If you are anything like me, you have spent as much money on a camera and lens that you can afford, maybe even more than you can afford. Once again if you are anything like me you spent too much time investigating just the right body and just the right lens to go along with it so you can take the perfect picture. So why a pinhole camera? Well what would you say if I told you that you could take pictures without the lens that you spent so much time and money on.
That’s right, pictures using your digital body and no lens. Have you ever heard of a pinhole camera? A pinhole camera can be as simple as an oat meal box with a small hole punched in the side and a piece of film or photographic paper on the inside. The great thing about a pinhole camera is that everything is in “focus”. Now the image will not be as sharp as a picture taken with a great lens, but if the aperture is small enough, round enough and smooth enough the image may surprise you. I bet your response is “ No way!” or maybe “How?” Let me show you.
First let me show you a simple pinhole camera using a 4×5 film box. The reason I used a 4×5 film box is because I know that it’s light tight and a sheet of 4×5 film fits inside perfectly. I just used a small amount of double stick tape on the inside of the box to hold the film in place during the exposure. Getting the right exposure can be a bit tricky when using film so I recommend using a B/W negative and favoring over exposure. One of the best web sites I have found for information on pinhole apertures, focal length and exposure calculations is Freestylephoto.biz.
Getting the correct exposure using a trial and error system can be a bit time consuming when working with film. So I recommend using a digital camera body so you get instant feed back on exposure.
Now let’s see how to make a pinhole digital camera. I’ll be using my Nikon D750 as the light tight box and digital “film” and making the lens from a body cap, a small piece of aluminum and a #10 needle point needle.
First find the center of the body cap. Draw the center lines with a Sharpie or other permanent marker and leave the lines on the cap as we will use them to align the aperture.
On the center mark drill an opening in the cap with a ½” drill bit. Most drill bit sets go up to ½” drill size. This is not the hole that will be used as the “pinhole” aperture, just an opening in the plastic in which to mount our aluminum lens.
Find the center of the 1 inch aluminum square (I used a soda can) and punch a hole in the center using the #10 needle point needle, making sure not to make the hole any bigger by moving the needle around in the hole you just punched. Next you will need to smooth the opening to remove the punched aluminum birs. Light sanding will remove the birs and make the opening flat and round. Sand both sides of the opening to ensure a flat, round and thin opening.
Now adhere the newly made aperture to the center of the drilled opening in the body cap by lining up the lines drawn on the body cap and the aluminum. Small pieces of black tape should be enough to hold it in place. The chart on the Freestyle photo page tells us that a #10 needle gives us an aperture of f/280, that is a very small aperture when you consider that most lenses stop down to f/22 or f/32.
There you have it. A digital pinhole camera.
I recommend you shoot in manual exposure mode with auto white balance and adjust the exposure by making time adjustments and/or ISO adjustments. Sample images below.
The outdoor shot of our sign was shot at 1/60 sec with the ISO set at 8000. The blocks were shot indoors for 30 sec with an ISO of 8000. Interesting side note, when shooting outdoors in bright sun you can see a faint image through the viewfinder. Enjoy!