Follow TV Tropes


Magical Camera

Go To

A particularly common piece of Magitek. A handheld device which captures an image is immensely useful, and so it's not surprising that in a fantastical setting, someone will come up with a way to provide such a device, using the magical means at their disposal. Similarly, magic-users in more modern settings can hardly resist using their powers to soup up the technology around them, and cameras are particularly disposed to this kind of tinkering.

Expect the Magical Camera to have traits far different from those mundane pieces we enjoy, and probably to work by a very different means. Or, it may be just like any other with only a slight twist. But at the end of the day, it is at its core a device which exists to preserve the image of a moment in time.

On a related note: it is a superstition of some Real Life cultures that cameras and photography are harmful, with many believing that being photographed may steal their soul and taking great pains to avoid it (This is ostensibly the Soul Jar variant of the Phantom-Zone Picture). This is a handy excuse for shy individuals or people wishing to remain anonymous, usually because of some criminality or witness protection system. Nevertheless, the claim that cameras steal souls is a functional form of the Magical Camera, and one you'll occasionally encounter in straight fantasy as a reasonable fear.

Magic employing a photograph itself also counts. Not to be confused with Magical Security Cam.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Doraemon has a gadget called the Voodoo Camera which doesn't create photos, but instead creates Voodoo Dolls of anyone it flashes at.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • When Joseph Joestar smashes a camera with Hermit Purple, he can capture an image from anywhere he can envision.
    • In Diamond Is Unbreakable, Yoshihiro Kira is a ghost who's possessed the camera to which his Stand was bound. The Stand in question, Atom Heart Father, allowed Kira to exist inside the photos it captured and affect objects in the real world by manipulating their equivalents in the photograph. It also prevented the real-world counterparts of anything in the area captured by the photograph from moving outside of the camera's field of view and prevents anything not depicted in the photos from entering it. Jotaro eventually defeats him by taking a photo of Kira himself and then destroying the camera, trapping Kira alone in the photo. It only sort of works; while Kira can no longer remotely affect the real world, it turns out he can lean out of the photo and bring physical objects inside.
  • Lupin III: Part II: In episode 110, the MacGuffin of the episode is a camera that has the ability to see into the future based on what was photographed. Fujiko uses it for gambling.
  • Sailor Moon has one villain who captures people within the pictures she takes of them.
  • The main character in Speed Grapher has a power that lets him blow up anything he shoots with his camera, although the magic is in himself rather than the object.
  • In Ultra Maniac, there's a camera that shows who the subject of the picture likes.

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: In Season 4 episode 43, the Monster of the Week uses a camera that traps people in the developed photos it produces after a picture is taken.
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Joys of Seasons episode 28, Wolffy obtains a magic camera from the Little Fairy. When you take a picture of someone with it, it traps them in the camera, and the only way to free them is to drop the developed photo of them into the water.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in "Crocodile" Dundee.
    Neville Bell: Oh, no, you can't take my photograph.
    Sue Charlton: Oh, I'm sorry, you believe it will take your spirit away.
    Neville Bell: No, you got lens-cap on it.
  • The Russian horror film Deadly Still revolves around an old instant camera that kills any person or animal photographed with it.
  • Haunted Mansion (2023): Using his knowledge of astrophysics and dark matter, which is treated like Sufficiently Analyzed Magic, Ben develops a camera that can take pictures of ghosts.
  • In a Hong Kong horror film titled The Park, the protagonist's mother is an expert ghost-buster, armed with a "special" camera that captures spirits in the films. Said protagonist steals her mother's camera to investigate the local Amusement Park of Doom (allegedly haunted, where her brother went missing in it years prior) and uses the camera to suppress the spirits haunting the place.
  • The titular camera in Polaroid is one. The people who get photos of themselves taken all die soon afterwards.
  • In Time Lapse, Finn, Callie, and Jasper discover a machine with such a camera embedded in it, within the apartment of their deceased neighbor. The camera and machine are pointed through the window of their living room and is revealed to be able to take pictures of the living room one day in the future.

  • Early in Anansi Boys, Spider passes into a photograph to travel to the location it shows. He later mentions he can go to any location he's seen, including by picture.
  • Bride of the Rat God has a borderline example: turns out that though the camera is not harmful to a human's soul (thanks to the body protecting it) for an all-spiritual-matter Rat Demon-God, with the right equipment and ingredients, it's perfect in regards to sealing it away.
  • Chrestomanci: In Conrad's Fate, a minor plot point involves Conrad accidentally entering a parallel universe through the portal hallway in the Stallery attic, and running into a strange woman who he takes a photograph of. It turns out that the universe where he encountered the woman is one where cameras are banned because they entrap people's souls, and the woman was a witch who was likely trying to kill him.
  • Discworld:
    • Iconographs, as they are called on the Discworld, are little more than boxes containing a very tiny imp with a sketchpad and set of paints. Because the imps have no imagination whatsoever, the images they create are accepted as objective. The flash works by frightening a captive Salamander, a magical lizard that absorbs light and can release it suddenly. In Moving Pictures (Discworld), movies were created using six imps triggered in succession, suggesting an imp can paint an image in only 1/4 of a second.
    • Moist Von Lipwig uses the "steals your soul" argument, but he really has other reasons to avoid being photographed. His avoidance naturally makes authority figures suspicious.
    • A notable example was the use of a different creature as a flash source. Its light caused psychological visages of its subjects' thoughts to pop up in the picture.
  • The Eisenhorn short story "Backcloth for a Crown Additional" has Eisenhorn investigate the death of a nobleman who had had his picture taken at a traveling fair two days before. He discovers that the photographer's camera is tainted by Chaos, killing anyone whose picture it takes.
  • In the Four Past Midnight story The Sun Dog, the protagonist receives a Polaroid camera for his birthday, but every picture it takes, regardless of what it's pointed at, is of a "dog" that gets closer and closer to the camera (and looks less and less like a dog) with each successive shot.
  • Marginal example: Photographs and paintings alike in Harry Potter are animate and semi-sentient, due to some kind of special darkroom process. Considering the penchant some wizards have for tinkering, there are probably magical cameras too, but they aren't played up.
  • Say Cheese and Die! is about a camera that causes tragedy to befall any person shot with it. In the sequel, its pictures curse the protagonists instead. They begin to respectively lose weight and gain weight, presumably until it kills them. They manage to save themselves at the last moment by having the photos color-inverted at a picture-developing shop.
  • Shallan Davar, of The Stormlight Archive can take a Memory of a scene, recording it with photographic accuracy for later drawing. Drawing a Memory removes it from her head, greatly increasing the probability that this is some kind of magic. Words of Radiance reveals that most Lightweavers possess this power.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played for laughs in 30 Rock. The super HD video camera seems to show the characters' true selves. Through the viewfinder, Liz appears significantly less attractive with a unibrow and a prominent facial wart, Pete suddenly looks naked and several decades older, Jack looks 20 years younger, and Kenneth is a puppet with blue skin.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?:
    • In "The Tale of the Curious Camera", a camera predicts misfortune in its photos and makes them happen. Worse is that it gains its power by being inhabited by a gremlin that can jump from the camera into other electronics, like a camcorder, VCR, and computer...
    • "The Tale of the Photo Finish" crosses this over with Phantom-Zone Picture. Two boys at a prep school try to join the Lions' Society, a group of rich, smug Jerk Jocks. As a hazing prank, one of the boys is forced to steal the current headmaster's portrait and unknowingly frees the imprisoned spirit of Jasper Davis, a victim of the Lions' bullying from decades ago. To punish the Lions, Jasper starts using his old camera to seal them away in photographs, where they're frozen in time permanently.
  • The villain Flashpoint from the Black Scorpion TV series has a Magical Camera that lets him take Phantom Zone Pictures.
  • The Friday the 13th: The Series episode "Scarlet Cinema" features a cursed film camera where the characters from within the created film can come to life in the real world, yet the owner can later also become that same creature. Owner Darius Pogue had an obsession with Lon Chaney Jr.'s The Wolf Man (1941), and thus became the same Wolf Man he had imagined in his "film".
  • An episode of My Babysitter's a Vampire involves an antique camera brought into school on picture day that makes evil clones of whoever gets their picture taken. The first clone is of the student body representative, who schemes to have everyone doubled so they can begin taking over the world.
  • In Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, the magical pens that the heroines used in the original are updated to magic cellphones. One function is the ability to create a disguise based on a photo taken with it.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): The episode "A Most Unusual Camera" features a camera that shows the future.
  • An episode of Ultraseven has an alien named Wild who uses a camera to steal the life force of other beings, trapping their souls inside the film.
  • In Warehouse 13, Artie has a camera that turns the people it takes pictures of into pictures, specifically life-sized cardboard cutouts. A second picture puts them back to normal. Another episode had Man Rey's camera, which could steal youth from one person and give it to another.

    Music Videos 
  • In the music video for Amy Grant's "Takes a Little Time", an instant camera reveals snapshots of the subjects' future. For example, a man who steals the camera and snaps himself is horrified to see a photo of himself dead.

    Video Games 
  • Cry of Fear features one which Simon can use after completing the game in 2 hours and 30 minutes. The camera by itself doesn't deal any damage, but it has the effect of freezing any enemy in place that gets "shot" by the camera. This effect does not work on bosses,note  won't affect enemies that are in their spawn animation and, due to a bug, killing a Suicider frozen by the camera will also kill Simon as well.
  • In Donkey Kong 64, a fairy gives Tiny (and, by extension, all other Kongs) a camera whose main purpose is taking pictures of lost Banana Fairies. A successful shot returns them to the main Banana Fairy, who, in return, increases your film, orange, and Crystal Coconut capacities, and refilling all of those plus your ammo.
  • The Camera Obscura in Fatal Frame can take pictures of spirits, which are not normally visible. It can also sap the spiritual energy of hostile ghosts (probably inspired by the aforementioned belief that cameras stole a person's soul), with the power of each shot depending on the film used. In the first game, a hostile spirit would be exorcized if defeated enough times, but later games dropped this: a hostile spirit can only be warded off, never permanently defeated.
  • Early in Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel, Roberto obtains a special camera lens that allows him to "see things in other worlds". Looking through the lens around St. Dinfna's interiors allows Roberto to catch glimpses of its past supernatural activities, locate hidden entrances, and See the Invisible.
  • Genshin Impact: One of the playable characters, Charlotte, uses her Kamera to channel her Cryo powers by weaponizing her snapshots.
  • In Inscryption, the shadowy figure owns a magic camera that turns anything he photographs into a card. If you lose, you're asked to pick what stats you want before he takes your picture. You can find and use the new Death Card on subsequent attempts. You can try to take the camera and use it, but it doesn't work without film.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Picto Box in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker functions more or less like a normal camera, except that it develops instantly and can only keep three pictures at once. In order to upgrade it to the Deluxe Picto Box, which takes colour pictures, you need to capture and use a special kind of firefly that emits prismatic light. In the HD remake, the Picto Box can now hold 12 images at once, and the firefly is no longer needed to upgrade it (lampshaded if you give Lenzo the firefly anyways). Furthermore, you can take a picture of a character or enemy and take it to Carlov, he can make a figurine of it. If this were a normal photograph, he may or may not have to guess what a character looks like from the other angles, but apparently, he gets it right, so...
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it's one of the capabilities of the Sheikah Slate, which allows it to not only take pictures, but logs the ones of things like weapons and enemies into a compendium providing useful information about them, and a means to use the Slate's sensor to hone in on them. It also plays a role in many side quests where characters ask to be shown pictures of things; given the generally Medieval tech level, they'll often assume that they're hand-drawn, and comment on how remarkable Link's artistic skills are. The camera function also serves as a major plot point, since the fact that Zelda was the previous owner means that several of her own photos are still logged in its memory, providing vital clues to sites where Link can regain his lost memories.
  • In the first-person horror game Madison, the teenage protagonist receives a cursed camera capable of connecting the world of living with the dead, where taking pictures allows you to see spirits and sense the supernatural. As it turns out, said camera actually belongs to a Serial Killer three decades ago and still houses its owner's spirit.
  • Onryō (2020): The Player Character wields a camera that's capable of harming the hostile spirits.
  • Power Bomberman: Torooi's camera can turn bombs into random items. It selects them from the stage's item pool and bad items can sometimes be spawned as well.
  • Snapshot is a puzzle platformer where you can photo an area of the level to cut and paste objects around.
  • Touhou Project:
    • Double Spoiler ~ Touhou Bunkachou has Hatate's camera, which has some sort of magical Google image search function that allows her to get pictures without actually taking them. In-game, the only difference between Aya's and Hatate's cameras are the zoom distance and charge speed.
    • In Danmaku Amanojaku ~ Impossible Spell Card, Seija can equip a toy camera as one of her cheat items. It functions similarly to Aya's camera when equipped as main, and increases Seija's speed when used as sub.
    • In Hifuu Nightmare Diary ~ Violet Detector, Suireko's main ESP ability is her spirit cellphone camera, which works pretty much like Aya's camera, and is required to obtain photographs for her nightmare diary. Unlike Aya, she doesn't have a photo requirement and can just curbstomp the nightmares, but each is only considered "cleared" once she has managed to take at least two photographs before beating the boss. Which is sometimes harder than it sounds, since some patterns require liberal usage of her other ESP abilities, and especially short-range teleportation, but none really necessitate the camera unless you make it a point to incorporate it.
  • Starting from the second chapter, Viewfinder has several fixed-view cameras that allow you to take the same reality-warping photos you've encountered and used in previous levels. Later on in the third chapter, you get access to your own portable version that you can use to solve puzzles.
  • In The World Ends with You, Joshua's cell phone camera can take pictures of the past, and Neku's is later upgraded to be able to do the same.

  • Achewood has the Mexican magical realism camera that shows how people perceive their true inner selves. This ends up forcibly outing Pat.
  • About that camera capturing soul business: minus. did it. Then again, Minus Did It.

    Web Originals 
  • The Creepypasta "Minor Corrections" by Slimebeast is about a mail-in photo lab that corrects any "mistakes" they notice in the photos they develop before sending them back to the customer. Namely, if the photo depicts somebody who died between the time the photo was taken and the time it was developed, they will alter it to reflect the person's current deceased state, with all the Body Horror that implies. They can also predict imminent future deaths. Unfortunately, the protagonist looked at the photo showing his dad hanging from a noose just a few seconds too late to prevent it from actually happening.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-978 is an instant Polaroid camera that when taking a picture of a person, the photograph is not of that person but of what that person wants to be doing at that time.
    • SCP-105-B is a camera which when a picture is taken with it by SCP-105 (Iris), the resulting photograph is in fact a window to the area photographed that 105 can reach through. She later demonstrates the ability to do this with other cameras as well, leaving it unclear whether 105-B itself is actually anomalous in any way.
    • At one point an admin applied various SCPs to create an incredibly high-definition camera.

    Western Animation 
  • In Angel's Friends, Urie has a camera that can capture people's dreams. It turns out to be very handy when Raf's friends need to prove her innocence by going through Raf's memories.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: Grim has a camera that can show a person's inner self. Mandy is shocked to see Irwin's picture shows he has a dark side. She actually starts returning his crush, but he snaps her out of it before her own inner self changes, because he loves her the way she is.
  • In an episode of Rekkit Rabbit, Jay uses a magic camera from Chakabrak to take some headshots of his mom and stepdad, Henrietta and Lorne before they audition for a music agent. Unfortunately, when Jay takes their picture with the camera on "Rock Star" setting, it turns Henrietta and Lorne into a pair of grotesque monsters (according to Rekkit, all rock stars in Chakabrak look like monsters, making them literal monsters of rock).