How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 269

When flashbulbs were used with cameras, was there a coil in the camera and a magnet, or how did they get it to light? Also, how are flashes used on cameras today different than flashbulbs?
Flashbulbs contain a wad of very fine magnesium wire that burns almost instantly in a gas of pure oxygen. The wire is ignited by a small piece of gunpowder-like primer material that is itself ignited by the camera. There are/were three techniques for igniting the primer: impact (a little lever smacked the side of a tube containing the primer and it burst into flame, just like a cap), electric current (a thin filament inside the bulb overheated when current ran through it), and spark (a spark jumped between two wires and ignited the primer). A camera that uses/used the current-ignited bulbs has a battery in it and taking a picture closes a circuit that then sends current through the bulb. A camera that uses/used the spark-ignited bulbs used a piezoelectric spark igniter, like the ones in outdoor gas grills. A camera that uses/used the impact-ignited bulbs just hit the primer itself. Modern cameras uses gas discharges to produce light. Since the flashlamp isn't burned up during a flash, it can be used many times.

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