The Camera Obscura, known in Japanese as Shaeiki (射影機, roughly "shadow-shooting mechanism"), is the main device featured throughout the entire Fatal Frame series. The camera functions by recording images onto photographic film, however, the Camera Obscura found in the series is unique due to its ability to exorcise spirits. The Camera Obscura, along with the Flashlight, is a staple item in the Fatal Frame series.
Usually acquired as a hand-me-down or discovered in some place within the game, the camera is the only "weapon" the main characters are given to survive. By utilizing the various exorcismal powers of the Camera Obscura, players are able to fend off hostile ghosts, as well as capture lingering spirits and receive helpful clues from ghosts that desire to communicate.
Developed by Dr. Kunihiko Asou, the Camera Obscura was devised to look beyond the material world and, "take pictures of impossible things". Dr. Asou and his assistants were responsible for creating more than one Camera Obscura, six of which have been featured in the games so far. The first Camera Obscura Dr. Asou considered functional was given to his friend, Seijiro Makabe, a folklorist who took the camera along with him to research All God's Village. As the development of "Mystical Science", the field in which Dr. Asou studied, progressed, the Camera Obscura's abilities expanded and gained attention from many occultists and paranormal enthusiasts. Eventually, the many cameras became rare collectibles scattered throughout Japan and some no longer functioned to capture images of the other side. However, as stated in the "Notes" section for Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, it could be that their current owners do not possess the capacity to operate them.
In Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, the "Notes" Entry for the Camera Obscura states that the cameras that Dr. Asou created were all prototypes, hence why each camera has different functionalities. It is unknown at this time if a final or "perfect" version of the Camera Obscura exists.
Central to the premise of the Fatal Frame series, the Camera Obscura is used to fight ghostly entities and exorcise spirits of all kinds. By raising the camera, the player enters viewfinder, or first-person view mode, where the spirits and environments can be photographed.
Damage is done by aiming the camera towards a hostile ghost and pressing the shutter button to take a photo. Ghosts that aren't hostile are not damaged, but are captured in the same way. The amount of damage done depends, primarily, on the amount of time the ghost spends within the capture circle, the type of film used and whether power-up lenses are used.
By taking pictures of spirits, the Camera Obscura not only captures them, but attains Spirit Points as well. The amount of spirit points gathered depends on variables that determine the quality of the shot. These variables include proximity to the target, whether the target is centered, the amount of damage inflicted, the amount of targets captured at once and many others. Spirit points can then be used in the camera to upgrade the camera's basic functions and special lenses.
Every damaging shot also absorbs spirit power, the amount of which varies depending on the damage. Spirit power can be stocked and is needed in order to use power-up lenses.
The camera relies on special film retrieved by exploring different areas in the main characters' setting. Without any film loaded, the camera is unable to take photographs. There are five known types of film found in the series. Beyond Type-07, film types are of limited quantity and are scattered throughout the game. The more rare a film type is, the more damage it is capable of inflicting, however, the amount of time the film takes to load between shots varies and doesn't always increase with rarity.
If a hostile ghost is captured during certain moments of activity or weakness, the shot is called a "Shutter Chance". Shutter chances are usually indicated by a bright glow of the capture circle and the camera zooming in. Shutter chances vary between ghosts, but usually occur before, during or immediately after an attack. A shutter chance deals increased damage and has the added effect of pushing the ghost back.
A "Fatal Frame" is a special shutter chance shot occurring only in very short time frames of a ghost's attack. Fatal frames are more difficult to attain, as they commonly last only one second and must be "found" in a ghost's attack. A fatal frame captures a ghost when it is most vulnerable, dealing even more damage and pushing the ghost back severely. In addition, fatal frame are the only shots that can be chained, creating combos that can do massive damage.
The Camera Obscura employs various elements that are used to exorcise spirits. The basic components the camera uses in the games include:
In the center of the viewfinder is the capture circle. In order to be photographed, spirits must be within the capture circle when the shutter button is pressed. The capture circle also determines how much damage is inflicted on the target/s within by acting as a sort of gauge; as a ghost spends time within the circle, the circle is illuminated more and more until it is fully charged.
At the top of the viewfinder is a tubular filament that detects a ghost's presence. A blue glow from the filament means that a benign ghost is present, or a clue is nearby and can be photographed. A red glow means that a hostile ghost is present and can be fought off. In addition, the glow of the filament brightens as the player faces towards and gets closer to the source.
Special lenses are also used to cause varying degrees of damage and inflict statuses on ghosts. These lenses can be used when the proper amount of spirit power has been stocked and can be used by pressing a specific button. Lenses can be upgraded like the camera's basic functions, enhancing their effects on enemies. Some examples of power-up lenses are:
- Slow - Slows down a ghost's movement for a period of time.
- Blast - Pushes a ghost back greatly and causes a large amount of damage.
- Pierce - Increases the damage of subsequent shots.
- Stop - Stops a ghost in place for a limited amount of time.
The Camera Obscura was introduced in Fatal Frame, however it was not introduced with that name. Mafuyu Hinasaki inherits the camera from his deceased mother, and uses it to investigate a mansion that is said to be haunted. After going missing for some time, Mafuyu's sister, Miku Hinasaki, ventures into the mansion, finds the camera and picks up where her brother left off. After uncovering more of the mansion's history, Miku realizes that her mother's camera came from a past resident of the mansion, and that using the camera eventually led to her death. Miku continues to use that camera to uncover the secrets of the mansion and put the spirits haunting it to rest.
In Fatal Frame II, the camera is found by twins Mio and Mayu Amakura after they are spirited away and become trapped in All God's Village. The village had been caught in a disaster brought about by a failed ritual, and after nearly all its inhabitants were killed, the village had become notorious for spiriting away people who venture near. It is later revealed that the camera was brought to the village by a folklorist who wanted to use it to film the village's ritual. Mayu, being susceptible to the paranormal, is led astray by the ghostly denizens of the village, and Mio must use the camera to solve the mysteries surrounding the village, save her sister and escape the village.
The camera in Fatal Frame III is found within an old manor that certain people visit in their dreams. Rei Kurosawa is one of those people, and she is given the camera by one of the ghosts in the manor. Rei sees her late boyfriend within the mansion, and, wanting to see him again, pursues him and uncovers the truth regarding the manor with the help of the camera. The manor only appears in the dreams of those who have become sole survivors of a disaster, and two more people are brought to it. Miku Hinasaki, who survived after searching Himuro Mansion, relives her fears of that place when she begins to dream of the manor. Kei Amakura begins to dream of the manor after researching it in hopes of curing his niece, Mio. The three are able to use the Camera Obscura to fend off the ghosts that have been trapped inside the manor, and lift the curse that killed all of its inhabitants and draws survivors into the nightmare.
In Fatal Frame IV, there are two Camera Obscuras and another paranormal instrument, the Spirit Stone Flashlight, that the protagonists use to uncover the mysteries of an island and its people. Ruka Minazuki, Misaki Asou and Madoka Tsukimori travel to the island they grew up in after two of their friends, who also came from the island, are found dead. They arrive and begin searching the place they grew up in, hoping to uncover forgotten memories. Ruka and Madoka utilize a Camera Obscura that has become a display inside the Kunihiko Asou Museum on the island, and Misaki brings with her a camera that was passed down her family.
Meanwhile, in another location on the island, former detective Choushiro Kirishima, who found the six girls ten years ago when they were kidnapped, is on the trail of the man behind the kidnapping. He utilizes the Spirit Stone Flashlight after Ruka's mother gave it to him and asked him to follow Ruka. The four investigate the island, revealing what had occurred ten years ago and recovering their lost memories of Rougetsu Island.
In Maiden of Black Water, two versions of the Camera Obscura are used throughout the game. The cameras belong to Hisoka Kurosawa and Ren Hojo, the former's camera also being used by Yuri Kozukata and Rui Kagamiya. Both cameras differ in functionality. Hisoka's Camera (seen above) has the ability to use several special lenses that can deal more damage, slow enemies, and even heal the photographer.
Meanwhile, Ren's Camera has a different function- pressing the Special Lens button allows his camera to take four photos in rapid succession, however, the reload time of the photos suffer for it. This is due to the nature of his camera, which has unique compound lenses instead of a single lens.
As is customary with the Series, neither Ren nor Hisoka were the original owners of their cameras.
- The name "Camera Obscura" is latin for "darkened chamber", which was the core of every old-style photographic camera.
- In Fatal Frame II, the words "Shadow Obscure" are shown in the bottom when in viewfinder mode, however, the reason for this isn't specified.
- The capture circle in Fatal Frame II is decorated by symbols of the japanese zodiac such as "rat" (子), "dragon" (辰), "snake" (巳), and "tiger" (寅).
- Despite appearing only in games, a real Camera Obscura does, in fact, exist. It doesn't actually exorcise spirits, but it is used in drawing and for entertainment.