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If you're somebody who likes to take film photographs, you know the satisfaction you get from a film photo that you just don't feel when you use digital.  Just imagine seeing the first photo you get out of a camera you designed and built yourself!  It is a fantastic feeling that you absolutely must experience!

The process of designing and building a camera may seem daunting, but with a little patience and the help of this Instructable and some further reading, you'll be able to do it.  You can use this information to figure out what you want to build, gather some simple materials and tools, and build it!

I want it to be clear that building a pinhole camera relies on your abilities, available materials, and your desired outcome. As a result, this Instructable is less of a step-by-step and more of a lesson on how pinhole cameras work, the physics involved, and some practical knowledge I gained while researching and building my own camera.  I'll do my best to answer any questions but please try to keep this in mind when reading;  thinking and problem solving are required.

Step 1: What Is a Pinhole Camera?

First thing, what is a pinhole and why does it have optical properties?
A pinhole has the ability to function like a glass lens because it excludes all light rays which are not reflecting off the subject that the camera is pointed at.  When light hits an object, it is scattered in all directions; this is why the object is visible from any angle.  If all this light was entering a camera and hitting the film, no image would be produced.  The light needed for a photo has to be aligned to make a focused image.  The pinhole excludes light rays from all irrelevant angles and only allows through rays which are almost perfectly aligned from the subject through the pinhole to the film.  See the image above. The red lines are light rays.  Note that they cross at the pinhole and produce an inverted image.

Applications of this phenomenon; the pinhole camera
First used in both ancient Greece and ancient China, pinhole cameras are a form of camera that takes images without using a conventional optical lens.  Originally called a "camera obscura" they were large boxes or rooms which had a hole in one wall.  This hole formed a sort of lens resulting in a projection on the opposite wall of the scene outside.  Someone inside the camera would then place a piece of paper on the wall and trace the projected image.  Once photo-sensitive materials were discovered and film was invented, the design was miniaturized but the concept remained the same.

A basic pinhole camera is a light-tight container with a tiny hole at one end, and a piece of photo-sensitive material at the opposite end.  Light passes through the pinhole and the photons cause a chemical change on the film, resulting in an image being produced.  Since the pinhole is very small, the light passing through it is light which has a particular direction; it is heading directly at that pinhole from the subject, and at a certain angle that it can pass through the pinhole.  All other light from the scene does not reach the inside of the box.  If all the scattered light that might happen to fall on the film was allowed, no coherent image would be produced.

Some terminology:

Pinhole camera:
A camera which utilizes a pinhole instead of a glass or plastic lens.  The pinhole is quite literally a pin-sized hole in a piece of thin, opaque material. Usually sheet metal is used.

Depth of field: 
With any camera lens, the depth of field is the forward and backward distance from where a lens is focused to that is in focus.  On optical cameras, this is determined by the size of the aperture inside the lens.  In a pinhole camera, this is determined by the diameter of the pinhole itself.  The smaller the pinhole, the larger the depth of field will be.  The effect can be so pronounced that the foreground and background of an image can be in focus simultaneously.  This is something that even the best DSLRs can't do.

Focal Length:
The focal length is the distance an optical system takes to converge light.  It applies to pinhole photography as the ideal distance from the pinhole to the film.  It is calculated based on the diameter of the pinhole.  If the film is not the correct distance from the pinhole the image will be out of focus.  It needs to be as accurate as possible for the best image quality.

f-stop (aperture):

You probably already know what f-stop and aperture is and how to use it for conventional photography, but what is it really?  the f-stop value is based on the diameter of the aperture inside the lens compared to the distance from the aperture to the film.  There is a formula to calculate its value based on those two measurements, which will be covered in Step 3.

Reciprocity Failure:
Pinhole cameras need long exposures, and film does not respond to the amount of light they receive over long time periods in a linear fashion.   More on this in Step 9.

Aspect ratio:
The ratio between the height of an image versus the length.  For example, HDTV is normally 16:9 meaning the width is "16" arbitrary units and the height is "9" arbitrary units.  It is just to give a relative measurement of the final image shape, not the absolute size.
<p>Got to tell you that this is one of the best pinhole tutorials I've found. Started off by wanting to adapt a 6x4.5, 6x7 film back (or even a 4x5 film holder) for pinhole. NOW I want to make a curved focal plane camera. I'm only worried about how to keep the film tight to the &quot;pressure plate&quot; guides without pulling it too tight and flexing it across the wrong axis. Also, keeping the spools tight enough to not unwind, but loose enough to move easily. </p>
Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. I did my best to teach the reader how to apply the principles, rather than copy my camera exactly.<br><br>Since pinholes have a huge depth of field, they also have a huge DOF at the film plane, compared to a regular camera. Pressure plates and precise location of the film isn't a big deal. That's why you can get away with decent images in a pinhole camera with a flat focal plane, where the film is a different distance to the pinhole from the centre to the edge. The curve helps get it near to the right place to improve light falloff and reduce vignetting, more than anything.<br><br>I would recommend you don't worry too much and keep the film loose. My spools are pretty much loose too, and I relied on the felt I am using as a light seal to also serve as the friction material which keeps the spools semi-rigid in place. I just pressed down the knobs with some force before tightening the set screw, to create friction on the felt. It works great. Even if they were loose I don't think they would have any interest in moving when not being touched so I wouldn't worry about it too much. You can always test your mechanisms with an old backing paper from some 120 film. I had never actually shot 120 before and had no access to a paper backing or wasted film so I sacrificed a whole fresh roll for the testing purposes.
<p>Hey. Thank you for the great tutorial! I would definitely vote for you if I hadn't done so already!</p><p>I have a question regarding the knob and internal film mount. Do you perhaps know the equation to work out how big a turn would have to be to switch from the exposed film frame to the next blank one? I would like to place markings on top. Does that make sense?</p>
<p>Hey glad you liked it. </p><p>What you're trying to accomplish isn't really possible with 120 film. The reason for the sight windows on the back of the camera which are used for frame alignment are due to the issue of the changing diameter of the taken-up film. 35mm uses the sprockets and a little toothed wheel to keep track of film movement, but there are no holes in 120 film. Some 120 SLRs use a little wheel which rolls on the film to keep track of the movement but it is a pretty delicate and complex system. The sight windows on the back of the camera are much easier, simpler, reliable and practical, its what 98% of 120 film cameras have done for over 100 years.</p>
<p>I'm attempting to make a pinhole camera but instead of 35mm i'm going to use polaroid pack film. because i'm using pack film I cannot make a curved film plane. luckily the pinhole diameter and film size (and all that other junk that i figured out with the handy mr pinhole website calculator) makes the angle of view 70 degrees. so heres my question, is it better to put the film plane in the center of focusing zone (the center will be at 70mm instead of the correct 90mm) and will be in the perfect focal length closer to the edges of the frame. or would it be better to place the center of the image at the perfect 90mm and let the edges of the image blur outward? Do you think that either would produce a horrendously blurry image? Or will the image stay mostly in tact? I purchased a laser drilled pinhole so that shouldnt cause any problems. are there any simple solutions to my problem that i'm over looking? any help is much appreciatted, thanks in advance!</p>
<p>also, how far off can the film be from the correct focal length, and still produce a good image?</p>
The film plane depth of field (which is the same concept as the image plane depth of field, just on the other side of the lens) is pretty wide with a pinhole. The f If you split the difference and put the film so the calculated focal length is in the middle of the film's width, you should get good results. If I were you I would try to build in some adjust-ability so you can move the film (or pinhole) closer and further if you don't like the results. If you have a blurry spot in the middle it would be less visually appealing than if you had a blurry edge.<br><br>See what you can do about leaving 10-15mm or so of adjust-ability in your pinhole to film distance so you can correct it if you don't like it. Example; if you mounted the pinhole on some 3mm thick material and had it on the front face of the camera made of 3mm thick material, you could move the pinhole from the inside of the camera to the outside and also flip it around in each position, giving you a D=0mm, D=3mm, D=6mm, D=9mm, but it would be fixed in place by screws at any of those spots.<br><br> Otherwise, I would maybe put the center at 85mm and let the rest be where it may.<br>
<p>Yesterday, i begin mine ....</p><p>See attched files.. Please tell me what you think abuot it.</p><p>D.</p>
That looks extremely good so far. Keep me updated on your progress.
<p>I love this instructable! It made me build two! One of your design and a second of my own. But I cant seem to get the spooling down. The film keeps buckling when I spool especially when the film tried to make a turn into the guides. I have tried to use tape as suggested and in the second design I planned for this and sanded and burned the guides to try to relieve the friction caused by the curvature of guides and rods. Might you have insight into how to solve this problem?</p>
I added some polyimide &quot;kapton&quot; tape on the wood where the film would touch to reduce friction. Any tape which is smooth to the touch and sticks well to the wood should work to help reduce friction. Also if the turns are too tight, especially where the film makes tight turns, try using a larger diameter of wood dowel.
<p>This is incredible!! Very well designed. I am doing a project like this for school, and you have helped me immensely. I have a couple questions though, if you don't mind helping me out.</p><p>Do you have any way to see the film count so you know when you've used all the film?</p><p>Why do you have two dials for the film advance? Do you turn them at the same time?</p><p>I can't find a pinhole in brass shim shock like you did. Do you happen to have a link to a place where I could get one?</p><p>Thanks so much!!</p>
<p>Hey there,</p><p>You view the film count through the little swivel door on the back of the camera. You can also make a little red window instead of just a hole with a cover.</p><p>The two dials are because there is too much friction on the film so it has to be loosened from one end and pulled through with the other as you advance. It also lets you adjust it backwards if you crank it too far forward past your number. It also lets you tighten the film so it isn't too loose.</p><p>I bought mine from this guy:</p><p><a href="http://www.ebay.ca/itm/0-3mm-Laserdrilled-Pinhole-Large-1-Photography-Camera-large-format-4x5-5x7-8x10-/291144031490?pt=Camera_Lenses&hash=item43c9895d02&_uhb=1" rel="nofollow">http://www.ebay.ca/itm/0-3mm-Laserdrilled-Pinhole-...</a></p><p>His prices have come up but the product is good.</p><p>Good luck with your camera.</p>
you're fantastic! <br>I want to build one as beautiful as yours. <br>you're really a good manufacturer. <br>10 votes
Thank you
pleeeeeeeeeeease tell me how can i save this file i need it
pinhole cameras are fun.I made one out of cardboard box several years ago. Then my Mother passed and I got her old 35 mm camera.So I played with the idea of making it a pinhole. Unscrewed the lens and took it out. Replaced it with a piece of pop can that took some time to make a smooth hole in.To my surprise it worked after I was able to stop shutter from closing. As lone as I held the sutter opened as long as I wanted.It was fun doing. Sorry I can't explane it better. I'm 72 years young and don't know all the turms to use. Hope you can understand what is yonng lady met. Thanks all.
Thanks for the comment. While sometimes difficult to set up correctly, modifying an existing camera for pinhole is usually quite a bit easier than building one from scratch. You can even pinhole with digital cameras now.
Hello Mat <br>I am a pinholer myself, and found you design very good and well constructed. <br>Also, very good instructable, <br>I hope it pushes more people to this fascinating hobby. <br>Just one remark is that the flare on the picture seems to be light reflecting on the film roll. if you put a black shield between the pinhole and the film roll it might disappear. <br>Do you know www.f295.org?. <br>
Hi Sergiozal, <br> <br>Glad you liked my write-up and my camera. Thinking about what you are saying about the flare, I don't see how this could be light reflected off the roll. The roll is behind the film and not at all within view of the pinhole. Also, it is very overexposed in that spot, I don't see a way that that much light could have gotten to that spot if it was a reflection during exposure. <br> <br>Also, the vertical panorama was the middle shot of the roll, since I only get 3 shots out of a roll. It was shot within about 3 minutes of the first one (the bridge and shrubs image) and had the least amount of that light appear, since it was exposed to the leak for the least amount of time. The camera sat for a while on the first shot and the last shot. This leads me to believe that it was a light leak through the seal. The location of the flare's brightest point also makes this make a lot of sense. <br> <br>I have seen f295 but I am not a member, I should definitely sign up. Lots of interesting things on there. <br> <br>Thanks for the comment.
Yes, you are right. Happens that I had a very similar problem in my first camera, but the roll was in different position. May be just a small gap left when you closed the camera. The tiniest leakage will do that. <br>Have fun with your camera ! <br>If we have a lot of people doing it , more film will be available...
Haha yes, it would probably take a couple million new followers to get Fuji and Kodak to fire up the ol' film making machines. We can dream.
EXCELLENT! <br> <br>Years back, I had so much fun with my pinhole cameras. Started with a 5x7 <br>Then made a panorama and a telephoto out of a piece of tubing. All fun!
Nicely done! I'm not a photographer beyond the average birthday/vacation snapshots, but I read every word of your instructable. I find it very interesting when people like you take the time to re-construct/re-invent older methods of performing any task, or in this case, make art. <br> <br>Once again, well done. <br>
Thanks very much. Glad you found it so interesting.
Very nice and well thought out. It's good to see someone presenting the fun and experimentation of using a pinhole camera. 5 stars in my opinion.
I did do a little research on this about 2 years ago and came across a couple of Japanese guys that had made a rather impressive one. Very useful and lots of information in this 'ible. Great job! I will certainly attempt this one soon. Supplied links are very useful as well, cheers. Many effects can be done with these that I know of as well
This is so thoroughly documented - great work! :D
Thanks, took me a while to write.

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