Introduction: Instant Film Pinhole Camera
To be honest, I didn't initially plan to make a pinhole instant camera when I got a Lomo Instant Wide for my birthday. However, it turned out that my Lomography Instax Wide camera had a giant light leak from a misshapen zoom ring and this left a large white circle over every print. I was resigned to just live with it, but my wife said I was being silly and wrote to Lomography to get me a replacement. They said they would happily replace it so long as I ripped the back door off the camera, scratched the lens and sent them a picture as proof. I dutifully did so, and they promptly sent me a new one.
Anyhow, I now had a broken-yet-mostly-working camera that I was loathe to put in a landfill. I figured I would put it back together, fix it up, and do something with it. Reinstalling the back door of the camera was easy. It just required a little bit of disassembly and a dab of epoxy. However, repairing the scratched plastic lens was going to prove trickier. I shopped for a replacement, but none seemed quite right. I also considered polishing it with my buffing wheel, but that seemed like too much work for possibly poor results. Ultimately, I decided to just replace the existing lens with something new. A pinhole lens seemed like an easy and interesting solution.
I decided to make a 0.0135" (0.34mm) pinhole lens by drilling a hole in the center of a 1" (25mm) stainless steel shim. An aperture of this diameter requires a 2.5" (65mm) focal distance. Fortunately, with the lens tube fully extended, this will end up being roughly the distance between the shim and the surface of the film.
Once the lens problem was solved, the last issue I had to resolve was the same one I had all along; the light leak. Since I needed to keep the lens fully extended and no longer had to worry about it zooming in and out, I just taped around the ring with black adhesive vinyl. Once the seam was covered, the light leak was then solved as well.
What is cool about this conversion is that it makes pinhole film photography easy. You just drop in the film pack, get your exposure reading, shoot the photo, and within a few minutes have an exposed pinhole photo print in your hand. This lets you iterate much quicker and more spontaneously than standard pinhole photography which can be a slow and arduous process. This is, on the other hand, is instant gratification and a ton of fun.
To make this project I used:
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Step 1: Remove the Lenses
First, we are going to remove the existing lens "glass" (which is technically plastic).
Open the back door of the camera and carefully remove the screws that are holding the entire lens assembly in place. Place the screws aside for later reassembly.
Gently free the lens assembly from the camera body, being careful not to disconnect the connections for the mechanical shutter.
Remove the screws holding that are holding the lens retaining rings in place. Once these are removed, the lenses should just pop right out.
At this point, the only part left installed in the lens assembly will be mechanical shutter. This is perfect!
Reinstall the lens assembly using the mounting screws you set aside earlier.
Step 2: Drill the Shim
Make a mark at the center of the stainless steel shim and center punch it.
Apply a generous amount of cutting oil and use a drill press to drill the shim with the 0.0135" (0.34mm) drill bit.
Drilling through a stainless steel disc with a drill bit narrower than the average sewing needle may take some patience (and more than one drill bit).
Step 3: Prepare the Lens
Attach the pinhole lens to the front of the camera using double sided tape.
I laser cut fancy 3M 9 mil high strength double-sided tape into a ring shape. However, use whatever tape and cutting method works for you. Just make sure that the center lens hole is not covered.
I also took this moment to fully extend the zoom ring in order to simultaneously lock the focal distance in place and block light leaks by wrapping black adhesive vinyl around the outside.
Step 4: Test It Out
Open the back door of the camera, turn the power switch to "B" (for Bulb Mode) and press down the shutter button.
So long as the button is pressed, you should see the shutter open and a small pin of light shine through.
Step 5: Test Your Exposure
The aperture of your pinhole lens is F193. This is magnitudes smaller than what you are probably accustomed to working with. With such a small aperture, exposure times are measured in seconds rather than fractions of seconds.
I've found the easiest way to get light readings is by using a metering app on my phone (myLightMeter PRO to be exact). This is convenient because I always have my phone with me and the app allows for enough customization to quickly get a workable light reading. The app I am using only takes readings at F180 and F204. I usually just take both readings and split the difference.
In terms of film speed, Instax Wide is ISO 800.
Step 6: Long Exposures
To take long exposures with the Lomo Instant Wide camera, set the camera to "B" (for "Bulb Mode") and this will keep the aperture open for as long as the shutter button is pressed. Well... sort of... it will keep it open for up to a minute. This can be a problem because sometimes you want exposures that are many minutes long.
One way to cheat the 1-minute limit is to enable the "MX" ("Multiple Exposure") button. So long as this button is engaged, you can take up to five 1-minute exposures on top of each other. This, in practice, will then give you 5 minutes of working time. When you press the "MX" button a second time, it will turn off multiple exposure mode and expose the film.
After all of that is squared away, you will also want to press the flash disable button before you take your picture. Having the flash on could mess up the long exposure settings.
One last thing to note; having to press and hold the shutter button for more than a few seconds is not ideal because you're likely to move the camera and get blurry results. You will also probably get tired of just standing there for minutes holding the button. An easy solution for this problem is to place the camera on a tripod or sturdy surface and use the timer remote on the Lomo Instant Wide lens cap. To open the aperture and start the exposure, you press the "Time" button. When you are ready to end the shot, you just press the "Time" button again.
Step 7: Have Fun!
Go forth, experiment and remember to have fun. 😀
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