Monday 14 March 2011

Islamic History: The Camera

This week's edition of Friday Nasiha touches on the invention of the camera:

Like many eminent philosophers and mathematicians, Ibn al-Haitham was a keen observer. While in a room one day he noticed light coming through a small hole made in the window shutters. It fell onto the wall opposite and it was the half-moon shape of the sun's image during eclipses. From this he explained that light travelled in a straight line and when the rays were reflected off a bright subject they passed through the small hole and did not scatter but crossed and reformed as an upside-down image on a flat white surface parallel to the hole. he then established that the smaller the hole, the clearer the picture.

In later stages, his discoveries led to the invention of the camera obscura, and Ibn al-Haitham built the first camera, or camera obscura or pinhole camera, in history. He went on to explain that we see objects upright and not upside down, as the camera does, because of the connection of the optic nerve with the brain, which analyses and defines the image.

During his practical experiments, Ibn al-Haitham often used the term al-Bayt-al-Muthlim, which was translated into Latin as camera obscura, or dark, private or closed room or enclosed space. Camera is still used today, as is qamara in Arabic which still means a private or dark room.

Many of Ibn al-Haitham's works, especially his huge Book of Optics, were translated into Latin by the medieval scholar Gerard of Cremona. This had a profound impact on the 13th century big thinkers like Roger Bacon and Witelo, and even on the 15th century works of Leonardo da Vinci.

Compiled From: "1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World" - Salim T S Al-Hassani, pp. 268, 269

Illustration of Camera Obscura, from 1001 Inventions book (source)

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