Look Ma, No Lens!
Pinhole Cameras You Can Build Or Buy Page 3
If you have a few more dollars or less do-it-yourself ambition, Polaroid sells a $75 pinhole Polaroid kit originally designed for teachers. Like the Beseler 120 rollfilm camera, the Polaroid kit is made from heavy cardboard that is attached via (guess what?) mounting tape to a Polaroid back. This back is virtually identical to what you find after you rip the front off a camera as described earlier. The advantage is that this back has a smooth front surface making the cardboard component easier to attach. There is a quality metal pinhole sheet, but sadly no elaborate shutter. All that is provided is black electrical tape to cover and uncover the pinhole. However, it is good black tape and you get a lot of it.
One not so clever idea was to attach an external plastic tripod socket to the cardboard via mounting tape. Unfortunately, it's simply not very stable. But the camera has a lot of flat sides, so steadying it for long shots on a book, etc. is not a problem.
I must admit the instant results, faster speeds, and larger image size of Polaroid pinholes is addictive. And when you consider the cost of processing the "duds" from regular film, the price per instant print isn't unreasonable. Hunting for a $5 used Polaroid camera should turn one up quickly, and the rest is simply a matter of finding the right cardboard box. This is a terrific family project!
The Hole Truth
Believe it or not, some holes are higher quality than others. People selling pre-drilled holes are not the same as those selling dehydrated water. There is a reason for buying a pre-made hole aside from not being able to locate a pin.
Look at a microscopic view of a common pinhole prick in cardboard and note the ragged edges sticking into the hole. These rough spots deteriorate the light path and the resulting image. Even metal holes poked with a pin may have obstructions. Then there is the question of the hole not being perfectly round, which can distort the image. A precision-drilled pinhole is clean, round, and of a known size.
Let's call photographers who use these specialty holes the "precision pinhole users." They are interested in finding out just how good an image can be created without a lens.
A second group of photographers might be called "poke-and-shoot users." They are less concerned about optimum image quality and more curious about the effect of less than perfect pinholes on their imaging. You will need to decide which group is right for you.
Doing The Math
The precision group understands that for each distance from pinhole to film there is an optimum hole size that is the "sweet spot." This can produce a dramatically improved image over an "uncalibrated" camera. There are several sources for pinholes that are marked with exact sizes to work with specific camera lengths. As you can see, photographers approach pinhole photography as lightly or as heavily as they wish. Personally, I prefer the Zero Image camera for lasting high-quality results. But I am also strongly attracted to the Polaroid film route for instant pinhole images.
With the advent of affordable digital SLRs sporting removable lenses, is it now possible to do digital pinholes? Yes!
Using my T-mount pinhole lens and setting my Canon EOS Digital Rebel to ISO 1600, I was able to shoot indoor shots with the camera set manually to 30 seconds. Outdoor shots could be made at a lower effective ISO setting. While the image in the optical viewfinder is practically nonexistent, the "review" image gives fast feedback. The advantages of digital over film are the same as with glass lenses. You get to see the images right away and the cost for "duds" is nothing.
While the results with the medium format film camera from Zero Image were the most satisfying, shooting with the digital pinhole SLR was the most liberating. The manual exposure setting of the Digital Rebel allowed me to shoot from 1/2 sec to 30 seconds, and I was able to raise the virtual ISO if needed. The thumbwheel control of the shutter speeds also made it easy to "bracket" photos with several exposures. Sadly, simply setting the camera on aperture priority auto was not a good choice, as the programming simply seemed not in the mood (or mode?) to deal with such tiny apertures. But what about modifying a less expensive digicam for pinhole use? While it may be possible to take apart a simple fixed focus digital camera from Concord or Vivitar and replace the lens with a pinhole, the lack of manual control may make the whole experiment not worth doing.
Pinholes can change your photographic outlook...and will certainly cause you to slow down and consider the scene. By now, you may become inspired to try one of the projects outlined here, or design your own creation. The object of the game is to have fun and exercise your creativity. If you come up with some simple and outstanding design, let me know.
The Perfect Pinhole Camera
Photographers know that most lenses are sharpest at one or two specific apertures. Pinholes work the same way, but they are both the lens and the aperture. When all the factors for a pinhole and camera are highly optimized, image quality approaches
that of a lens.
The pinhole aperture is related to the camera length for optimum sharpness. Diameters larger than optimal are fuzzy because the light remains somewhat disorganized. If the opening is smaller than optimum, diffraction effects cause fuzziness similar to shooting a camera lens at f/32 or f/64.
Here are formulas photographers can use to calculate aperture diameters for different camera lengths:
A = 7.416 times the square root of F
Where A is the aperture diameter in thousandths of an inch and F is the camera length.
D = 0.0084 times the square root of V
Where D is the aperture diameter in inches and V is the camera length in inches.
In practice, many pinhole camera practitioners ignore this technical exactness in favor of a not so perfect aperture because a distorted, a humorous, or an out of focus effect is more interesting to them.
Beseler Photo, 1 Ethel Ave.
Edison, NJ 08818; (732) 287-4055
Source for the imported Beseler Pinhole Camera Kit.
P&L Solutions, PO Box 9327
Birmingham West Midlands
B17 8NY England; (44) 0121 434 3321
Source for T-mount pinhole lens, links, and other products.
Pinhole Visions is an exhibition by four photographers: Tony Pugh, David Paddy, Lesley James, and Gilly Read. They are all lecturers at Yale College Wrexham (UK), and have come together to create this exhibition of photographic images using pinhole cameras.
Polaroid Corporation, 1265 Main St.,
Bldg. W3 Waltham, MA 02451;
Use type "pinhole" in the search feature of this site for more information on the Polaroid pinhole camera. You will also find a downloadable guide to pinhole photography.
Starlight Cameras, PO Box 540
Cherry Valley NY 13320 USA;
General pinhole information, Merlin pinhole cameras and darkroom kits.
Zero Image Company, Unit 902,
Workingview Commercial Bldg.
21 Yiu Wa St., Causeway Bay
Hong Kong; (852) 9325-3662
A fine line of handcrafted pinhole cameras, links, galleries, and step by step instructions for building a camera