The Camera Design

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There are two basic body types of camera construction : the all-inclusive box design created by the introduction in 1900 of the first Brownie camera from Kodak, followed by the SLR (single lens reflex) design by Nikon in 1948 with a design for looking specifically through the lens, which introduced new technology for better focusing and aperture control in photography. Then, in 1991, Leaf introduced the world’s first digital camera call the “Brick.” Leaf was a small company later purchased by Kodak , and once again, it was a “box” design, although thinner, sleeker, and easier to carry.

The technology of digital wizardry includes a different methodology for recording an image in what is actually a series of dots (called pixels), not much different from the methodology in which photographs are printed in newspapers, or a television displays an image on a cathode ray tube (CRT).

Now you may ask yourself, where we’re going with all this? Well to be frank, we’re going to focus on where flash units are placed on the box style cameras of today (which digital photography did not change, and only adopted). The DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras and ‘near’ DSLR cameras of today still employ an ‘add-on’ accessory option of external flash units, or a built-in “pop-up” flash unit, lifting the flash away from the lens.

Important Facts Regarding What Type Camera You Choose

In short, it is the single most important design flaw of the camera that accounts for the anomalies that sparked the “orb” controversy in paranormal circles. Orbs are a topic still being hotly debated. Once we explain what causes this digital phenomenon to occur, you too may form the opinion that orbs are no longer acceptable as concrete proof of the paranormal as many serious paranormal researcher believe. However, understand that we are not saying all orbs are contamination in digital photography (unless a flash was used); however, there are very few exceptions, which will be defined later in this page. Simply put, they have to qualify as ‘empirical’ evidence.

Catching the Light

There are two basic factors at play with any digital camera. Light and focus. How your camera is built has a lot to do with the anomalies you may encounter in digital photography . Even the most expensive DSLR cameras have auto-focus systems, but the advantage of the DSLR over the Ultra Light and Compact cameras is the small viewfinder. This is because with Advanced Cameras, like the DSLR, you can see what’s in focus by looking directly through the viewfinder. That brings to mind another important feature of the DSLR and near DSLR cameras from the lower end cameras; specifically the distance from the end of the lens to the flash unit.

Knowing what will appear to be in or out of focus is one of the most basic considerations when taking any photograph. So without confusing you any more than you may already be, let’s take a look at what is known as the “principal focal length.” There are enough math calculations involved in this for the serious photographer to confuse even Albert Einstein.

What the Camera Lens Sees

Take a look at the left and you will see the extreme foreground and far background are out of focus, with the text in the center being perfectly focused. This is because the text in focus falls within what is called the “depth of focus.”

The closer the dust particles are to the camera lens, the more blurred, spherical and translucent they become, taking on the familiar shape of ‘orbs’ in digital photographs . Yet the dust particles beyond the focal point are clear and focused. Pollen, rain, mists, powders, and other contaminants in the air all produce similar effects, as you will soon see in some examples further into this article.

Add to this the flash unit placement on the camera being used and the brilliance generated by the flash will determine just how ‘lit up’ the contaminant is. The less expensive Ultra Light, Compact, and even Advanced Design digital cameras with a familiar ‘box’ design are usually closer to the lens (green line). The more expensive DSLR and near-DSLR cameras (red line) have a pop-up flash unit that puts and points the flash higher in a different direction to better match up with the expected ‘focal point’ of the lens; diffusing the light more efficiently. Thus, the appearance of dust contamination in your photographs diminishes accordingly, but is not eliminated entirely.

Again, let’s go back to the human condition of pareidolia. When this anomaly occurs, our brains tend to over-analyze the contaminated photographs by giving them dimension and depth that is non-existent. All this is determined by the amount of light being absorbed by the contaminant (brilliance generated by the flash) including a perceived size and color and shade to establish distance in our mind.

Wikipedia has some really good examples of orbs and their cause:

Are Orbs Ever Paranormal?

This is where the line is drawn that can define the difference between a ‘paranormal investigator / researcher’ and ‘ghost hunter.’ Some people want to believe so badly that an orb is a genuine spirit or entity that they will not listen to reason or logic. They often argue that the brightness of the orb or the orb’s size is proof enough that the orb is in fact a “spirit,” when closer inspection may reveal it is actually an insect caught on film. This is another excellent reason to verify your camera is set to the highest possible pixel resolution, because magnifying a photo shot with 12 mega-pixels can often reveal a fast-moving ‘orb’ actually has wings and legs on it.

Some investigators and researchers believe that infrared (IR) photography (or night vision) will eliminate the contamination’s caused by dust, pollen, and moisture. However, this is not true because it doesn’t matter if the camera is configured for night or day vision if you are using a flash. It’s the flash of light (in conjunction with and the proximity of the flash to the lens) that causes orb artifacts. Night vision capable cameras should be used, however, they need to be used without flash, with external IR/UV lighting, a tripod and preferably a shutter release cable. Photos taken using this method (complete darkness) will take 2 seconds or more to produce which is why the tripod and cable are so vital.

* As an added suggestion, always take 2 photos back to back for comparison purposes.

Setting Guidelines

The In the Shadows Paranormal Project team members scattered around the globe have established a standard criteria in the determination of orbs.

That position is that orbs are 99% contamination and those that have no explanation, simply cannot be proven to be a ‘spirit, ghost, entity, alien, or dimensional entity,’ and are thus paranormally meaningless. In other words, no we do not typically accept orbs as any type of proof regarding paranormal activity. We scrutinize all orbs as if they are false-positives in the very strictest fashion. This does not mean that it is impossible for a spirit, ghost, or entity to manifest itself as an orb.  For this reason we usually only classify that 1% as ‘paranormally compelling,’ and only 1/10 of 1% ever get called ‘paranormally significant.’ And even then, only if they meet the following standards, with each photo being reviewed on a case-by-case basis:

•  Seen unaided with the naked eye by at least two credible witnesses in addition to photographic evidence.

•  At least one Class 1, 2, or 3 EVP (on the KM Scale) is recorded at the same time the orb is witnessed.

•  At least a Class 1 or 2 (on the KM Scale) for video or photographic evidence is suspected.

•  Measurable and substantial temperature changes not attributable to any natural source.

•  Measurable and substantial EMF readings not attributable to any natural source.

Other potentially compelling (but not necessarily provable) criteria:

•  If the orb shows a flight path on a still photograph resulting in a vortex like image, it may be considered in the light as corroborating evidence provided it meets the next criteria.

•  If the orb is on video, it must have a decidedly intelligent flight pattern, e.g., it must move around, behind in front, above, or hover for a substantial period (such as several seconds), and demonstrate an apparent ‘intelligent intent.’

This latter criteria is the most difficult to prove as intelligent intent or flight pattern is a matter of conjecture and is difficult, if not impossible, to establish.

So far, we’ve never seen one that meets this criteria.