Picture of Homemade 35mm Box Camera
Ever thought about taking the Pin Hole camera to the next level? Well now you can!

Coming some day: The camera works so well I've decided to upgrade the shutter so it will be able to shoot in broad daylight. 


When I first started this project, the plan was to make a really nice Pin Hole camera. But after doing a little homework I quickly realized that the problem with pin hole cameras is that it's very difficult to figure out how long you need to let light enter the hole in order to get a proper exposure. I started to think, which in my case is very dangerous, and needless to say at this point, I got more than a little carried away. The project went from making a Pin Hole camera all the way to a home-made Box Camera with a real lens. All because I wanted to be able to figure out the shutter speed based on a known aperture. What on EARTH was I thinking? Many hours of head scratching went into the design and even more hours went into the build. But guess what? It worked! It not only works, but it takes remarkably great (sharp) pictures, supports interchangeable lenses, shoots 35mm film, and is easy to use. About the only draw back worth mentioning is that the shutter design doesn't provide speeds fast enough for photos in the bright sun. Indoors, shaded areas, early morning and evening are all doable. I encourage you to design a faster shutter design and add it to this Instructable. ;)

I would rate this project as moderate to advanced if you plan on using power tools to make it. It doesn't require power tools, nor do you have to use all the same tools I used, but it will certainly make the task easier if you do. This simple, classic design is all original, I didn't borrow any ideas from other home-made cameras I saw on the web or anywhere else. It's a little complex so I took a lot of pictures, hopefully the entire build process will be clear enough in this Instructable that you can build one yourself, but I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
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Okay so yesterday i was thinking, how about I build a nice wooden box camera and make it out of glass, wood , and metal all from scratch. Im glad I saw this.
TABASaC02 years ago
Sounds fun!! I'll try to make one refer to yours:)
kroner3 years ago
Simple yet elegant!

Reading through the comments I had a thought about the shutter and the speed of it. I have created an image which may help visualising my suggestion : )

You will need to work out how to mount the parts and finnesse the mechanism, but in theory it should work.

Mount a small wooden shutter at 45 degrees in front of the film, between the start of the lens and the film ( can you picture it yet?).
From the top of the shutter is a small wooden protrusion at 45 degrees to the shutter so that the protrusion is parallel to the bottom oh the camera housing.
Mid point of the shutter is an attachment for a small spring which is attached to the camera base at the bottom of the shutter pivit point which would be the top of the shutter.( ie, directly below the point that the wooden shutter would pivot up). With me so far?
Next, a hole is drilled in the top of the camera housing. (WHAT!!?????) Light leak alert!!!
Don't panic - that problem is about to be addressed.
Make a shutter button that can be inserted into the kole so that it can be pressed down from the top but CANNOT be pushed through the hole from the inside. THEN, glue a small piece of thin (1mm thick ?) flexible rubber over tho whole on the inside of the camera body.

Directly below this, mount a small pushrod with a return spring attached so that it is above the shutter extension.
A small notch is carved into the side of the pushrod so that it pushes the shutter extension down until the pushrod goes down far enough that the extension goes into the notch. At this point the shutter is no longer being help open and the spring pulls it back down. Some leeway needs to be made so that when the shutter release button is released, the pushrod is allowed to return back to it's original position above the shutter WITHOUT getting caught at the notch position.

I hope the image uploads too so that it aids in visualising my suggestion. This process should allow the shutter to operate at a fraction of the speed that you could manage manually, while acting like a proper shutter, plus being *relatively* simple to build.

Any and all thoughts on this are welcome.

Best of luck, Kroner.
seerixprojex (author)  kroner3 years ago
Wow, Kroner, this is awesome! I really wish you had stopped by and thought this up before I came up with a different way of doing it. I literally just finished a shutter design and I'm almost finished with the instructable. Maybe I'll try this for Ver 3.0.
plahaos3 years ago
Good design and idea my friend. But what about the shutter?
seerixprojex (author)  plahaos3 years ago
Funny you should ask, I'm literally working on the instructable for version 2.0 of this design right now. The work is finished, I have added a mechanical shutter and a couple of other enhancements. I will probably need a couple of days to finish the instructable and I still haven't developed the first roll of film yet either, so I don't even know if the new design is a success or not. We shall all find out soon. Thanks for the complement and for taking the time to comment.
Best, Rick
mo53 years ago
question. could you construct this camera the exact same way BUT instead of using the real camera lenses, drill a actual "pin hole" and make a cover to act as your shutter?
seerixprojex (author)  mo53 years ago
In a word yes, but that said I seem to remember that with pinhole cameras there is an ideal distance from pinhole to film plane if you're looking to get as sharp an image as is possible. If the plan were to use 35mm film, then this box could probably be used as it is, but I think if I were going to make a pinhole camera from scratch I would plan on using medium format or larger (cut) film and make it so that each shot would be loaded individually instead of using roll film and make up some slide in inserts with dark slides so that film changes would be possible in the field.
ok. i made a "practice" box camera. and its literally a wooden box with out a back. for the back i have a wooden "door" (for lack of a better word) and it is on a hindge on the back of the box. it has a slot to put the film in. (one 2" strip of 35mm film at a time.) so do i need to put the shutter in front of the film or infront of the lens? (it is actually just a view finder off of a disposable camera) this is just my first attempt of a camera and i really just wanted to see how simple i could make it so im jsut asking for some tips/ oppinions && btw its 6 and a half mm in depth
seerixprojex (author)  mo53 years ago
If you're planning to put film in the camera one 2" strip at a time, I do hope you realize you will have to pull the film out of the roll, cut the strips, and load them in the camera in absolute complete darkness, right? Assuming you knew that and are still prepared to move forward, as long as there are no light leaks it really doesn't matter if the shutter is in front of the film or in front of the lens, if you can work it out so that the shutter blocks out all light until you open it and cut off all light after you close it, you're good. The key is to only expose the film to enough light to take a picture and not be under or over exposed, but the location of the shutter mechanism isn't important. As for the depth and the viewfinder lens, I'm not good with mm but my recommendation would be, if you've sacrificed a disposable camera for this first attempt, I would use the actual lens as apposed to the viewfinder to play it safe, and I would try to make it so the distance from the lens to the film is the same as it was in the disposable camera, that should achieve acceptable focus. Please let me know how you make out. Best, Rick
ok! so i need to light proof the box && construct some sort of shutter....i do have a idea though! that will hopefully work lol. && the view finder is the left over pieces from another project. no camera was unnecessarily destroyed in the making of this one :) && oh sorry i meant six and a half centimeters. && yes indeed i do realize i have to cut it in complete darkness! it will be a sight to see hahah && i used the view finder because no matter the distance you can still see everything clearly. it not as much of a "lense" as it is just like a....filter? i guess hahaha. thankyou for helping me with this project! i pray that i am not annoying you lol
seerixprojex (author)  mo53 years ago
Light proofing is very important. Since this is sort of a test run, you could make the shutter very simple, like maybe even the cap off the plastic film canister, held over the lens with a large piece of tape and just flip it open to take a shot and seal it back up as fastyour you can because your aperture is unknown, but I would guess it is fairly large like around f/4 or larger, so you will have no way of figuring out how long to let light in. My advice would be to take your first test shot in the evening just before it gets dark and try to open and close the shutter as fast as you can if you go with hand actuated shutter similar to my idea.
ok i will certainly figure out how to get a good "shutter" on there! after i take the first shot. will i be able to see the photo on the strip if film immediately or will i have to wait a second like polaroid?
seerixprojex (author)  mo53 years ago
No, you will not see a photo on the strip immediately nor after a minute or two. This is a very common misconception about roll film, that it somehow magically develops inside the camera. Roll film must be developed in chemicals in a dark (pitch black) room before you can see anything on the film. A polaroid is a very special kind of film and paper bonded together inside a plastic liner, and there is actually a thin sack of chemical at the bottom, when a picture is taken, the sack is broken and the chemical washes over the special paper film and develops it into a photograph. If you load regular roll film in your box camera, you must load it in complete darkness and remove it in complete darkness, and it must be put into a container that is light proof until it is developed. If it gets exposed to any light other than the very brief moment you open and close the shutter, the film will be ruined, it will instantly be over exposed to the point where it will be blank when it gets developed. I think you should also be aware that most photo labs would not be able to process (develop) film that has been cut into pieces. They use a machine that can only process the whole roll uncut.
SpaceRat4 years ago
You could make a faster shutter by attaching rubber bands to a sliding board with a hole cut in it, pull it up and insert a pin to hold it, when ready to snap the pic, pull the pin, and the shutter snaps down. You could probably get about 1/250 to 1/500 sec this way.
seerixprojex (author)  SpaceRat3 years ago
SpaceRat, when I last replied I stated "the current design wouldn't allow me to pin the shutter open because the shutter also acts as a curtain that prevents light from hitting the film in between shots." Well, after giving it some thought I realized that it is in fact possible to do this. I will add the new shutter in front of the old shutter (right behind the lens opening in the front panel) and the current curtain will be come a dark slide which will remain closed during shutter cocking and advancing the film in between shots, and left open when taking a photo. I'm working on it now, I'm more than 50% complete, so the idea we both thought of will come to fruition soon. I'm planning on making it so I can change the board, which is actually sheet metal, even with film loaded in the camera, so there will be more than one shutter speed available. Initially I'll only make one to test with, the hole (a vertical rectangle) will intentionally be large enough to only obtain a max speed in the area of 1/125 of a second so it will be usable in a wide variety of light conditions. If it works out well, I make more boards with narrower holes (slots) to increase the shutter speed.
seerixprojex (author)  SpaceRat4 years ago
You read my mind. However, the current design wouldn't allow me to pin the shutter open because the shutter also acts as a curtain that prevents light from hitting the film in between shots. That said, right now I am lifting the shutter up AND pushing it back down. The rubberband design could still be implemented by using them to close the shutter for me. This will have two advantages over the current design, the first is the obvious speed boost, I'm sure the rubber band will be much faster than my hand on the down stroke. In addition, it will be less likely to create a light leak from putting too much force on the shutter on the down stroke, which I think is what happened to me with a couple of shots. I tried to open and close the shutter so fast I think I put undue pressure on the seal at the top and created a light leak. With the bands I could lift it up and let it go like a slingshot. Stay tuned, I think I'll add the bands this weekend and load another roll.
I am looking forward to seeing your creation! Keep us posted...
znaikin4 years ago
SpaceRat4 years ago
Also, you could remove a lens/shutter combo from an old folding camera. Of course, you would have to build an extension on the front of the box to give more distance between lens and film plane.
seerixprojex (author)  SpaceRat4 years ago
Great comments SpaceRat, thanks for checking out the project.

I considered a shutter out of another camera. I didn't go that route for two reasons, I didn't have one, and I knew it would add another level of complexity. I really had no idea if it would work or be riddled with light leaks and other problems so I decided to try this very simple shutter and just see if it works. Looking at how popular this instructable has been so far (way beyond my expectations,) I think I see a version 2.0 in the future, and a real shutter will most definitely be a consideration, but I might I might decide to fabricate it though, just for fun.
Whales4 years ago
But the /real/ question is, how did you take all these pictures?
seerixprojex (author)  Whales4 years ago
I took all the documentation shots with a Nikon D80. I took my N80 out into the field to get light readings and shutter speeds when I shot the Box Camera. The sample photos form the Box Camera were processed at Costco and I scanned them with a flatbed.
Good to know, definitely works.

But you do know it was a tad bit of a joke, right? Not that i wasn't interested, but i like a good joke
seerixprojex (author)  Whales4 years ago
I picked up on it and was preparing a witty answer, but I wasn't sure you were joking so I decided to go with a real answer to play it safe..
I must ask what the witty one was...
seerixprojex (author)  Whales4 years ago
My witty answer would have been along the lines of "The instructable is a complete fake, the camera was riddled with light leaks and ruined an entire roll of film. I really took the pictures with my pinhole camera that I made out of an Oatmeal box, but don't tell anyone OK "   ;)
amacias-14 years ago
Excelent tutorial, i will try to do
seerixprojex (author)  amacias-14 years ago
Awesome! Please send me pictures if you do, I'd love to see them. Shoot me an email if you have any questions. And thank you for the complement.
hammer98764 years ago
Spouse and I were just looking at our old Brownie Box Camera this morning!

You wrote, "The shutter is actuated by quickly pulling it up till it stops and then pushing it back down till it stops." Seems like this would surely blur the image, but your images are not near as bad as most camera phone photos. Do you use a tripod to keep the vibration down?
seerixprojex (author)  hammer98764 years ago
Hi, which Brownie model do you have? I have a Kodak Duaflex IV box camera that originally shot 620 film. I see there is an instructable to convert it to 35mm, I think I just found my next project.

Yes, I not only used a tripod, I used a heavy duty one for exactly that reason. However, I have to say, the shutter slides up and down very easily so as long as I'm not trying to go super fast, it doesn't cause much shaking. This just reminded me that I put wax in the shutter grooves to make it slide easier but forgot to mention that in the instructable. I should add that in case anyone decides to make one. The trick was not to attempt any shots where I would be tempted to actuate the shutter really fast so I could go slow and easy.

Thanks for checking out the project.
I have no idea which Brownie model. I guess I have to go do some research!

Thanks for the clarification on the use of the tripod.
ve2vfd4 years ago
I love the project and the resulting photos are very impressive! Great job!
seerixprojex (author)  ve2vfd4 years ago
Many thanks for the support.
yes great job.
seerixprojex (author)  peter_schlamp4 years ago
Many thanks for the support.
Mike734 years ago
Great shots for a DIY camera.
Makes me want to shoot more myself. I took some pictures of a run down barn recently for entering a photo contest and will take some more this afternoon with my DSLR. I couldn't quite get the shot without a wide angle lens.

But real great inspiration...
seerixprojex (author)  Mike734 years ago
Many thanks, I'd love to see some pics, send a link if you post them anywhere.