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Camera Lucida from Ancient Magic Art Tools

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Camera lucida

Like magic, when you look through the viewfinder of a camera lucida, there's a "reflection" of the subject on your piece of paper for you to trace.

Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The Bottom Line

The camera lucida made by Ancient Magic Tools does just what it "says on the box". You look through the eyepiece and you see the subject reflected on the piece of paper you put down, ready for you to trace. It's the third camera lucida I've tried, and I like this one for its small size (easy to store), being able to attach it to a table or drawing board, and for the filters you can use which help you see the reflected image better in different light conditions.


  • Sturdy construction, doesn't wobble while you're using it if you've set it up tightly.
  • Two filters to place below the viewfinder to compensate for poor light.
  • Mirrors and filters are made from acrylic (plexi-glass) not glass, so they're unlikely to break.
  • Height of camera head can be adjusted, for comfort and to see a slightly larger image on the paper.
  • Easy to store as it's not attached to a drawing board.


  • Takes experimentation to set it and your drawing board up straight, so not distorting perspective.
  • Have to keep your head quite steady when working, otherwise the reflected image shifts.


  • Camera lucida made from aluminum, with an adjustable clamp for attaching it temporarily to a table, drawing board, etc.
  • Folds flat for easy storage and transportation. Comes with instruction leaflet.
  • Size: About 5 in (12.5cm) wide. Height is adjustable from 16in (41cm) to 24.5 in (62cm).
  • Weighs 1.8 pounds (0.8 kg). Made from a coated, aluminum alloy.
  • Clamp opens up to 2.5 in (6.4cm), to fit onto edge of a table, a drawing board, etc.
  • Maximum image size: 20x37in (51x94 cm).
  • Comes with two filters which you use to change the brightness of the image you're seeing through camera.
  • Mirrors and filters are made from shatterproof acrylic (plexi-glass) for strength and safety.

Guide Review - Camera Lucida from Ancient Magic Art Tools

Even understanding how a camera lucida works, it still seems like a bit of magic. When you look into it, the subject in front of you magically appears on your piece of paper. You see both the 'reflection' and your paper (and hand holding your pencil), so you can then trace the image.

The original camera lucida from Ancient Magic Art Tools was a wooden version (see photo), but in 2010 the company started producing metal version that clamps onto a table or drawing board. I like this version for the ease of setting it up (you clamp it onto the edge of a table or drawing board) and the little storage space it requires. The view through the camera is very clear, and the two filters make it easy to adjust how much you can see reflected on your sheet of paper in various lights.

The two filters (darker pieces of plexiglass) that you can screw in position to adapt the intensity of the light coming through and how saturated the reflected subject is. Use one or both as necessary to adapt the light so you see a well-reflected subject but can still see the marks you're making on the paper. (In photo I've moved a little to the right so you can clearly see the lines I've drawn.)

Being so accustomed to a zoom lens on a camera where you turn the lens (or press a button) and the object gets bigger, it takes a little getting used to having to move the camera or object closer to one another to make the object appear larger on the paper. Also check the angle of the camera and your drawing board to ensure you're not distorting verticals (look through the camera and check a vertical on the left and right of the view, and you'll soon see). A little experimentation will get you and your subject optimally situated.

An accessory you can get for this camera lucida is a Photo Projector which enables you to enlarge photos and or small objects with up to a four-times magnification. You simply fit the attachment onto the front of the camera, and stick your photo to it. When you look through the camera, you'll see your photo on your sheet of paper, enlarged.

If you struggle with accurate perspective, or are short of time but like doing a detailed drawing that you then want to copy onto a canvas, a camera lucida is a tool that solves the problem. (No reason you can't use it to sketch straight onto a canvas either.) Unlike a projector, it can be used on objects too, not just photos, and doesn't need electricity.

Review updated: November 2010, April 2012.

Disclosure: A review sample was provided by the manufacturer. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.
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