Let’s talk about pinhole cameras – what is pinhole camera?

Let’s talk about pinhole cameras – what is pinhole camera?
20 December 2023 No Comments Bez kategorii Cezary

Photography is growing very fast. Every year new cameras comes on the market – with more megapixels, brighter lenses, fastest shutters. Of course – they are digital. But people many people feel that some magic of photography is lost and they are back to the roots-film photography. That’s why so many people like and use pinhole cameras. I will explain in my blog, why that cameras are so unique and why pinhole photos are different.

First question is – what is pinhole camera?

Pinhole camera this is a light tight box with hole on one side and sensitive material on the other one.

Pinhole camera has no glass lens. In fact – it has no lens at all. Instead of that is very small hole, drilled in thin metal sheet. Tiny aperture produces image, which is projected and captured on negative or photographic paper. I think that it will be simpliest pinhole camera definition. Light comes thru the pinhole and gives reversed image on sensitive material surface. This is camera obscura effect.

Pinhole is a heart of this kind of cameras, so it’s worth to describe it wider. Aperture is made in aluminium, copper, brass or steel sheet. It must be very thin. For the first experiments piece of beverage can is enough – it has thickness around 0,1mm. Thicker sheet causes more visible vignetting, especially at ultra wide angle cameras. The hole might be drilled several ways. Easiest way is to punch the metal sheet using thin sewing needle. Other option are precise micro drills, available in stores for model makers.

There is many brands of pinhole cameras available on the market. Some of them are very simple and cheap – made from cardboard, plastic or using 3D printers. Other are more sophisticated made from wood and metal. Vermeer camera offer sturdy cameras made from hard wood, which are not only fully functional pinhole cameras, but also collectible items. Cameras available in Vermeer camera store are made from sycamore or oak wood. They are medium format film cameras, which uses 120 film type. Also two models of Vermeer large format pinhole camera are available.

Pinhole camera photos – how and why are different?

Pinhole photos are not so sharp as taken using lens camera and often looks more like a painting than picture. Interesting thing is that every object is sharp the same way, no matter what distance is from the pinhole. So, item placed 1 cm from the pinhole is sharp the same way as item 10 or 20 meters away. That means that pinhole camera photos has endless depth of field. Also lot of imperfections, which are nice and interesting. Wide angle and ultra wide angle pinhole cameras are very popular. They have huge angle of view, but pictures often are darken at the edges, because of vignetting. Vignetting will occur, when distance from the pinhole to sensitive material is very close or/ and metall sheet is not thin enough.

flares on pinhole image

Glencree Valley, flares. 6×6 pinhole picture.

Other interesting thing are flares, which appear when sun or other source of light is directly in front of pinhole. Light rays are split at the edge of the hole and on the photo we can see additional rainbow flares. Glass lenses in film cameras are usually bright, they have diameter started from few centimeters. Hole diameter in pinhole camera is under 0,5mm, which cause long exposure time- measured in seconds, but also often in minutes. Long exposure time is the reason of another intersting effect on pinhole camera photos. This is motion blur. Moving objects: people, cars, leaves on the trees, water waves become blurry during long exposure.

motion blur on pinhole image

Howth harbour/Ireland. Sample of motion blur. 5 minutes exposure at 100 ISO film. 6×6 pinhole camera

Pinhole photos are usually more soften than taken with lens, however well designed medium or large format camera can produce really sharp image with professional pinhole aperture installed.

Taking a pictures with pinhole camera is not so complicated and it is real fun. I will describe it in next posts.

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