Introduction: Build a Digital Pin-hole Camera

Picture of Build a Digital Pin-hole Camera

I always wanted to try making pictures with a pinhole camera, but it was one of those things I never quite got around to. Now with digital cameras its easy.

You will need a digital single lens reflex (SLR) camera with an interchangeable lens, some black card stock, a pin, black tape, scissors, and a way to replace the lens with a piece of black card stock with a pin hole in it.

You could just take off the lens and tape the card with the hole over the lens mount, but I wouldnt recommend this, as it provides lots of opportunity to get dust and stuff into the camera. Instead I've devised two ways to quick-mount the card with the hole onto the camera thus minimizing opportunities for dust to get to the sensor.

The first is to make the pinhole in a body cap that fits your camera. It would be hard to get this right the first time, and stocking up on body caps is a bit of a pain, so I drilled a 5/16" hole in the body cap, and then taped the actual card with the pinhole over the hole in the body cap. Because the pinhole is mounted quite close to the camera's focal plane, it results in a fairly wide angle image.

The second way is to use a set of bellows to mount the card onto, and then onto the camera. I picked up a new, non-original equipment set of bellows off eBay for about $50. The bellows bayonets onto the camera, and provides a simple way to mount the card when the bellows is not on the camera. This results in a longer focal length, but with the bellows you now end up with a zoom pin hole camera, which is not something you see every day.

Step 1: Making the Pinhole

Picture of Making the Pinhole

Measure the lens mount on your camera, or the diameter of the body cap. Mine was 2 inches outside edge to outside edge of the mounting surface. Draw circles this same size on black card stock and cut out with scissors. In the center of the cutout circle poke a small hole with a sharp pin. (Big pinholes mean fuzzy images)

Someone commented that the thicker the card, the fuzzier the image, so use the thinest piece of black card you can find. You could also try tinfoil which is very thin and could result in a sharper image.

Step 2: Mounting the Pinhole to the Body Cap

Picture of Mounting the Pinhole to the Body Cap

Spend a few bucks and buy a spare body cap for your camera. Carefully drill a 5/16" hole in the centre of the cap. Carefully clean the edges of the holes so that there is no dust and/or plastic shrapnel that can get into the camera.

Tape the card with the pinhole onto the cap, so that the pinhole is centered over the hole you drilled in the cap. Be sure that the card is tightly secured to the body cap so that no light is leaking in around the edges.

The first photo is the body cap before it was drilled out, the second is with a hole in the centre, and the third is with the card with the pinhole mounted so the pinhole is centered over the hole in the cap.

Step 3: Mounting the Pinhole

Picture of Mounting the Pinhole

If you have a bellows but no spare body caps, you can attach the circle with the hole to the front of the bellows with black tape. Remember that you have to ensure that only light from the pinhole gets into the camera so the attaching the card to the bellows has to be light-tight

If you've mounted the pinhole onto a body cap, all you have to do is bayonet the body cap onto the bellows and you're ready to go.

Step 4: Attach to the Camera

Picture of Attach to the Camera

Once the card is mounted to the bellows, or the pinhole to a body cap, simply mount the bellows or cap to the digital SLR camera. You will need to use a tripod because the exposures are fairly long. Astute viewers will note that the bellows are mounted on an old film camera in this picture. This is because the digital camera was busy making the picture and couldnt be in it at the same time. But it also shows that if you really wanted to, you could also use this set up to make pin hole pictures on film.

Step 5: Take Some Photographs!

Picture of Take Some Photographs!

The pinhole doesnt let in enough light for the viewfinder to work so you need to point the camera in the right direction and hope for the best. Because of the long exposures you should use a tripod.

For my set up, bright sunlit images usually required about a 12 second exposure, but you'll have to run some tests to see what's right for your pinhole and your camera. Thanks to brightest_cyan for reminding me that you should cover the eyepiece on your camera, because light can leak in during long exposures and degrade the image.

I had my camera set for manual operation so I could adjust the shutter speed rather than having the light meter trying to guess.

The first illustration is indoors, with lots of light, and a 90 second exposure. The rest are outdoors in the last moments of bright sun before the rains came. The first two outdoors shots did not have the eyepiece covered, while the last two images did have the eyepiece covered - notice the difference.

Step 6: Some Results

Picture of Some Results

These are some pinhole photos I've made over the past week or so. They were made with the pinhole mounted on a drilled out body cap attached to my digital SLR. I can't believe they charge $80 for a digital (10 pin) cable release!


abellows1 (author)2014-06-14

blog gonna be very interesting. Which step do you prefer most easy to install?

richard2nd (author)abellows12014-06-14

The drilled out body cap is easiest and cheapest.

abellows1 (author)richard2nd2014-06-18

Thanks for your response.

spark master (author)2011-10-06

very nice for shots at beach or autum leaves, are these all your pics or do you have more? The road picture in the last group is very impressionistic quite nice actually.

please do a short video of this, worth 4,000 words.

craziemutant (author)2010-12-23

Cool! I'm gonna build this and use at Disneyland! =P

booklvr630 (author)2008-10-19

Is that the only kind of digital camera it will work with or could it work with any kind?

richard2nd (author)booklvr6302008-10-19

Hi Booklvr630 I think you pretty well have to use a digital SLR, unless you have access to a Leica M8 or something else you can take the lens off of. The trouble with most digital point-and-shoot cameras is that the lens and the sensor are built and wired into a single modual l which you can't remove without wrecking the camera. I don't know what would happen if you put the pinhole right over the lens, I suppose if you had it right dead center the lens wouldn't be doing very much light bending anyway. might be fun to try if you can keep the lens open long enough for the light to come through the pinhole (several seconds I would guess) Good luck

DreamsInBloom (author)richard2nd2010-09-30

This Instructable and this reply led me to try what you said...putting the pinhole right over the lens of a point and shoot digital camera. I have one that you can change the exposure length of time. It's not a true pinhole camera, but it's still kinda cool.

92033 (author)2010-06-06

Just visited your page...great photos...especially the one of the bridge. 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 tripod 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].

drejansen (author)2008-09-04

sorry, I do not understand the reason of pinhole photography.

92033 (author)drejansen2010-06-06

Do a Search on "Pinhole Photography" / Pinhole Cameras" for research on its history. Way back when...before Glass Lenses were invented, 'Pinhole' cameras was the void. It creates soft focus photos with unbelievable depth of field (sharpness from closest to furthest object from the 'lens'. Back in the early '50's I converted my 4x5 Speed Graphic Press Camera to Pinhole use for experimenting. With the focusing bellows and ground glass back you can set-up your image...slip the 'pinhole' over the wide open lens and get fabulous photos. They could be exposed on 4x5 sheet film or 4x5 sheet printing paper...developed and have photos regular cameras can't take.

shoehornteeth (author)drejansen2008-09-05

Theoretically, infinite depth of field. Or "it looks cool."

haunted_lady (author)2010-04-01

 This picture looks like it was taken with a toy camera like a Holga or a Diana.

richard2nd (author)haunted_lady2010-04-01

 Or is it that no lens at all is just as good as their lenses?

haunted_lady (author)richard2nd2010-04-02

 Ummm their "lens" is a piece of plastic..hahahaha

coolkid90999 (author)2009-09-20

you can even just out aluminum foil in a filter holder or on an old lenscap and that will suffice then just zoom in and out until you get the desired look

urbanmari (author)2009-07-10

My first experience with photography was at camp. Our project required a box that we would paint black--I felt bummed or embarrassed that I didn't have a box, all we had at home was an old Quaker Oats cannister. In fact, mine was the coolest pic that I got to develop myself in the darkroom. Of course, it worked because the photo paper was placed in the cannister and 'absorbed' the curvature showing a really wide and distorted view. I keep wanting to recreate that with my digital but have a mental block of how. Thanks for sharing this. Care to theorize how to effect a cannister look, anyone?

richard2nd (author)urbanmari2009-07-11

Interesting idea urbanmari. The trick would be to find a flexible sensor that was big enough to wrap around the inside of a cylinder/box, and that won't be available for another couple of years yet. In the meantime your best bet would be to take a digital pin hole image and photoshop in some distortion around the edges to get the feel of the oatmeal box camera images.

richard2nd (author)2008-09-19

Thanks Igcalex - Now that I know it all works, I can start paying more attention to the details like image format. I've now mounted the pinhole onto a drilled out body cap which creates a shorter focal length than the bellows, wider field of view and shorter exposure times. I also want to pick up on a previous comment by uguy and try making the pinhole in a piece of foil instead of card stock to see if that will sharpen the image a bit.

lgcalex (author)2008-09-19

why do you feel that it is necessary for the bellows? Also try shooting these again in raw

amagriva (author)2008-09-06

i think you'll have the same effect breathing on the lens and shooting...

PKM (author)2008-09-03

I believe you can get some interesting effects with non-circular holes. Try a short vertical slit- you should get sharp detail in one direction but blur parallel to the slit. Having a bigger aperture should mean you can use shorter exposures. Here's something I always wondered- what happens if you have two pinholes about 1/4" apart? What happens with increasing spacing? Would you get diffraction fringes if they were close enough together?

turnhandle (author)PKM2008-09-04

You do get diffraction effects with multiple holes. I tried this way back with a film SLR and got good and really bad results. Multiple holes in various patterns result in "insect eye" multiple images. Lots of fun for way less cost with digital.

hammer9876 (author)2008-09-04

Woo hoo! PT Cruiser!

bbqpope (author)2008-09-04

well done, I see you have a spot on dust on you senson....

uguy (author)2008-09-03

Sharpness also depends on the accuracy of the pinhole and the thinner the material.. A pinhole in the cardboard or paper is actually pretty fuzzy. Try making a pinhole in some aluminum foil with a nice sharp needle. Don't poke it all the way thru, then sand the back side lightly with a very fine paper. The better the pin hole the greater the depth of view and the sharper the image.

Nice intructable!.

brightest_cyan (author)2008-09-03

Cool use of the bellows, for the adjustable focal length. One thing to try is put a cover over your viewfinder before you take the exposure, often viewfinders will leak light on such long exposures, which may account as to why several of these pictures are kind of cloudy white. Give it a try.

ve2vfd (author)2008-09-03

Cool idea! It would probably be sharper and more contrasty if the pinhole were smaller and you used a longer exposure time.

CameronSS (author)2008-09-02

You might try digitally bumping up the contrast to get an image more like a conventional pinhole camera produces.

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-09-02

Cool effect!

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