In general, we try to keep water and other liquids away from our cameras and other photographic gear. After all, we've all heard about the horror stories about the two things mixing up. Images of fried electronic boards, ruined shutters, and other components can give any photographer the shivers. In short, the result is normally not pretty.
Little do people know, liquids were used at least in one point in photography history. Well, of course, aside from using different liquid agents to develop film, there's actually a lens/camera that used liquid to capture images. It's not common knowledge but it's pretty cool when you actually think about it. We're talking about Thomas Sutton's Panoramic Camera or the Sutton Lens.
There's not much available information about this quirky creation by architect and photography enthusiast Thomas Sutton. It may be due to the fact that he was not around long to develop his design or because very few people bought his cameras when they were produced in 1860. The Sutton Panoramic Camera or Sutton Lens was a unique and out-of-the-box approach to panoramic photography. Instead of just stitching multiple photos together to form a panoramic image (a popular method used back in the day), the Sutton Camera used a spherical water-filled lens to create a panoramic photograph.
The inspiration behind the water-filled lens came in the form of a popular souvenir called the "snowstorm." It was that small water-filled globe that made him curious about the use of water and spherical lens shape. The camera also possesses a curved film plane, which is a novel solution to prevent blurring caused by field curvature. Sutton observed how images were projected through the curved surface of the glass with the help of that water-filled sphere. Soon, the idea of creating a wide-angle lens using this same principle brewed in Sutton's mind and finally became a working design.
The mechanism of Sutton's Panoramic Camera was very simple. It was no more than a lightproof box with a basic wooden flap that acted as a shutter. The water-filled lens has a construction of two lenses with extremely concentric curvatures enclose a hollow space that had been filled with crystal clear water. Tomas Sutton's idea was not only carefully manufactured but even perfected by practical enhancements by the optician Thomas Ross, London. The lens has an f/12 aperture and 120° coverage. It is also historically known as one of "The rarest lens in the history of optics" as quoted in "Die Photographischen Objektive", Halle 1911.