Simple Pinhole for SLR Camera


Introduction: Simple Pinhole for SLR Camera

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Ever felt your SLR takes too high quality images? Long for the simpler days? Here is a very simple way to make a high quality, easy to use pinhole to replace your SLR lens.

Step 1: The Raw Materials

You need just three things for this pinhole "lens":
1. A body cap for your camera (I got a spare one for £1 on ebay)
2. Some thin metal (eg. foil, the side of a drinks can)
3. Tape

The trick of this method is using the body cap as the support for the pinhole. It is a perfect fit for the camera, has no light leaks, is easy to fit and remove (with no chance of causing damage to the camera) and is easy to modify. The thin metal will be used to make the actual pinhole, any piece of thin and soft metal (aluminium is ideal) will do.

Step 2: Drilling the Body Cap

Drill a small hole (~5mm) in the centre of the body cap. The plastic is normally soft and any wood drill bit will have no problems. Make sure the hole is dead central; measure and mark before you drill! The hole only needs to be small, a pinhole has a very small field of view and a 5mm hole will not obstruct the edges of the view at all. Make sure you clean all the dust off from drilling!

If you don't have a drill a penknife (or similar) will work just as well, but will take more time. Make sure you don't damage the cap otherwise you will get a light leak.

Step 3: Prepare the Pinhole

The best way to make the pinhole will depend on which material you are using. For something very thin (like foil) a simple pinprick will probably work. For thicker materials thinning the metal with a penknife then making the actual hole with a pin works well. You want to aim for a pinhole of around 0.2 to 0.5mm, the larger the pinhole the brighter, but more blurred, the image is. There is no point going smaller than 0.2mm because then diffraction effects start blurring the image.

Make sure you use a circular pin, and twist it slightly as you push it through the metal. The more circular a hole is the better image it gives. If there are any small flakes of metal around the hole trim them off with a knife as they can also disrupt the image.

Step 4: Assemble the Pinhole and Body Cap

When you are happy with a pinhole simply tape it over the back of the hole in the body cap (make sure you line it up!). Try to tape the pinhole nice and flat over the back of the body cap to reduce light leaks. You can use black tape (eg. insulating tape) or black marker pen to block light getting around the edges of the pinhole if you think you might get light leaking problems.

Step 5: Testing the Pinhole

The easiest way to test the pinhole to put it on your camera and try a few shots, but you can also test the pinhole with a laser pointer and looking at the diffraction pattern. The diffraction pattern is very sensitive to the shape of the pinhole and makes it simple to spot if the pinhole shape is a problem.

All you need to do is shine a laser pointer through the pinhole onto a flat surface (a wall or piece of paper) a couple of metres away. Green lasers work best (because they tend to be brighter) but you can also use a red laser. A perfectly circular pinhole will give a diffraction pattern of a series of rings around a central bright spot. A typical good-quality handmade pinhole will give three, or even four, unbroken rings around the central bright spot. If you only get one or no rings then it is definately worth remaking the pinhole.

Step 6: Taking Pictures

Taking pictures with a pinhole camera isn't easy or particularly spectacular, but it is fun! The pictures will always be blurred and will need a long exposure (try around 2sec for a brightly lit room, 0.5 sec for outside) but do give a wonderful diffuse glow and dreamlike appearance.

See below for a couple of indoor examples (no outdoor pics sadly, the weather is terrible!).



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    A. J. Fricko Co. used to or still does(can't find a listing) market a pinhole camera lens like this. They used a col-lens glued on the front to sharpen the picture.

    They used to be available through A model railroad wholesaler/retailer. Not seeing them on their website

    Following their lead and trying a co-lens mounted on the front might improve this lens.

    In short no, that has a very different effect. Have a search for bokeh filters...

    if you did that guy you gave it to was some one i know.
    the reason i asked is because it is exactly like the one i have

    Nope, not me :) I still have this pinhole nestled in with my DSLR...

    Nice Instructable, but saying that the images will always be blurry is pretty erroneous. Blurred images are a result of either too big or too small a hole.

    Check attached image for an example of how sharp you can get them by just doing it by hand without calculating anything. With proper calculations and preciser drilling of the hole you can get a dead sharp image.
    (image is from a pinhole camera using photographic paper. principle is the same tho)

    3 replies

    Optimum pinhole size is a function of a lot of factors, this website has a very handy calculator.

    The long and the short of it is that the longer the focal length and the larger the sensor/photographic film the sharper the image can be. For a DSLR with a short focal length (~3 cm in my case) the optimum pinhole size would be about 0.18mm. At this size diffraction effects would be significantly blurring the image forcing me to use a pinhole size of closer to 0.3mm.

    To calculate the resolution think about two rays of light coming from a point at infinity (so the rays are parallel). The maximum separation of the rays once they hit the sensor is the same as the size of the pinhole, 0.3mm. My DSLR sensor is ~1.7cm accross therefore the blur due to the pinhole is going to be 0.3/170*100=1.8% of the image frame.

    Using much larger focal lengths and sensor sizes can reduce the blur (as a percent of the image frame) - the example above is probably using a pinhole of ~0.3mm and a sensor (photographic paper size) of ~10cm, therefore the blur is 0.03% of the image frame.

    Ever thought about using zoneplates instead of pinholes? I don't use them but, from how i remember how they work, couldn't they help with the sharpness issues? Or i guess you'll have to resort to what i'm probably going to do when "converting" my slr. Use an extention tube to extend the focal length.

    I have never tried building a zone plate (though I want to try!). The focus will probably be similar, possibly slightly better with a zone plate... The exposure time is the key thing - a pinhole on a DSLR is very tough to use without a tripod, with a zone plate the exposuresrequired will be far more manageable.

    You can make an easy tripod base for use on the camera. Use a piece of 1/4" thick plywood or plastic. Drill a 1/4 inch hole in the center. Use double-face carpet tape or layer of rubber cement on face of the wood/plastic base and layer on bottom of camera. Stick together for a permanent bond. Screw your tripos screw into the hole and you're all set. Want 'simpler'? Lightly duct-tape it to tripod. Removes easily. Idea is to hold the camera still and level..this'll do the trick. Great Instructable mind-refresher for me...have been in photography all my lifetime...'1200 Year Old Highlander Immortal', y'know. :-) Which reminds me...Do you know what Jesus said to the Apostles at The Last Supper? "All you guys who want your picture taken, sit on this side of the table with Me". Moses was The First Photographer. He used a Pinhole Camera and Bolt Of Lightning for the FLASH. Came out pretty good, eh?REPLY [flag][delete].

    "SPY CAMERA"? I don't think so. :-) The exposures are lonnng...seconds, not split seconds. Even 'minutes' at dark times...can't handhold or conceal like a 'spy camera'. Jest thot I'd letcha know. :-) (The phonetic spelling is intentional. I do it all the time with eMail friends...drives 'em crazy).

    I've made one and found the only colour in the garden at the moment.  I really love the diffuse soft focus effect.
    With the way I've got things set up I had to use a fairly long telephoto setting to get the whole frame.  I'll re-hash it so I can go wider.
    I was using a 3.5" exposure at full aperture and some of my shots had a blur as the tripod hadn't fully settled, but these are the best ones.

    IMG_0232 (Medium).JPGIMG_0229 (Medium).JPGIMG_0227 (Medium).JPG
    1 reply

    Please do post outdoor pictures once the weather improves.  I'd go and try this now but the weather is somewhat inclement here as well.  (And it's dark ;¬)