Vol. 2 - June - No. 32Camera Lucida
The camera lucida was invented in1825 by Dr. W.H. Wollaston. It is not, however, a camera in the usual sense. It is merely a prism so mounted above a drawing board that when the artist looks through it he sees his subject superimposed on his board. Thus, he can trace the image of his subject on the paper simply by watching his pencil through the prism. Its point will appear to be superimposed on the subject's outlines and can be made to follow all the details, just as if the subject's image were projected on the paper. In this sense it differs from the camera obscura, which can be used to project an image on a piece of translucent paper for copying.
The camera lucida in this simple form is available at artist's supply stores and is also found now and then in a very simple form in toy stores. Commercial artists use the camera lucida for copying drawings and for making quick sketches of products. However, some of these commercial devices are actually camera obscuras since they use a lens rather than a prism to project the image of the drawing surface.
Fox Talbot's unsuccessful attempts in 1833 to make a pencil record of Italian scenery with one of Wollaston's instruments led him to similar trials with transparent paper fastened over the glass viewing screen of a portable camera obscura. This in turn led to his invention of the calotype process to eliminate the labor of tracing.
Despite Fox Talbot's failure with the camera lucida, others were more successful, and several books were published between 1828 and 1840 with illustrations "from sketches made with the Camera Lucida." One of the most interesting is a collection of forty etchings of North American scenes from sketches made by Captain Basil Hall in 1827 and 1828. With the camera lucida, this author-artist sketched the exact appearance of the Horseshoe and American Falls at Niagara. In doing so he provided a record of great interest to geologists studying the slow process of erosion caused by the Niagara River.