This Giant Camera In San Francisco Is A Fascinating Window To The Past

Jamie Ferrell Jamie Ferrell

This Giant Camera In San Francisco Is A Fascinating Window To The Past

This rare device was built next to the Cliff House in the 1940s.

Cameras Obscura have been documented in SF since the 1860s, and this one in Lands End has been in practice next to the Cliff House restaurant for 7 decades! It’s based on a 15th-century design by Leonardo Da Vinci which uses a pinhole opening to let in sunlight and project an image of the surrounding area.  You can step inside and observe this old technology working around you, in a giant precursor to the modern camera.

San Francisco’s Camera Obscura was built in 1946 by Floyd Jennings, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The camera’s lens rotates 360° and projects the captured image onto a projection table within the camera. There is also a 150-inch lens and a mirror, which are used to magnify and rotate the image so that it is viewable by those inside the camera. Visitors can walk around the projection table and observe the camera in action as it captures live images from the surrounding Pacific Ocean, Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, Marin, and more! You can also see a small holograph collection that was added in 1979.

The building which houses the camera is about 17.5 feet by 17.5 feet, and the exterior was remodeled several times. The current exterior is more or less how it’s looked since 1957 and the projection table and lens are both original, so a visit into this Camera Obscura is truly like stepping into the past!


You can visit the Camera Obscura at 1096 Point Lobos Avenue in San Francisco. It’s open from 11am to sunset daily.


Featured image: mgdfoto via Shutterstock

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