I’ve always been interested in pinhole photography and I’ve always meant to make a pinhole camera but until recently it’s been one of those things that’s too easy to back burner. When I got it in my head that I was finally going to make the time to make one and started stewing on designs and looking at what people were producing with them my motivation and interest definitely spiked.
A friend recently asked what’s the big deal with pinhole photography. Until then I hadn’t fully formed some philosophy about it. But, I guess, from an image appreciation perspective… There’s nothing crazy special about pinhole photography. If you like an image then how it was made probably isn’t that big a deal to you. That’s pretty much how I feel. I can’t imagine I would ever like an image any less because it was made in some way that I didn’t find particularly interesting.
But from a gear head picture taker’s perspective, there’s something about the primitiveness of a dark box, a small hole to let the image in and light sensitive material to record it that seems very cool (at least to this gear head picture taker). Not to mention I also happen to enjoy wood working projects and the as I learned about pinhole cameras I realized that it’s a relatively fun cheap way to take pics with something you made yourself. And when I saw what they are capable of producing (in the right hands)… well that kind of ties it all together as a nice little package any photographer who likes collecting cool toys would really enjoy. Plus for me, a guy who shoots mostly digital but loves the look of film, it’s a great way to slow down and have an excuse to bust out the non-digital darkroom now and then.
So I cruised the web, settled on a design and got one made. I like woodworking projects but it’s not something I do a lot and I’m certainly no expert. So I felt like the build quality was a bit hacky in general but it looked pretty light tight and seemed to work mechanically so I figured I’d put a roll though it and see how it went. I grabbed my light meter, stopwatch and f/158 conversion table from Mr. Pinhole and headed off to my favorite haunt, Balboa Park. I was quite surprised at the exposure times. I assumed they’d be long, I was shooting 100 iso film and it was a slightly cloudy day, but according to my readings and conversion I was at half a second shutter when I wasn’t in the shade. What the hell right? That’s what test rolls are for. So I shrugged my shoulders, opened the shutter, said half a “one Mississippi” and closed it back up. I walked around the park with the girls and shot 5 more when the urge hit me. There was some shade so I did get around a 40 second shutter a couple times. That night when I took the camera apart to get the film out I noticed the tape I used to attach the pinhole to the body of the camera had given up and it was flopping around loose in the film box. I developed them a week later and was blown away. Not only had the pinhole stayed on when it counted but the exposures were surprisingly decent. It was a bit wider than I thought so I’m going to have to make some modifications to the body hole and the shutter mechanics and composition is kind of hit or miss at this point. On the plus side it seemed pretty sharp for a non-laser drilled pinhole. All and all I thought it was a huge win.
I’m definitely planing on many outings and many rolls with this little box (maybe even make a few more) and I’ll be sure to keep posting the results here.
Here are the specs for the camera I made:
film – 120
image size – 6×12
focal length – 40mm
pinhole – f/158
If you have any questions about making pinhole cameras feel free to post on this page. I learned a lot making this first one and I’d be happy to help others avoid the pitfalls I found.
Update – Second Roll
Well… after the promising first roll, I tried to correct a few problems found then excitedly set out to get going on the second roll.
Unfortunately it was a nightmare from the git go. I’d made some adjustments to the shutter but I made the mistake of not testing it on the tripod. So I didn’t find out until I had it loaded up with film and was out shooting that the new shutter hit the tripod. I didn’t know if it was interfering with the image so I adapted by moving the shutter up instead of down but that made it harder to deal with my filter set up. Then I forgot to advance the film from 1 to 3 (it takes up 2 frames) so I had a couple images that overlapped. Before I headed out the next time I made an adapter to fix the shutter hitting the tripod problem and everything seemed to go smoothly until… I took the film out and realized it was 400. What was I thinking. After the first roll (100 speed) I knew my shutter times were too fast in bright sun. I have to shoot slow film in this thing. So… anyway… I’d over exposed everything 2 stops.
Fortunately I was able to pull it in development and get some decent negs. Also, it looks like my shutter, body and hardware fixes cured the interference problems and my filter set up seems to work. All things considered (and aside from some light leaks and dusty scans) not too shabby. I’m really looking forward to the NEXT roll.
Update – 10 Hole Run
More to come…
Update – Third Roll
Well I think the dust is finally settling on my first attempt at making and using a pinhole camera. There is still some funkiness like weird light reflections from my filter set up and of course light leaks from my shutter but that is the kind of funkiness I expected and like. At least this time there were no film advance or extreme exposure mistakes. I may still tinker with the shutter and filter a bit but overall I’m going to call this camera/design done. I continue to be happy with the results and amazed at the fact that they were produced by a box with a hole in it. I’ll post all the pics from roll number 3 on the blog over the next couple days.
Update – Sidetracked 4×5
Sidetracked? Does that even make sense? The scope of my pinhole life has crept in surprising ways. I’m going to have to reorganize this page into something that does make sense. Until that happens…
When I started getting into pinhole stuff I thought it was all about paper negatives. Then I looked around and didn’t see any paper negative stuff I liked but I did see plenty of film negative pinhole stuff I liked. So, assuming shooting pinhole with paper negs sucked, I decided to go with film. Of course I started seeing cool stuff done with paper negs shortly there after.
Because of that, a desire to do some larger format stuff and the fact that Ilford just released a positive paper specifically for pinholes… I designed and built a 4×5.
I developed the first shot last night and all things considered I’m pretty happy with it. Of course there’s lots of room for improvement. It’s really contrasty so I should probably figure out how to soften that up a bit. I used a super glossy paper (yikes) by accident and it’s got my paw prints all over it. But it looks pretty sharp, no light leaks and it’s got that beautiful soft film feel in the textures and is forgiving even in the high contrast transitions.
Very much looking forward to playing with this one.