their eyes to adjust to the darkness.
John Flamsteed, the First Astronomer Royal, also had a camera obscura in the same building which he used to make safe observations of the sun.
About camera obscuras
The term ‘camera obscura’ is Latin for ‘darkened chamber.’ In a darkened room with a pin hole in one wall, an upside-down image of the world will appear on the opposite wall. Developments through the centuries with mirrors and lenses transformed the camera obscura from a darkened room into a portable instrument which was the forerunner of the modern camera.
The 16th- and 17th-century artists Vermeer and Canaletto used camera obscuras, tracing the image produced to obtain correct perspective. View Canaletto's famous painting of Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames.
There have been a number of camera obscuras at Greenwich, dating from the late 17th century till the mid-19th century. The current camera obscura was installed in 1994.