A Beautiful Pinhole Camera Takes Wonderful Photos

With digital cameras in everything and film slowly disappearing from shelves, everyone loses an awesome way to learn about photography. Pinhole cameras allow anyone to build a camera from scratch and also learn about those crazy f-stops, exposure times, and focal planes that Instagram just won’t teach you. [Matt] put up a great tutorial for building your own pinhole camera, and the project looks easy enough for even those who are still playing around with their cell phone cameras.

For film, [Matt] used 120 film, a medium-format medium that is sill available for purchase and processing in some areas. Because [Matt]’s pinhole is relatively large and made out of very thin material, the camera could take very large pictures – much larger than standard 35mm fare. If you’re using a smaller camera projecting a smaller image onto the film, 35mm would be the way to go as it greatly decreases the difficulty of finding film and a processing center.

[Matt]’s camera is constructed out of laser-cut plywood. Because he’s producing extremely wide images with his camera (6 x 17cm), [Matt] needed to curve the film around the focal plane of the camera to keep the entire image in focus.

The mechanics of the camera are simple – just a pair of knobs to wind the film and a small metal shutter. [Matt] added a shutter release cable to open and close the aperture without moving the camera and had a wonderful camera perfect for capturing either sirs and madams or Civil War battlefields.

20 thoughts on “A Beautiful Pinhole Camera Takes Wonderful Photos

  1. Brian, focus has nothing to do with curving the film. By definition a pinhole camera has infinite focus for near and far. It’s about perspective: if film is not curved, the sides images get curved – chose which one you prefer!

    1. it’s not only about perspective, an ideal pinhole camera, one with a hole of diameter 0 would have infinite focus , a real pin hole camera on other hand does have focusing problem like regulars camera

  2. Next step, [Matt], would be developing it on you own. The chemicals are cheap, but if you want to skip the chemical route there is the coffee developer.

    The developer is instant coffee, washing soda, and vitamin C if I recall correctly. The stop bath is just water, no glacial acetic acid. It still needs to be fixed with a proper fixed, but fixed can be cheap. And developing tanks, I picked up a few from thrift stores!

    My past pinhole camera was an oatmeal can, and thin aluminium aperture. Instead of one tack and sand, I pushed the tack back and forth on both sides to get the smallest hole possible. Film was print paper, which made doing contact prints after much easier. But that was in a school provided darkroom where they kept us stocked with dektol.

    1. Hi Quin, [Matt] here.

      I do develop my own, C41 and BW, 35mm and 120. The local place closed up and Walmart wanted too much so I bit the bullet and got into it, now I kick myself for not doing it sooner. B&H photo still carry powdered chemicals for cheap, easier than fiddling with those homemade recipes.

      Thanks for the post and thanks to everyone for the nice comments.

  3. This is great. thank you, Matt! I experimented a lot with pinhole cameras in college. One of my favorites was a mini keg, in which I used 11×14 print paper for large negatives.

    The other was an Ilford film or paper box somewhere around 5×7, I slotted it to fit a 4×5 film holder. I used ISO 50 film, and a slow speed color chrome film, for longer exposures and fine grain.

    Thanks again!

  4. “Pinhole cameras allow anyone to build a camera from scratch and also learn about those crazy f-stops, exposure times, and focal planes that Instagram just won’t teach you.”

    I would like to know how to learn f-stops with a pinhole camera. Poke a larger hole?

      1. indeed. Focus, f-stop. focal length are fixed. I do recall a kit I got eons ago that had actually two pre-perforated “lenses”, each a diff size hole, meant for different light conditions…

        speaking of, the pinhole size is inversely proportional to your DPI, which is quite low, and lower still if the pinhole is larger. Unless you go for ultra long exposures needed for tiny holes, your pictures will be quite grainy, but no less exciting!

      1. I shoot wet plates and absolutely love it! It definitely takes some dedication, patients and time but it’s all worth it when you see an awesome looking plate come to life in the fixer tray. It’s been a while since my site’s been updated but most can be seen here: http://www.derivedlogic.com/Traditional%20Photography/traditional.html and my most updated portraits can be seen on model mayhem (NFSW): http://www.modelmayhem.com/portfolio/2453610/viewall

    1. I like very high resolution images.

      With decent scanner, 120 film and 6×9 cm exposure you will get 150 megapixels from one shot.

      There are 8 exposures in one 120 film.

      This means that when you stitch the exposures together you will get about 1 gigapixel image.

      And you can do this with budget of several hundred dollars/euros.

    2. I’ve noticed that many people who post messages such as “good-bye film. i will never miss you! go join the history channel with horses and bayonets ;).” do not use capital letters. I assume that they are too young to know how to use capital letters. They also are often too young to understand that faster and easier technologies are sometimes not improvements. I suppose capital letters belong with horses and bayonets too, though I don’t think bayonets is what this poster meant to say. Perhaps horse and carriages is the expression he had half in mind. In any case, many people know that film is very friendly, is easy and cheap to use, and has a wonderful physical presence. I, as they say, like it.

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