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Zane Middle School camera obscura

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ENGR215 Project Page in Progress
This page is a project page in progress by students in Engr215. Please refrain from making edits unless you are a member of the project team, but feel free to make comments using the discussion tab. Check back for the finished version on May .., 2017.


The purpose of this project was to create a working camera obscura that would teach students point perspective and allow students to trace the images displayed. Team Girl Scout Cookies designed a durable and portable model called the Accordion Camera Obscura, shown in Figure-1. This design was built around three major aspects: aesthetics, the bellows, and durability. Team Girl Scout Cookies was formed in Humboldt State University'sEngineering 215 class.

Figure-1:Sketch of The Accordion Camera Obscura designed by team Girl Scout Cookies


The Spring 2017 engineering design class was commissioned by Zane Middle School to design a camera obscura that was portable and maintained a vintage aesthetic to it. The camera will not only display images onto a viewing class but also allow students, who have a hard time drawing, to trace those images.

Problem statement and criteria[edit]

Team Girl Scout Cookies' objective in this project was to design an aesthetically pleasing camera obscura that was capable of projecting images onto a viewing glass and allows students to trace the images displayed. The Model would be placed in a classroom environment and would be used as a learning tool for students, therefore the camera had to be durable. The team was informed that students would be carrying the camera so mobility should be kept in mind when designing the camera. Table-1 shows a list of criterion along with its weighted importance and definitions. The criterion were weighted by the team along with our client representative, Ken Weiderman, in order to help guide the team in choosing a design that best fits the client's needs.

Table-1: Criteria definitions and weight of importance
Criteria Weight Description
Functionality 10 Middle school student is able to use
Durability 9 Can survive a fall off a desk
Mobility 9 Can be moved by a single middle school student
Aesthetics 9 More interesting than a plain box
Education 8 Meets common core standards
Safety 7 No sharp edges
Cost 6 Less than $400
Wow Factor 6 Far greater than that of a plain box
Environmental Impact 4 Greater than of a commercial product

Description of final project[edit]

The Accordion Camera Obscura was designed around three major aspects: aesthetics, the bellows, and durability. These three aspects allowed the team to design a camera that would best-fit the client's needs.


Aesthetics became a major aspect considering that this model was designed for students taking art at Zane Middle School, therefore the design had to be aesthetically pleasing towards younger students. Our client representative, Ken Weiderman, informed the team that his students would be more intrigued on the model if it looked older compared to a modern design. Therefore, the team decided a vintage aesthetic would be appropriate for the model. To achieve this, the wood used would be stained with a walnut stain to give it an antique look. Vintage cameras are also known to have bellows so the team believed it would be appropriate to incorporate bellows into the design. The bellows would serve a larger purpose than just aesthetics in the design.


The bellows would not only give a vintage feel to the camera obscura but it would also allow the camera to compact into a smaller size. This meant that the camera could be both easily stored and easily carried. The bellows would also allow users to focus images by allowing them to manipulate the focal length. This would be done by extending or compacting the bellows, which have the lens attached to one side, until the image would appear clearer. The bellows also helped reduced a bit of weight from the model by using fabric bellows over more wood. The original plan was to make a smaller box that would somehow compact into a larger box but that would cost more and also increase the weight. The team wanted the design to be as light as possible without sacrificing durability.


The team kept in mind that the model would be used in a classroom environment, which meant that it had to be durable. Therefore, the team decided to construct the camera out of birch plywood. Birch plywood is several sheets of birch glued together and is known for its strong and lightweight properties. Birch plywood is not the lightest or strongest wood but it does have the most favorable strength to weight ratio compared to other woods. Birch is also very safe because its known to not crack or splinter, which is why its popular among toy makers. This material is also very affordable. The team also decided to use ¼” thick glass for the viewing window since students would be exerting a downward force on the glass in order to trace images. A thicker glass meant that the window could withstand a greater force without cracking.


Implementation Cost[edit]

Below is Table-2 which shows the cost of building the Accordion Camera Obscura. Table-2 includes a list of materials along with the quantity purchased, place of purchase, cost of purchase, and a total cost.

Table-2: Cost and Materials
Quantity Material Source Cost ($) Total ($)
1 Glass Pane (9"x8.5"x0.25") Humboldt Glass 10.00 10.00
1 Mirror (9"x11.33") Humboldt Glass 10.00 10.00
1 Camera Lens 15.00 15.00
00 Birch Wood Donated 0.00 0.00
00 Brass screws Donated 0.00 0.00
1 Fabric Scrap Humboldt 10.60 10.60
1 Can of Wood Stain Donated 0.00 0.00
Total Cost $45.60

Design Cost[edit]

The pie chart below, Chart-1, shows the total hours spent designing the Accordion Camera Obscura.

Chart-1: Design Cost (in hours)

Testing Results[edit]

How to build[edit]

Use Template:How_to

How to make the enclosing box
Base1.JPG Step 1 : Measure the wood with the required dimensions
Base2.jpg Step 2 : Screw on the lining that will hold the mirror and viewing glass in place.
Step 3 : Screw the side pieces into the top piece
Step 4 : Screw the bottom piece to the camera box
Step 5 : Screw the back piece
How to make the Bellows
Step 1 : Draw out templet with two 8"x12" rectangles and two 6.5"x12" rectangles.
BellowBones.JPG Step 2 : Cut out boning pieces from card paper. trapezoids 1.1cm thick, 8" and 6.5" long pieces with sides at 45-degree angles.
Step 3 : Cut white fabric to size 12"x30"
BellowsLayout.JPG Step 4 : Trace templet to white fabric
Bellows5.JPG Step 5 : Glue bonding onto Fabric with 2mm spacing between for easy folding.
Step 6 : Cut Black fabric to size 12"x30"
Bellows7.JPG Step 7 : Once the glue is dry, glue the black fabric to the white, with boning sandwiched between.
Step 8 : Once the glue is dry, glue fabric into a cylindrical tube.
Bellowsfinal.JPG Step 9 : fold the bellows with opposites sides folding in, while other sides are folded out. repeat until bellows are all folded.


The accordion camera obscuara needs little maintenance, but the little care it needs will keep it creating clear images for years.


  • close the viewing glass lid
  • avoid touching the lens
  • Clean lens
  • Clean viewing glass


To maintain the camera obscura, it is important to clean the lens and viewing window with a clean and soft cloth. Make sure to close viewing window and to keep the camera closed while being stored and not in use. This will help prolong the life of the lens and viewing glass.


Problem Suggestion
Any issue Contact Luke Pascasio at

Discussion and next steps[edit]

Suggestions for future changes[edit]

When trying to choose a lens that best fits the dimensions for your Accordion Camera Obscura, keep in mind that lenses produce different focal lengths. A mistake the team made was ordering a lens with a focal length of only 20cm. The length we needed required a focal length of at least 30-50cm.


See Help:Footnotes for more.