Look Ma, No Lens!
Pinhole Cameras You Can Build Or Buy Page 2

Why is a larger pinhole image better? As with any unsharp lens, the larger the negative, the better the image appears because of better tonal gradation. For this reason most companies making "serious" pinhole cameras or kits use 120 roll film or 4x5 sheet film. You can buy medium format kits that can be assembled without tools, ready-made cameras, or get creative with my suggested modifications.

The 120 rollfilm pinhole kits make it easy to start with medium format images. Beseler, of enlarger fame, has a fold 'n tape cardboard camera that produces a generous 60x90mm negative. Due to some ingenious folding, the camera is both light-tight and does not scratch the film. The camera was developed by Peter Olpe, professor at the Basel School of Design, Switzerland.

The Beseler pinhole lens is laser drilled into a thin sheet of metal and the shutter is a simple cardboard slide mechanism. As with most pinhole cameras, framing is somewhat of a guess. But there are printed lines on the top of the camera to suggest the approximate viewing angle of the lens. According to Beseler, the average exposure with ISO 400 film in bright light is 2 seconds.

The Beseler camera has no tripod socket, which is a shame as it cannot be handheld due to the long exposures. A couple of heavy-duty elastic bands can lash the camera to a tripod, or you can hold the lightweight body steady on a pile of books. The kit is available wherever Beseler products are offered for under $40. A web search for "Beseler Pinhole" easily locates many sellers, including AAA Camera.

Canon EOS Digital Rebel image of an old barn taken with a pinhole lens. (Effective ISO 400, exposure 20 seconds, tripod mounted.)

Upsized And Upscale
For those wanting a truly breathtaking and highly functional pinhole camera, the multi-format rollfilm model from Zero Image in Hong Kong is worth investigating. These cameras are designed by pinhole enthusiast Zerniki Au and are handmade using exotic teak and solid brass fittings. The camera joints are specially designed with reinforced bondings, allowing the camera to shrink and swell with weather changes without affecting the performance (read: no light leaks). The Zero Image offers multiple formats from 6x4.5 to 6x9 on 120 film by adjusting panels inside the camera. It is fitted with a brass tripod socket, exposure calculator dial, and ingenious wooden sliding "shutter." Build quality is so high that there is no need for foam light baffles or seals!

While it is certainly possible to make similar images with lesser cameras, many will find using a Zero Image model a superior pinhole experience due to the general handling, properly sized pinhole, and high-grade construction. The difference between using a Zero Image camera and the cardboard kits is like shooting with a Leica vs. a disposable camera.

Naturally, this kind of experience has its price. At $149.95 plus shipping, many casual experimenters will want to try other methods. But it is one of the most wonderful bits of construction I have ever seen, and pretty enough to leave out for display when not in use. The only negative is that the fine finish is delicate. This may prevent photographers from "roughing" with it. If you get one, use it. Don't just stare at it.

Canon EOS Digital Rebel with T-mount and pinhole lens (see text for details). This is equivalent to 55mm f/180 lens on 35mm camera!

Another Budget Approach
Again, there is a much less expensive way to produce medium format pinhole pictures. Many cameras from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s are simply light-tight boxes with easily removable lens/shutter assemblies at the front. They are cheap and ready for pinhole conversion.

Simply find an old 120 box camera, remove the lens and replace it with a pinhole. With some cameras you'll be able to keep using the "click-clack" shutter if it has a bulb or time setting. Depending on the camera, you'll have anything from a 6x6 negative to a 6x9.

My homemade 120 Spartus "Full-Vue" pinhole conversion is a good example. I simply removed four large screws on the front, snapped off the plastic-mounted lens, replaced the cover, and taped on a pinhole lens. The shutter has a "B" setting where it remains open until released. I placed a rubber band around the bottom of the camera to hold the shutter lever open for longer exposures. As you can see, this is not rocket science.

One word of caution: Many simple box cameras use 620 size film that is no longer commonly available. There should be something written on the camera indicating the film used. If not, look for the thicker 120 spool vs. the much thinner 620 spool. You cannot put 120 film in these cameras without tedious respooling.

Large sunfish statue (Onalaska, Wisconsin) taken with Canon EOS Digital Rebel and pinhole lens. (Effective ISO 400, exposure 20 seconds, tripod mounted.)

"That's The Ugliest Camera I Have Ever Seen!"
That was my wife's reaction to my other "Frankenstein" pinhole camera assembled from odd parts. For those who are adventurous, or who simply have a lot of camera parts in a box somewhere, the possibilities can be amusing. My Frankenstein camera is an ancient wooden box camera minus the lens, a Graflok back from a $10 oscilloscope camera, and a rollfilm back from a Mamiya RB or a Singer 70mm back. The shutter was black tape, although I experimented placing an old shutter from a folding camera in front of the pinhole for some shots.

The tools were Scotch double-faced mounting tape and a lot of black electrical and duct tape. Mounting tape is much thicker than simple double-sided tape and fastened the Graflok back to the camera body. It's better than glue, as the tape can be removed if you change your mind. It also conforms to variations in the wood body.

Black electrical and black duct tape seal any area that may leak light. Please note that not all black plastic tape is light proof. Most common brands have a thickness of only .008". When you hold a strip up to a light bulb, you see a dull glow through it. The solution: Add more tape! In my case, I used a couple of wraps of electrical tape topped by the wider black duct tape. The duct tape added a more finished look and prevented the tape underneath from coming loose.

Large sunfish statue (Onalaska, Wisconsin) taken with Canon EOS Digital Rebel and glass lens.

I Want It Now
For those needing instant print gratification, nothing is faster than a pinhole Polaroid! These cameras range from a factory-made kit to a variety of home-brew models. Due to the faster speed of some Polaroid films, exposures can be greatly reduced. Indoor "available light" shots that take hours with film can be done in a minute or two. And, of course, you find out in a matter of seconds whether your efforts are successful.

The cheapest way to make a pinhole Polaroid is to locate an old Polaroid "pack" camera that uses the still-available Type 80 color or Type 667 black and white film. Then, using whatever tools work for you, remove the entire lens and bellows assembly and any supporting struts. This leaves the working film back and a large area to attach a box, can, or other material. Again, please wear eye protection, as bits of camera sometimes fly off unexpectedly.