Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Alumi-pin test roll #2 - glitches solved!

The changes to the camera (see the post below) worked great. I also re-lined the lid with innertube rubber in lieu of foam, and it worked better. The frame counter allowed me to space the images evenly and accurately. I've now installed a 0.210 mm pinhole, which is closer to optimal size for 30 mm, and changed the film mask to a 24 x 24 mm square to try this format on for size (and squeeze more images on to a roll). I think I'll save the next roll for World Pinhole Day.


It was a glorious day here yesterday. This is the sun shining through the trees into my backyard. The wind was blowing, so a lot of the blur is the motion of the leaves & trees. Summer is coming! (Alumi-pin, 4 sec exposure on Fuji print film, f105 {0.280mm pinhole at 30mm}).

These shots were done by placing the camera on the dashboard of my car while driving at night, and allowing street and car lights to "paint" the film with a long exposure. The cable release made taking these exposures easy. (Alumi-pin, ~ 8 sec exposure on Fuji print film, f105 {0.280mm pinhole at 30mm}).

Monday, April 24, 2006

1st Test Roll from the "Alumi-pin"

I decided the camera needed a name, so unless someone out there has a better idea, the "Alumi-pin" it will be.

I got the first roll back, and so far, so good. My spacing between frames (using the "wind and pray" technique) was very erratic. I think I gave the scanner a serious headache. I have now added a working frame - clicker counter to the design to address this issue. You can also see a pink haze in some images on the right - my finger on the shutter. I have now fitted a cable release to the shutter, which should solve that glitch too. The only other issue was scratches on the emulsion, likely from rough edges on the film guide. I have now covered the guide with silky tape to prevent this, although the scratches are kind of interesting in their own right. It's not a Leica, after all. The pinhole (280 microns, or 0.28 mm) performed very well. The focal length turned out to be closer to 30mm.


Still life of lunch, with the TWU pond in the background. The can is about 20 cm from the camera.

A blowup of the above picture to show the pinhole performance. 280 microns is a bit large for 30mm, but it is working well. I make my own pinholes - for details you can check out my current ebay auctions here.

A shot of an overhead wrought-iron gazebo. I liked the high constrast.

An intentional multiple exposure of the gazebo above. I decided to underexpose each time to have the intersections of the bars stand out more emphatically. The ghostly image on the right is an unintentional self-portrait - I underestimated the angle of view while taking the second exposure.

Your suggestions, comments and critiques are welcome!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Making a 35mm "matchbox" pinhole camera from aluminum flashing

The completed camera ready to go!

Surfing the web looking for pinhole ideas eventually lead me to this site, which describes how to make a 35mm pinhoe camera from a matchbox. Pretty neat, except I wasn't too keen on all aspects of the design. First off, a 12mm focal length is very wide (I'm not the only one who thinks so, see here) ; secondly, I prefer to make a more permanent design. Re-taping the light seals for each and every roll doesn't appeal to me. I guess I'm not a matchbox purist.

Still, this really got me thinking. There were also evident flashes of insight here - especially the "frame counter" idea based on a plastic clicker that rides in one of the sprocket hole tracks. Bit of a problem with the fact that in the original design it prevents rewinding, but what a great idea for a low-tech (no-tech?) counter.

Thinking is a dangerous thing, no? I live in fear of the next time my wife says "You know, I've been thinking..." This generally means "I've come up with a great idea for our next home rennovation project that will eventually make you wish you'd been born a nomadic goat herder in Nepal" - no need to reno a tent, except with a patch now and then. But I digress.

I bought a tablesaw a while ago, but I haven't set it up yet - too busy. I was intending to build all sorts of nifty 4x5 film holder pinhole cameras when I set it up, but now I think I'll pass on those, for now. The deal is, I don't have ready darkroom access anymore: the halcyon days of the university photo club (with its forest of 4x5 enlargers) are gone. Yet, the matchbox design is 1-hour photo/scan to digital friendly. Hmm.

It was then I happened to notice a roll of aluminum flashing in the garage. I'd bought it to cover over a hole squirrels were using to get into my attic. They were so annoying, and so adept at getting past my defences, that I actually got up into the attic with my .22 one night when the wife and kids were out, with a pop-bottle silencer taped over the bore and a flashlight taped to the stock. Lucky for the little buggers I didn't get a clean line of sight. The (more pacifistic) solution proved to be the flashing in the end - folded double and securely screwed over the hole. They'd eaten their way through a thinner piece of aluminum like it was candy. But I'm digressing again.

Since you can only buy flashing in a 30ft roll, there was naturally some left over. When I noticed the roll the other night I thought to myself - "why not build an aluminum matchbox camera?"

So it was that when my wife came home from her weekly Bible study she found me at the kitchen table with aluminum scraps and bits of duct tape scattered everywhere. Her look was not so incredulous as you might think, because she's seen me like this before...

It took a few hours, but eventually I got what I wanted together. Here are some pictures to illustrate my creation, and allow anyone else interested to attempt a similar design. No need to recapitulate the squirrel part - just begin with the roll of flashing (I got mine at Home Depot, in the roofing section).

The first part is to basically build a small box that is exactly the same width as a 35mm film cannister, not including the protruding plastic spool. Then drill two holes in the box to let the spools protrude through. The box should be long enough space the cannisters about 5 cm apart (sorry Americans, it's all metric here. It's about time you adopted this system anyway. I'll never forget the time an American I know blasted Canada for using this weird system that made no sense, that no one else on the planet used, and why didn't we just get in line with everyone else and start using inches and feet like Europe does, etc etc. But I'm digressing again.)

The camera with cannister holders installed & pinhole mounted, plus the film guide,
and an old staple from a packing crate that is just the right size to fit snugly into the
spools to act as a no-tech winding knob.

Note how the corners of the box are not tightly joined together - this is important. You need a bit of flexibility to get the film cannisters into the holes. In order to have a light-proof, flexible seal, tape over the joint when it is slightly splayed open, then cover the joint with aluminum foil, then tape over the foil to make a foil "sandwich." Aluminum foil is lightproof and quite durable when backed with duct tape.

Once you've got the box built, fashion pieces to hold the cannisters in place. (You can score the flashing with a strong utility knife like an Olfa cutter - also from Home Depot - and then bend it back and forth to break it. If you work at it, you can also repeatedly score it and cut it through when needed. BTW, be careful - the edges of the cut flashing will be sharp). The next step is to make a film guide to fit between the cannister holders. I cut mine to the standard 24 x 36mm frame size (sorry, 15/16 inch x 1 5/8 inch) for starters, but I might experiment with other sizes later. A hint on the film guide - install it uncat under tensioned (sacrifical) film, and use a magic marker to color through the sprocket holes. This outlines exactly where the film will ride over the guide, allowing you to accurately cut out the image frame. Then last but not least, build a lid slightly bigger than the camera box itself, again sealing the corners with aluminum foil and duct tape.

The camera body (pinhole not yet mounted), film guide, and lid. You can
see the traced sprocket holes on the film guide if you look closely.

I light-proofed the camera with strips of foam inside the periphery of the lid. I also tuck loose pieces of foam around the cannisters to hold them in place, and to block light from entering through the holes for the film spools.

Last up was the shutter mechanism. It's a tab of aluminum with a thick piece of inner tube rubber taped to it facing the camera body. I made a track for it with two pieces of aluminum bent to accomodate it, with holes punched in them. The shutter tab also has a punched hole - when aligned with the pinhole this opens the shutter. I designed the shutter to push open in preparation for fitting a cable release to it.

Loading the camera requires installing the film guide, taping the film to the take-up spool (I use a spool designed for bulk loading since it is easy to open), loading the cannisters into their holes, tensioning the film, and then closing the camera body. I use strong elastics to hold everything together - an 8mm wide section of bicycle inner tube makes elastics of an ideal size and strength. Then it's ready to shoot!

The camera with the film guide installed.

The film cannisters in place and wedged/lightproofed with foam.

The finished camera, top view. Look closely and you can see the shutter as well.

The finished camera, bottom / back view.

The finished camera, front view, shutter closed.

The finished camera, front view, shutter open.

I'll reveal the results of the first test roll in the next posting! Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pinhole shooting with a Konica Autoreflex T3n

I promised a while ago I would post the exact details of how I'm using my Autoreflex to shoot pinhole. First off, I have to say that the Autoreflex is a great choice for pinhole shooting. They're cheap like borscht on ebay, because you can't easily get batteries for them any more. This leads to benefit #2: the Autoreflex T, T2 and T3/T3n bodies have completely mechanical Copal shutters, from 1/1000 right on down to "B" (avoid other models, like the "TC" which has an electronic, i.e. battery-dependent, shutter). This means that you don't need a battery, unless you want to use the meter, which generally you don't -when was the last time you used a TTL meter for pinhole? :o) (BTW, get a T3n if you can - it's a sweet SLR, one of the best Japanese SLRs ever made. It also has an easy-to-use multiple exposure lever - very handy for pinhole creativity). The third benefit is that lenses for these cameras are also dirt cheap, and some of the best glass available. This means that you not only get a great pinhole camera, you can take lens shots on the same roll whenever you want. The 50mm f1.7 lens is one of the sharpest SLR lenses ever made - eat your heart out Leica. The 40mm f1.8 "pancake" lens is also very sharp - and very portable to boot. Check out the "Konica Autoreflex" link on the sidebar for more info at an excellent site.

On the downside, they're built like tanks and heavy. Still, this means they've survived, and the weight keeps 'em still for long exposures...

Back to pinhole photography. The standard approach would be to use a body cap - but I've never owned one, so that wasn't an option. I did have a set of manual extension tubes, though. They are a series of black tubes that thread into a bayonet mount adaptor. There is another adaptor at the end you use to mount a lens. The other item I had available was an old-style 55mm thread-in metal lens cap - the kind that screw on like a filter.

Then I had an epiphany - the extension tubes are also 55mm in diameter, and use the same thread pattern - after all, there is a reversing tube that fits the filter thread of a 55m diameter lens as part of the set! Sure enough, the metal cap threads onto the ends of the non-reversing tubes just fine and makes a light-tight connection.

The upshot is, after mounting the pinhole in the metal cap, I can choose from many different focal lengths at whim, just by swapping tubes in or out. I tend to be a wide-angle type, so generally I've just used the bayonet adaptor in the camera with the cap screwed directly into it - a distance of about 45mm. All the tubes put together come out at around 90mm, and there are various intermediate combinations possible. Quite a versatile system, especially if one had extra metal caps with appropriately-sized pinholes for each distance. Guess what I've been after on ebay these days? Maybe this will increase demand for Autoreflexes and manual extension tube sets - although a body cap and a set of bayonet extension tubes would accomplish the same thing with any SLR. That picture of the extension tube set is off a current ebay auction if you're interested - but you'd better hurry!

Mounting a homebrew pinhole in a SLR body cap

I've recently been selling pinholes on Ebay, and a few people have asked about mounting them into a SLR body cap. In some ways, this is the easiest way to get into pinhole shooting. Homebrew cameras designed for roll film (120, 35mm) are finicky to get right in terms of light-tightness, film advance/counting, loading mechanism, shutter design, etc. I should know - I was up late last night working on my first homebrew camera, based on the matchbox design, but made of sheet metal (stay tuned for an upcoming post). With a 35mm SLR all you need is a pinhole and a body cap to modify.

Basically all that is needed is to drill a hole through the center of the plastic cap and tape the pinhole into the inside of the cap, centered on the hole. I like to do a slightly more careful job: drill a small hole through the center of the cap from the inside, and then use a large drill bit to chamfer the hole from the outside. If you're a woodworker a countersink bit is excellent for this. This produces a cone shaped hole in the cap that prevents vignetting at wide angles. Click on the photo above for a visual guide.

Then simply tape the pinhole over the cap hole with black tape. Use either electrical tape, or better still black cloth hockey tape (how can you tell I'm Canadian?), which is non reflective. Viola, you are ready to go create your pinhole masterpiece.

If you need a pinhole, search for "custom pinhole" on Ebay and look for my auctions (my Ebay handle is "gabriel531"). I can make you an excellent pinhole that is the best size for your focal length.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Test Roll - Getting Ready for World Pinhole Day!

I've decided to get back into photography as an "art" form, in addition to the "documentary" photography I have recently been restricted to. Alas, the move has stripped me of my darkroom access, so I have decided to get back into pinhole photography. I'm keeping it simple - using a 35 mm SLR converted to pinhole use. This allows me to have film processed almost anywhere and scanned. I would like to get back into the darkroom someday, but with small kids it's not really an option.

This blog will be for the "art" side of things, whereas the "documentary" side will continue unabated over at the usual spot.

The jump back into pinhole photography was spurred in part by the upcoming World Pinhole Day, in which I hope to participate this year. These shots were taken near/around the TWU campus. The first shot was with a 400 micron pinhole at 45mm (and thus ~ f115); the others were taken with a 250 micron pinhole at the same focal length (and thus at about f125). All three exposures were for 4 seconds on Fuji color print film (ASA 200) using a Konica Autoreflex SLR. The exact means by which I have converted this SLR to pinhole shooting will be the subject of a future posting.