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How I built my pinhole camera

Sat Jun 25, 2016, 2:32 PM by pearwood:iconpearwood:
:iconprojecteducate:
:iconprojecteducate:


Photography Week

Pinhole cameras are the most basic cameras possible, just a tiny hole, film or sensor to capture the image, and a light-tight box to hold it all together. That's it. You set the camera where you want it, uncover the hole for whatever time feels right, re-cover the hole, and go on your way. You process the film or digital image just as you would for any other camera.

Why shoot with a pinhole camera? For some it's their rebellion against all the camera porn and acquisitiveness promoted by camera magazines and people with more money than good sense, against the notion that more expensive equipment will make one a better photographer. For others it is the simple joy of using the most basic camera possible. Some are enamored with the magic of the slightly fuzzy images with infinite depth of field. For most of us it's a mixture of things. And it's liberating and just plain fun to leave behind all the complicated stuff and let it be just me, the camera, and the world. When I find myself getting bored with my photography, it's time to grab the pinhole camera and go play.

There are three approaches to coming up with a pinhole camera.

  1. You can buy one. I have put many rolls of 120 film through my Holga Pinhole Camera. I've experimented with using it with 35mm film. It's a pretty good camera, much classier than its plastic-lens cousin. I payed US$18 a few years ago for the camera, and I think that included a roll or two of film. I would love someday to get a Zeroimage, such as Epytafe uses, with its cabinetry quality box and precision pinhole, but I don't have the couple or few hundred dollars right now that one would set me back. I include building a pinhole camera from a purchased kit in this category.
  2. You can build your own from scratch, with anything from matchboxes to shoeboxes to tin cans or whatever your heart desires. rdungan1918 has made some very fine cameras from foam board. Scratch-built cameras are generally single shot affairs; you load and unload the film in a photographer's black bag. If you want to take more than one image, carry more than one camera.
  3. You can convert an existing camera to pinhole. This is the route I took. I have three Argus C3 bricks sitting on my shelf, one with the stock 50mm lens, one with a 35mm lens, the last with a 100mm lens. (Swapping lenses on a C3 is not what I would consider a field operation, and the bodies are cheap.) As I had an extra in the basement with something of an oddball setup and a flaky lens, I decided to use it to add a pinhole to the collection.
The first step was to remove the stock 50mm lens so I could remove the glass lenses and mount a pinhole. I was unable to disassemble the lens with the non-specialty tools I had. I finally took cold chisel to the glass and swept the shards into the garbage. I winced. But, as I said, the lens was essentially unusable as it was. But it still hurt. Such is life.

With the glass out of the way I was able to disassemble the lens and look for ways to mount a pinhole in the frame. I found a couple of candidates. Next step was to make the pinhole.

The instructions typically recommend a foil pie tin. I did a quick check. We didn't have any. We did, however, have a fine collection of empty (and full) Genesee Cream Ale cans. ("Not bad for cheap beer," goes the mantra.) I cut a square out of one of the green areas, thinking I would get less internal reflections that way.

Next I took one of the pieces of the dismantled lens assembly, set the metal square on it, and pressed down to make a circle impression in the metal. I used my good scissors to cut off the excess. (I figure the soft metal would be easier on the scissors than paper or cardboard.) I set the cutout circle on a piece of cardboard and gently pushed a sewing needle through, as close to the center as I could, and just enough to give me a hole that seemed about the same size as on my Holga Pinhole. I pressed the hole flat on my desk to flatten the flange, then wiggled the needle in it to clean it and try to make it round, and flattened it again.

The next step was to mount the pinhole in the lens assembly. There were two pieces near the front of the assembly that I could screw together tightly enough to keep the pinhole stable, so that's where it went. I reassemble the lens and mounted it on the camera.

I loaded a roll of castoff and long-expired color film in the camera and went for a walk.  I tried a variety of shots with a variety of exposures in the range of a few seconds, pretty much what I would have used with the Holga. Twenty four frames later, I came home, went down to the basement, and developed the film, cross-processing it with D76. I wasn't concerned with getting good photographs at this point as I was in seeing if the thing even worked and whether the exposure times were reasonable.

As it turned out, the exposure times were ok, but the pinhole placement was not. I had it too far forward, with the result that the shutter leaves were visible in the images. And it was not well centered. So I took everything apart again, found a further-back place where I could mount a pinhole, cut and drilled a new piece of beer can metal, and put it all back together. This time I pretty much got it right.

2016-150 Switch lock by pearwood 2016-150 Switch post by pearwood 2016-149 Looking up by pearwood 2016-150 Old tie by pearwood 2016-150 Guano on the post by pearwood

2016-149 Looking west by pearwood 2016-156 Our back yard by pearwood

Methinks this one is a keeper.

:nod:


Add a Comment:
 
:icondzulkifli27:
Dzulkifli27 Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2016
Interesting article Steve,
I always love the pinhole camera but too afraid to try it out. That and I have to travel into town to have my films processed.
However, I did find on the net on building your own pinhole from paper craft using cardboard as the main material.
I always wonder how well it work with cardboard.

This is some of those sites that features the use of pinhole camera;
DIRKON – THE PAPER CAMERA
www.pinhole.cz/en/pinholecamer…

VIDERE
www.thepopuppinholecompany.com
Have to purchase.

DIY – Vintage camera box
www.nemgraphisme.com/2014/02/0…
scroll down to Matériel, download at ici pour le « classic » noir et ici pour le « girly » rose ;

If anything, I think it make a great gift.
Have a wonderful day Steve.
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Cardboard should work just fine. rdungan1918 built his out of foam board. The main thing is to have the box light-tight and the pinhole clean.

Developing black and white film is not difficult, and requires a minimum of equipment. freestylephoto.biz is a good place to get such things at reasonable prices.
Reply
:icondzulkifli27:
Dzulkifli27 Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2016
I see now , thank you for the explanations.
:) (Smile) 
Reply
:iconcontraltissimo:
Contraltissimo Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2016
BOSS. :clap:
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
:bow:
Reply
:iconyuukon:
Yuukon Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2016   Writer
Great article Steve! Hope to see more like these from you!
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Thank you!
Reply
:iconxs-deviant:
xs-deviant Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Good one Steve ---> howto folder
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks!
Reply
:iconslowdog294:
slowdog294 Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Professional Photographer
:iconthisplz::iconclapplz:
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
:bow:
Reply
:iconslowdog294:
slowdog294 Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Professional Photographer
:D:camera:
Reply
:iconelectricjonny:
electricjonny Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
My first photography class I took in high school, around 1997 or so, we built pinhole cameras.  We took a box (I think cardboard) took a piece of tin, poked a hole in it, and set a piece of light sensitive paper in the back of it.  Then we were set free to go outside and take exposures and come back in and develop it in the darkroom with the chemicals.  Then after we got something, it was time to get the positive by stacking it against another piece of paper and then we had it.  It was great.

It taught us about exposure times, and it was basically the act of photography, in its simplest form.  I think that all photo students should be taught this.  It takes the digital nonsense out of the picture (ha ha) and takes you to the root of what photography is.  I then later built a more hardcore camera out of wood, which I still have, but sadly rarely use since the chemicals are hard to find (in stores, at least) and I don't do much work in my bathroom with it all anymore.
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Yes and amen.

Thankfully, I can still buy my chemicals off the shelf in Rochester. Anything I can't get at Scott's Photo I get at freestylephoto.biz

Steve
Reply
:iconelectricjonny:
electricjonny Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
There used to be a place near me that sold photo equipment (chemicals, papers, film, all that) but they stopped selling it.  Sort of sad, but yeah I could still go online to get it all.  Sadly, I just am not into photography as much as I used to be.  But I'm still thinking of going through old books of film and papers to try and pull out some of my better shots to maybe upload here.
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Excellent
Reply
:iconrdungan1918:
rdungan1918 Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016
Repurposing an existing camera is a good way to go for film pinholes.  I recently did pretty much the same thing with a Lubitel 166.  Works better as a pinhole than it did as a regular camera.  Could never get it to focus properly.  Nice work on the camera and the pinhole. :D 
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks, Bob!
Reply
:iconpamonk:
PaMonk Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Professional Artist
Will have to try this but for now just going to use my pinhole camera app until  I can learn lots more first.:D
Reply
:iconxs-deviant:
xs-deviant Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
For trying it out you might also consider the approach I used here Filters Different that can help you exercise a feel for making your own one and using it. 
Reply
:iconpamonk:
PaMonk Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Professional Artist
I don't have a camera yet that has a removable lens yet All
I have is cheap camera from Walmart and my tablet camera so far
I am hoping to get a nicer camera this year so might could try then :D
All I got for now it old pinhole HD camera App from google
I am only learning at the time, but will write this down and keep idea's for later.:D
Thanks so much.😀
Reply
:iconxs-deviant:
xs-deviant Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
With my way you don't need a camera with a removable lens. In fact it will work with any camera you can think of. Recently I even pinholed my mobile :-) Mobile pinhole
Reply
:iconpamonk:
PaMonk Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Professional Artist
I was reading some of the journal it sounds like something that I would try
Aways trying to get great shot with my old cameras are very depressing I will try these with my
Polaroid tomorrow or very soon I will let you know how it goes.
Reply
:iconxs-deviant:
xs-deviant Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
That would be nice, I would love to see those. You learn so much of crafting for our cam whatever comes out, the best thing is the knowledge and experience.
Reply
:iconpamonk:
PaMonk Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Professional Artist
:happybounce:
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
If you have a camera with removable lenses, and an extra body cap, you can drill a hole in the body cap and tape or glue a pinhole behind the hole. That would be the digital equivalent of what I did with the C3. You don't change anything on the camera itself, you just get the glass out of the way and use a pinhole instead.
Reply
:iconpamonk:
PaMonk Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Professional Artist
thanks. :D will have to try one day.
Reply
:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Ingenious approach! And beautiful results :clap:
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Thank you. And I paid so much for it. :D
Reply
:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
I can tell :laughing:
Reply
:icondavincipoppalag:
davincipoppalag Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Interesting stuff!~
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
And fun.
Reply
:icondavincipoppalag:
davincipoppalag Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
yea
Reply
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