8X10 Foldable Pinhole Camera




Introduction: 8X10 Foldable Pinhole Camera

About: i am a photolab technician and an incurable packrat. i have made swords ,chainmail, crossbows.cameras,bike trailers,kayaks,guitars{slide and electric},knives,various film winders and vacum easels for the phot…

todays project is a pinhole camera made from 8X10 kodak paper boxes.
were gonna cover construction,theory/history,and get a short course in how to use it.

Step 1: History Lesson

simplified history
the effect of a pinhole in a curtain causing an image to be projected on wall was noticed by the first instructable writer{im referring to leonardo DaVinci} way back.
im not sure what the maestro thought of this but i expect he probably thought it was cool.
the whole setup was made portable for the amusement of kings and was called a camera obscura {latin for dark room} that invention was just a novelty and an aid in perspective drawing for artist for hundreds of years until the discovery of the properties of silver nitrate.

simplefied physics
light rays travel in a straight line from the point of origin unless something deflects them {air, water, wood ,you}.
as a consequence of this light is bouncing all over the place in a truly random fashion and for the most part the objects you look at are reflecting light back to your eyes where a lens focuses it onto your retina.
a pinhole acts like a lens in the way that it takes the wildly scattered bundles of light and only lets the ones bouncing straight off the subject and into the hole through cutting down on a lot of the backscatter. the finer the pinhole the sharper the image will be becuase only the true straight bounces off of your subject get through. this also makes the projected image rather dim so its unlikely you will be taking any nudes of yer girlfriend with this unless she can hold very still.
on to the construction

Step 2: Materials List

for this instructable you will need at least 1 light tight box{photo paper boxes are ideal]
a sheet of black bristol board{heavy card}
a roll of cloth hockey tape{black cloth and flexible glue could be substituted or black duct tape}
a ruler
white glue
1 empty pop tin
a very fine sewing needle
some small clamps

and to use the camera some 8x10 black and white photopaper.
a safe light
trays and chemicals for black and white paper.


Step 3: Making a Bellows

you really dont need a bellows for a pinhole camera any light tight box will do
but a bellows gives this camera foldabilty , multiple focal lengths{like a zoom lens} and just looks so cool.
now im not going to go into microscopic detail on how to make a bellows cause ive already done that here..... https://www.instructables.com/id/EDITKGPCR7EP28788U/ ....but i did take some pictures and also came up with an alternate method to score the fold lines.

heres a quick rundown of the steps
the first step is to cut the sheet of bristol board into 4 equal sections.
then you need to score parallel lines in it one half inch apart (this is to make it easy to fold)
then you decide if you want straight or tapered bellows{stick with a straight one until you have made at least one}.
measure how big your bellows needs to be and make your sides one half inch less than you need {the folds will take up the rest..there is a real danger of making your bellows too large for the box}
lay out two adjacent sections side by side 1/2 inch apart but with the lines matching.
using the hockey tape {this is the trickiest bit} carefully cover the joint between the sheets keeping them parallel .
then turn the sheet over and tape the other side of the joint so you should have two sheets with a 1/2 inch gap covered in cloth tape{duct tape will not fold up correctly but it can be used in a pinch}.
now join the third and fourth sides to the others in same way.
when its time to close the fourth side to the first place the tape on one side from the bottom or inside of the sheet gently position the other side then when its right and aligned press it down and put the last tape on top .
now what you should have is a square box about 11 inches high by 7.5 inches wide and 9.5 inches wide.
next you need to fold over one of the top edges turn the assembly 90 degrees then fold the next top in the opposite direction from the first one. once you have folded all the way around start on the next line down and fold it in the opposite direction from the fold above{i suggest you practice first or read this https://www.instructables.com/id/EDITKGPCR7EP28788U/ } much better detail there really

the new way i had of scoring the lines involves the paper cutter in the pictures
it has deep slots at 1/2 inch intervals that are square with the top bar . by holding the sheets onto the cutter i was able to score the lines using a dead ball point pen as a stylus{the pen came back to life during this step and i made a mess over myself lol].
i dont think its likely many people will have such a thing but i thought id mention it

Step 4: The Body

you will notice im going to use 3 boxes for this camera 2 full ones and the cover from a third.
the box we choose to be the back will have the inside laid into the cover to form a tray.
the we drop the bellows into the tray and mark around the inside with a pen this give us the line to cut on and leaves a shelf to glue the bellows to.
be very particular when cutting out this section because any rough edges will show in your pictures.
next the front of the camera in the very center of the lid cut out a hole dont make it too big because you have to cover it with the pinhole a 1 inch square should do it..
turn this box over then cut a larger hole on the other side it should be at least 1 inch smaller than the end of the bellows that will glue there.
since like me you will probably use a box cutter for this be very careful not to cut yourself and bleed all over the camera.
now onto the joining

Step 5: Glue Up Time

the next step is to take your bellows and glue it into the back{if you did your measurements right it ought to drop right in there } use white glue for this make a bead around the inside of the box and press it in there.
use lots of little clamps to hold it together until the glue sets up a bit 1/2 hour at least.
once that has set up take the clamps off and put the cover on the back that will help keep it square for the next step.
tape the two halves of the front box together and press glue it to the top of the bellows .
put lots of glue well spread out on the bellows top place the box on top and then gently press down to compress the bellows and and align the two boxes with each other.
let the bellows return to the top slowly and then place some weight on top to keep it clamped
now we need a pinhole.

Step 6: Pinhole

this is a very simple step but it can still be messed up easily.
try several different pinholes until you get one you like
the idea is to make a very tiny hole {as small as possible } in a thin bit of sheet metal.
in this case aluminum from a coke can sheet .brass shim stock makes the best pinholes but i dont have any.
carefully cut the can apart and cut a 2 inch square sheet from it {blood zone for the less handy among us wear gloves}
the trick to making a very tiny hole is to put your 2x2 square of aluminum of an firm surface then use the smallest sewing needle you can find very gently push the point into the center of the 2 inch square of aluminum but dont break through yet , gently spin the square around so the hole is small and circular.
if you can just barely see a spark of light when you hold it up it will work.
tape the square over the hole cut in the cover
now its finished

Step 7: How to Take a Picture

ok this is going to sound oversimplified but i cant help it ,it is simple.
what you need to do now is take your camera into the darkroom{it needs to be very dark}
take off the back cover , put a sheet of black and white photo paper in it with the emulsion facing the
pinhole, use clamps to hold the back on so it doesnt slip off or leak light ,put a scrap of tape over the lens{hole} for a shutter or if your real clever build a shutter inside the box ,lord knows theres enough room in there}. put the camera into the cover of the 3rd box tape it in place so it cant move too easily
bring it outside, point it at the object or scene you want to photograph {dont try to handhold}and leave it alone for 15 minutes.
when the exposure is complete put the tape back over the hole again.
take it back to the darkroom and develop the negative.
now this bit is not so simple.
if you dont know how to develop the paper go to the library and take out a book on black and white printing or find a friend who has a darkroom.
a lot of art programs in schools can set up a darkroom for the students to use for this very thing.
black and white printing is old hat to me {i have been doing it professionally for 23 years}
i will be happy to answer any questions about it
next the result

Step 8: The Results

picture 1 is the negative scanned in photoshop
picture 2 is the positive made by inverting the image then flipping it horizontally
picture 3 is the same after a bit of tweaking
picture 4 is what it looks like from a kodak digital
i know its not a very good image but with a more carefully made pinhole a much better image can be made.
also its not a very exciting scene either {as much as i love my lawn chairs}
the lines running from top to bottom are most likely caused by a ragged edge on the pinole.
i will make another and try again.

the traditional way to print pinhole pictures is to place the finished dried negative onto an unexposed sheet of photo paper place a sheet of glass over that and pass a measured amount of light through the negative to expose the paper beneath... but who needs that when you have a scanner.. save your photo paper for making negs.
any questions??
if so dont hesitate to ask
i know ive probably skimmed through some tough bits but its because this stuff is so simple to me that i expect everyone else to know it too.
later folks

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    Question 2 years ago

    Hi, I am very interested in building this camera. However I rarely print in the darkroom, and all of my photo paper for a printer does not come in boxes . can you suggestions on where to get comparable boxes to the ones you used without paying a ton? It looks like such a perfect fit that I hate to try to resize the whole operation. And they seem plenty sturdy as well.


    4 years ago

    Hello, I am new to photography and have a question about film sizes. Would it be plausible to use 4x5 film in this camera? If so, how would I go about positioning it so that it would be exposed correctly?


    Reply 4 years ago

    hi. if you made the camera out of a 4x5 film box instead of an 8x10 one it would fit perfectly.

    to adapt one like this i would glue a 4x5 envelope to the back (centered of course)with all but a small border cut out of the front to set the film in.

    you would want to have the camera bellows extend only halfway also though it might tend to move more.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you! I have a few extra questions. How would the envelope hold the picture? How long should the edges of the bellows be? Is there anywhere where I can obtain photo boxes? I ask this because I have only one box for my sheet film, so I'm wondering where I can get an extra without the film included.


    Reply 4 years ago

    i dont know if you can get spare boxes except to buy more film.

    maybe fold one out of card stock (that would be delicate though).

    check at the dollar store in the craft section maybe they will have little craft boxes there.

    as for the envelope way i would cut away the front of the envelope all around leaving 1/8 of an inch on the bottom and 2 sides.once this is glued onto the inside back of the camera you would slide the film in from the top.

    also use a small manila envelope as the stock is stiffer

    hope this helps


    8 years ago on Step 3

    Here is the camera I made, thanks to your bellows instructions. The set that is currently on the camera was our first rough attempt. The bellows on the table is our second attempt. I am currently in the process of rebuilding this camera and taking the craftsmanship a bit more seriously. This was a "proof of concept," but it worked perfectly the first time. I will upload photos of the camera with our new bellows.

    The next time I build a camera, I will document for this site.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 3

    very nice.
    never thought to use a floral on them.
    nice work


    8 years ago on Step 3

    I tried out this method for making a bellows for a large format 8x10 camera and it worked like a charm! I was very skeptical that I would have the patience or ability to fold this well, but I have now added cloth to the bellows in a daring bid to "get fancy" with it. Thank you for posting this! I ended up building a fully functional camera because I was able to make custom bellows. Without this instruction I never would have thought to make one myself.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 3

    im so glad you found it usefull.
    you didnt by any chance make an instructable of your build did you?
    i for one would like to see a picture of your camera.
    thanks for looking


    10 years ago on Step 2

    YOU SAID POP TIN nobody where i live knows what that is they say "SODA"


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Actually everyone from where I come from calls it "POP", but it doesn't mean we don't know what "SODA"means :)

    My wife is from Atlanta and they call everything "COKE"


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 2

    actually we dont call it that here either we just say coke can or pepsi.
    lol i was trying to be less obscure. so much for that.

    Clayton H.
    Clayton H.

    11 years ago on Introduction

    when I finish my boxes in photo class, I'll use them to make one of these. Except it would be a 5x7 format.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Want to ADD to your Pinhole Camera experimenting? Use an Electronic Flash for exposure. Set up your camera indoors. Flash the light from another flash camera or flash gun manually. Cover the pinhole and develope your paper film. Just visited your page...great photos...You can make an easy tripod base for use on the camera that doesn't have a tripod thread on the base.. 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?


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome ive tried making a few pinholes cameras whith varying succes , however most of my pictures come out with very little contrast ive tried reducing the aperture on my enlarger but it still seems dull and washed out... any tips on how to get better contrast in?


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    you can try using a high contrast paper or graphic arts film.
    if all you have to work with is polycontrast paper try exposing it without any contrast filters in.
    you might also try mixing your paper developer stronger.
    and last but not least scan your paper negative and adjust the contrast in photoshop or some other editing program.
    hope this helps.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Reading your comment about wearing gloves while handling the development and printing chemicals made me giggle a bit. Last year I took photo class and we just used our bare hands and the occasional tongs. The unfortunate thing is that our development cannisters were often leaky, so I had to wash my sweatshirts very often, lest I wanted to offend people with my carcinogenic cologne. I also think we used that same timer for our enlargers. Its by crab labs or something like that, right? With outlets on the side?


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    yep its a crab labs timer alright. i have used similar ones from different makers before so i suspect its a widely copied design. an occasional finger dip in photo chemicals shouldnt hurt you but multiple exposure{23 years worth }will cause you to develop contact dermatitis complete with such lovely side effects as peeling fingers and sandpaper hands.

    HAL 9000
    HAL 9000

    13 years ago on Introduction

    I have the same enlarger timer!! i use it in my kitchen, ill never leave anything in the oven too long.BZZZZZZ!!! God, what an irritating sound. good instructable, i want to make a 35mm pinhole camera, im thinking about using sheets of brass from the hardware store, or just leftover copper sheets from the shop, i need more research before i do anything. whatever i do ill be sure t post an instructable.