Written by Tom Box
Hiya. In this disjointed post, I will explain how to turn a knackered, pull-out/collapsible/tube camera into a usable, super wide angle 120 pinhole camera. Most home-made pinhole guidelines suggest using thin sheets of brass, tin foil, or a piece of a soda can. Having a bunch of styrene sheets lying around, I thought I’d see if they worked just as well, or even better!
There are certainly simpler ways to construct a pinhole camera, and indeed there are more complicated ways, but this method aims for a neat and tidy finished product, using readily available materials and spares.
- Tube/collapsible medium format camera – I used a Dacora Digna (find on eBay).
- Spanner wrench (find on Amazon) or pliers
- Xacto knife (Amazon)
- Lens filter – For the Dacora camera, a 52mm filter worked well (Amazon).
- Styrene sheet, a 1-1.5mm sheet (find on Amazon) and a 0.25mm sheet (Amazon)
- Compass cutter (Amazon)
- Sewing needle or straight pin (Amazon)
- Liquid poly glue (Amazon)
- Super glue (Amazon)
- Lens cap matching the lens filter size (find a 52mm lens cap on Amazon)
The Base Camera
We begin with this shambles of a camera… A Dacora Digna. There are many tube/collapsible medium format cameras, including the Dacora Digna (find on eBay), Goldammer Goldeck, Agfa Isola, and Vredeborch Nordina (getting fancy now). They’re generally put together in a similar way. Hopefully, these disassembly guidelines should be applicable to most of them.
Removing the Shutter and Lens
First, you’ll want to remove the shutter and lens unit. This should either be held on with screws from the front, or more likely a collar inside the extending tube. You’ll need to use a spanner wrench (find on Amazon) to unscrew the collar and remove the shutter unit. No spanner wrench? Use some pliers and excessive violence.
Next, you’ll need to remove the tube itself. There will most likely be some arrangement of springs that hold the tube in its shooting position. In the case of the Dacora, I had to lever the springs from their mounts (trying not to fire them across the room/into my eyes). The tube should then be free to remove via the film gate. This might take a bit of wiggling. Wiggling.
Remove the light seal felt from around the tube mount with a scalpel/sharp craft knife (find on Amazon).
Fill the Lens Hole
Now, you’re going to need to fill that big hole where the lens tube was. The solution I ended up with turned out to be rather neat. I tested different sized lens filters to see which would fit snugly into the gap. For the Dacora, a 52mm filter (find on Amazon) would wedge into the space quite tightly. With a bit of filing off of the screw threads, the filter fits perfectly.
Next, replace the glass in the lens filter with a disc of plastic using some 1 or 1.5mm thick sheet styrene (find on Amazon). Some filters have a screw-in collar that holds the glass in, others have a sprung metal ring. This one was the latter and came out with a bit of picking with a scalpel. Next, you’ll measure the filter glass and cut out the same sized piece from styrene using a compass cutter (find on Amazon).
Cut a smaller circle from the center of this disc. This is where the pinhole itself will be fitted.
Here’s the camera so far with the filter reassembled using the styrene disc.
Constructing the Pinhole
Now, the important bit, making the pinhole itself. I used 0.25mm sheet styrene (find on Amazon). You’ll notice I’ve used white… Black would be preferable, but white is what I had lying around, and it doesn’t seem to have any adverse effect in practice. Shockingly, you’ll also need a pin. Any dressmaker’s pin or sewing needle should do (find on Amazon). The skinnier the better.
With a sheet metal pinhole, the idea is to make it as thin as possible by making a tiny dent in it and sanding it down until it’s thin enough to poke through with a pin. With the sheet styrene, I used a process of poking with a needle from either side, lightly tapping it in, and shaving off any displaced plastic with a scalpel blade. I’m not concerned about precision of diameter with these holes, I just keep checking the pinhole against a bright light to make sure the hole is as circular as possible.
You can see from this photo that the pinhole is very small indeed! I’d estimate it’s about 0.2mm or possibly even smaller. If you wanted to get precise and technical, measure the focal distance and use a pinhole calculator to get the ideal pinhole size. For this Dacora mod, the distance to the film is about 40mm and a 0.2mm pinhole would be the optimum(ish) size.
It’s a precise science, but also not a precise science whatsoever.
Putting It All Together
Back to the build, after you’re satisfied that your pinhole is circular and neat, all that’s left is to glue it to the modified filter using liquid poly glue (find on Amazon). Make sure your filter fits neatly inside the camera (you may need to file away some material to get a good fit) and glue this in with super glue (find on Amazon).
The last step is to check that your camera is light-tight. If you see any stray light coming in from around the filter ring, fill the gaps with black tape, blue tack, or anything that works. It’s inside the camera so it can be as ugly as you like.
And that’s the camera built.
BUT WAIT. Every camera needs a shutter! And for this one, we’ll use the simplest pinhole shutter you can get: a lens cap. Use the right size cap for the filter, and it’ll clip on tightly (find on Amazon).
To use the lens cap as a shutter, set up the camera on a tripod/wall/table, unclip the lens cap gently and remove it, making sure you don’t knock the camera. With the long exposure times, the black, moving lens cap will be invisible in the final shot.
Using the Pinhole Camera and Calculating Exposure
Now, all that’s left to do is load it with film, stick it on a tripod and take some shots. An exposure calculator can be found at mrpinhole.com.
Here are some photos taken with a sheet styrene pinhole camera I made previously from an Agfa Isola. As you can see, the 40mm focal length is ridiculously wide! (Film used: Expired Kodak Portra 400)
I’m currently working on an internal shutter that can be fired with the cable release socket on a Dacora, using styrene sheet, tiny hinges made of plastic Q-tips and rubber bands. It’ll either work wonderfully or be a total shambles. I’ll get back to you on that.
There are plenty of other options for making pinhole cameras, such as removing the bellows and shutter from a folding camera, sealing the front door shut and drilling a hole for the pinhole straight into it. And as I’ve mentioned, there are various ways to make the pinhole itself. Mrpinhole. com is a great resource for pinhole camera design, with calculators to work out focal length and optimum pinhole diameter. Definitely worth a look.
Thanks for reading, and hopefully you’ve been inspired or at least not fallen asleep.
Leave your questions about building a pinhole camera below in the comments!