2001 volume 30(10) pages 1157 – 1177

Cite as:
Wade N J, Finger S, 2001, "The eye as an optical instrument: from camera obscura to Helmholtz's perspective" Perception 30(10) 1157 – 1177

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The eye as an optical instrument: from camera obscura to Helmholtz's perspective

Nicholas J Wade, Stanley Finger

Received 5 March 2001, in revised form 20 July 2001

Abstract. The era of modern vision research can be thought of as beginning in the seventeenth century with Johannes Kepler's understanding of the optics of the camera obscura with a lens and its relation to the eye. During the nineteenth century, Helmholtz used "The eye as an optical instrument" as the title for one of his Popular Lectures, and such a conception of the eye is now accepted as a fundamental feature of visual science. In analysing the optics of the eye, Helmholtz constructed some novel optical instruments for studying the eye. The development of optometers, ophthalmometers, and ophthalmoscopes is presented historically, with emphasis on how these instruments and camera analogies helped scientists to understand the functions of the eye, especially the enigma of accommodation.

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