Project 52 – Pinhole Cameras

Pinhole cameras have always fascinated me.  I think this is quite simply because all you need is a light tight box with a hole in it and a piece of light sensitive material and ‘voila’ you can produce an image.  No need for expensive pieces of kit or even a lens.  I’m not saying that you don’t have to be in possession of the right equipment (there is a list of what I plan to use at the bottom of this page) but most things I’ve picked up fairly cheaply or are items I’ve recycled or got from Free Cycle. If you own a pinhole camera or have made your own then please get in touch, I’d love to see some of your images and what cameras you used to capture them.

I am going to try 4 different types of pinhole: A coffee can pinhole that takes 120mm roll film cut into squares; a pinhole that takes a 35mm roll of film made from a match box; a kit camera made from card that you glue together yourself and takes a roll of 35mm film and lastly I am going to try and turn one of the body caps for my 5D MKII into a pinhole so that I can capture digital images.  Today will be spent gathering all the bits needed to create working camera’s from these two bits of packaging.  It could take a while!

Below is a very simple diagram that roughly shows how I am going to turn the coffee can into a pinhole.  And here is a link to a MATCHBOX PINHOLE where you can find out all you need to know about how to create your own matchbox pinhole camera!

I don’t have a darkroom at home but I am lucky enough to have access to one for printing so to save myself additional costs in developing the films I’ve bought the chemicals required for home development of negatives.  This will allow me to develop the negatives wherever I want so I can check if the exposures are correct rather than having to wait to get them back from the shop.

I have three chemical storage containers marked ‘Developer’, ‘Stop’ and ‘Fix’ which I can fill with the right dilutions of chemical and then take out with me along with a developing tank and a ‘dark bag’ (a light tight bag where I can transfer the film to the developing tank).  I hope this means that I will be able to take photographs using the coffee can pinhole, wherever I want and develop them on the spot.

The kit camera I’m going to use  is called a ‘Hole-On EX’ and can be purchased HERE.  I found mine in a little shop in Brighton.  It comes with a metal pinhole aperture and clear instructions.  It’s fairly easy to construct but it did take patience and I would recommend a slightly faster drying glue than the recommended PVA as you have to hold the bits together while it dries and this increased the time it took to make considerably.  There are lots of other kits available just type ‘Pinhole Photography Kit’ into Amazon or Google.

The plan for the next 4 weeks…..

Week 1 – Kit pinhole – HOLE – ON EX with 35mm ISO 125 (Ilford FP4) black and white film

Week 2 – Homemade coffee can pinhole with 120mm (chopped up) ISO 400 (Ilford HP5 probably) black and white film

Week 3 - Homemade matchbox pinhole camera with 35mm ISO 200 Colour film

Week 4 – Body cap pinhole and 5D MKII digital body


Film developing:

  • Developing tank (I got mine through FREECYCLE along with a dark bag, paper and other bits and bobs.  You can find them 2nd hand on sites like Second Hand Darkroom or alternatively buy them new from sites like Sliver Print or AG Photographic)
  • Dark bag
  • Film developing chemicals (available from Sliver Print or AG Photographic) Developer, Stop and Fix
  • Light tight collapsable storage bottle for keeping chemicals (Stop and Fix) that can be reused
  • Somewhere to hang film to dry, preferably somewhere they can drip without doing damage
Homemade DIY pinhole cameras:
  • Coffee tin/can and small match box
  • Drill to make hole in bottom of coffee can and also for the camera body cap for the digital pinhole
  • Sandpaper to sand back any rough edges on the drilled hole
  • Old drinks can, to cut up and make the actual pinhole from
  • Sharp pin or needle to make pin hole (for more details on aperture please see below)
  • Scissors
  • Craft/Stanley knife
  • Ruler
  • Black electricians tape
  • Black card or thin card e.g. a cereal box or film box
  • Old film cannister (I’m going to save the one I’m using with the Kit camera to use with the matchbox camera
  • New film
  • Old spiral binder (to make the counter for matchbox camera)

Making an Aperture

You would think getting the right size aperture to be able to calculate the correct exposure time would be pretty important, yes?  Well it depends what you read.  The Matchbox Camera website suggests the following exposure times as the aperture created with a normal small pin is roughly f/90:

Outside – sunshine: 1 or 2 seconds

Outside – cloudy conditions: 5 seconds

Indoors – normal room lighting: 5 – 10 minutes

Here are the exposure times that came with the HOLE-ON EX …

The exposures are much longer and the ISO more sensitive so the aperture must be much smaller.  But both of these suggest that you take a lot of shots with varying exposures in the hope that you get something to your liking.  Pretty haphazard!!

Alternatively, if numbers are your ‘thang’ and you’d like to work it all out to the millimetre then click here to go to The Pinhole Gallery’s exposure calculating page or try Mr Pinhole’s Exposure Calculater, this takes it to a whole other level!

If you have a darkroom and enlarger at home then you can try this method  that Mike, a friend of mine, told me about.  I have never actually tried this and I’m sure Mike’s explanation would be clearer than mine but, hey,  here goes!  Take the negative holder out of the enlarger, place a clear plastic ruler into the space left so that when you turn on the light the measurements on the ruler will be projected onto your base board, but much enlarged.  Move the enlarger head as far up as it will go so that your ruler is made as big as possible.  Place a piece of paper on the base board and, using a 2nd ruler to measure, adjust the head of the enlarger until 1 millimetre is the same size as 1 centimetre or 10 centimetres on the real size ruler.  Mark the millimetre onto the paper and divide up using your ruler.  In theory you will now be able to place a piece of metal into the negative holder so that the light shines through the pinhole you’ve made and measure it accurately by the markings on your piece of paper.  Start with a very small hole and gradually enlarge it until you have the size you want.

Mr Pinholespinhole size calculator helped me to work out the pinhole size I need for my coffee can.  The coffee can is 5.5″ (140mm) long so I enter that as the focal length and I am then told that my pinhole needs to be 0.02″ (0.498mm)  Millimetres are far easier to work out than inches so I’d stick with them if I were you.  So basically I need an aperture of 0.5mm which equates to an f stop of about f/300. From that I should be able to calculate my exposure times but if I’m honest I now have complete brain fry and I’m off to play with sticky tape and cardboard boxes in the hope that I actually have a camera that works by the end of the week.

You might also find the following articles interesting:

Project 52 – An Introduction

Project 52 – The results of my first attempt at Pinhole photography

Please feel free to leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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