How to Modify Your Vivitar PN2011




Introduction: How to Modify Your Vivitar PN2011

In this instructable, we will turn a Vivitar PN2011 from a boring point and shoot toy camera into a high speed, low drag, Teflon coated, maintenance free imaging device!  Specifically, I’ll attempt to demonstrate the addition of these features:

1.     Multiple Exposures

2.     Bulb mode

3.     Swing in filter

4.     Pinhole redscale capability (Bicam)

You can do any one of these modifications or all of them if you wish.  Additionally, you can still use the camera as designed if the situation does not call for a “special” mode.

Step 1: Camera Overview

The PN2011 came to us out of the great panorama craze of the 1990’s.  Vivitar, always ready to make a quick buck designed a nice two toned point and shoot with the capability to shoot panoramic photos….well not quite panoramic.  The pano mode was just a mechanism to crop the top and bottom of a regular film frame to get a long and thin image.  The switch that crops the film also crops your viewfinder which is a nice touch.  It has no flash, so it is an outdoor shooter only. 

The shutter speed is 1/250 of a second (again, good for the outdoors).  The plastic lens is 28mm at a fixed f8.  Nice and wide for those panoramic, but not as wide as the much coveted Vivitar Ultrawide and Slim at 22mm.  One thing this camera does have is a tripod socket…normally unheard of in this class of toy camera.  The socket is essential when using the modifications outlined in this instructable and one of the reasons I picked this camera.  The camera operation is about what you would expect from any toy camera and the internal mechanisms seem well designed and robust.  No batteries to run out and nothing to set except the pano or not switch.  Overall, a solid if limited camera.

The PN2011 does not have the cult following of the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim even though the PN2011 is, in my opinion, higher quality (I have both).  At least you can get the camera back open easily with the PN2011.  It is probably a good thing that these cameras are not as popular  as you can pick one of these up for chump change at your local thrift store. 

Step 2: What You Will Need

1.      A Vivitar PN2011 camera.

2.     Razor knife or exacto knife.

3.     Small cross tipped screwdrivers.

4.     Paper clips.

5.     Dental floss (good oral hygiene is essential for this modification).

6.     Glue.  I like epoxy, but most glue will work.  Stay away from Cyanoacrylate glue aka crazy glue.  It has a tendency to fume and cloud optics.  Don’t ask me how I know.

7.     Gel type filter material (mostly dyed polyester these days) .

8.     Magnets.

9.     A matchbox or similar sized enclosure.

Things you do not absolutely need, but will make these modifications go a lot more smoothly;

1.     Needle nose pliers.

2.     Rotary multitool.

3.     Reading glasses if you are over 40.

4.     Parts tray(s).

Step 3: Getting Into the Camera's Guts

The PN2011 is pretty easy to get into.  First take out the two screws on the side of the camera and put them in a parts tray.  I usually throw a magnet in the parts tray as well.  The screws will stick to the magnet and are less likely to fly off into an alternate dimension.  

Open the back and look into the supply chamber of the camera.  There are two additional screws deep in the blackness.  Take those out and put in the parts tray.  A note about the screws:  If you line them up, you will see that the length is not standard.  I think that this is just manufacturing variations and not important to assembly or reassembly.  Any screw should work in any hole so don’t worry about labeling the screws.  Not important in this camera.

Now you simply pull apart the halves of the camera.  Two things will probably drop out.  First, the shutter button; recover that and put in a parts tray.  Second, the plastic spring closure mechanism; take that out as well and put in a tray.

Now take the camera back off and set aside.

OK.  Before we get to the first modification, we’ll have to dig a little deeper into the camera.  You will see a screw on the lens board assembly to the right of the lens.  Take that out and put into a parts tray.  Now look underneath the lens board assembly and you will see plastic catches that secure the lens board to the camera chassis.  You will need to bend these back with a small screwdriver or something ridged to release the lens board.  There are two of these catches.  Once you have the lens board off, set it aside.

A note about the lens; the PN2011 is popular with pinholers because you can use the lens cover as a shutter for your pinhole (and a tripod socket).  The lens is easy to get out from the lens board and a pinhole is easily substituted for the lens.  Additionally, you can flip the lens, modify the aperture of the lens, substitute a zone plate for the lens, heat treat the lens etc.  I won’t cover any of those modifications here, but this is where you would do them if you wanted.

The shutter paddle and spring are vulnerable of coming off at this point.  Be careful not to lose these.  If they do come off, it is easy to reinstall.

Step 4: Modification #1 Multiple Exposure

Why do you want multiple exposures?  Well, it is a fun technique to have two or more images overlapped onto one frame. I’d go easy on how many exposures per frame as it gets confusing quickly.  If you are going for this effect..have at it!  Because the PN2011 is designed for sunny outdoor use, you could find yourself wanting a slower shutter speed when shooting indoors.  With this modification, you could do multiple shots on the same piece of film to build up the latent image.  You will probably want to use a tripod to keep the registration…or not for artistic effect.  This is a common technique for spirit photography and other hoaxes.

The mechanism to recock the shutter is located near the top of the camera.  Because the internal guts of the camera are black on black, it is a little hard to see in the photos.  The easy way to get the feel of how the mechanism works is to dry fire it a few times.  You will have to use your thumb to advance the sprocket and recock the shutter.

Once you have identified the part, your job is to tie a piece of dental floss around the mechanism and thread it out through the left side of the camera.  Why dental floss?  Well, it is strong, light, available, white, and most of all the waxed kind is self lubricating.  As you will see, easy movement of this piece of critical to get the effect we want.  You could use thread or very light string if you want, but your mileage and shutter speed may vary.

Tie the dental floss as tight and securely as you can and snip off any excess tail.  The knot does not have to be fancy..two or three overhand knots will work just fine.  You could reinforce the knot with some glue if you wanted, but that may add mass to the trigger that will slow your shutter speed.  Test your new multiple exposure feature by dry firing the camera a few times.

OK, now thread the dental floss to the left side of the camera under the support stanchion you will see near the top of the camera.  Now you need a hole in the front plate of the camera for the dental floss to come out.  Eyeball a spot that makes sense on the side of the camera faceplate and drill a clean hole.  Make sure it does not have any burrs that can catch up the dental floss.  Again, you want as little tension on the floss as possible when the shutter is tripped.

Step 5: Modification #2 Bulb Shutter Speed

Why do you want a bulb shutter speed?  The term bulb is an old camera term for a shutter speed that was open for as long as you squeezed a pneumatic bulb.  It is usually used for long exposures used to record star trails, auto light streaks, lightning, painting with light or just photography in a really dim environment.

OK, for this modification, we’ll be using dental floss to tie a lead to the actual shutter paddle.  The target spot for the floss is the lug on the paddle that has one end of the spring attached.  Tie the dental floss to the lug and snip off the tail as with the last modification.

Again, we will thread the floss out the left side of the camera.  However, this time its route is a little more torturous. You will need to cut a path through the support plastic on the left side so the floss won’t bind when the lens board is replaced. The plastic is soft and you could cut a trough, but I used a dremel tool to grind it out.  I guess you could also melt it away with a soldering iron.  The key is to have a smooth passageway.  Route the floss over the bulge of the take-up chamber and to the side of the camera.

Once your floss is through the channel, you can remount the lens board assembly.  Align the lens board and push down.  It will click into place.  Secure it with the lone screw.  Check the operation of your new Bulb shutter speed by lightly pulling on the floss.  The shutter paddle should rotate out of the way of the lens.  If it does not, it is probably binding.  Take the lens board off again and reseat the floss through the channel you created.

Like the last modification, you will have to drill a smooth hole in the side of the front plate to feed the floss through.

Step 6: Modification #3 the Swing-In Filter

Why do you need a swing-in filter?  Filters are used for many purposes in photography, but generally not geared toward cheap toy cameras.  If you want to use a filter on your toy camera, you have to hold the filter up to the front of the camera with one hand and press the shutter with the other…at best, awkward.   If you use a filter often enough, it is nice to have the option to have it built into the camera.  The way the camera is designed, only gel type filters can be used.  Where can you get these filters?  The professional color gel companies often will sell you a sample swatches of just about any color…a great resource for these types of projects.  You can use any color you would like, a neutral density filter, a polarizer (although you won’t be able to rotate the filter), or a Fresnel lens if you are feeling particularly adventurous.  I chose a diffraction grating for this project.  It was from a pair of cardboard glasses designed as “firework watching” glasses.  They give rainbow highlights to strong light sources…like being on an LSD trip without all the problems of taking illegal drugs.

The first thing we need to do is defeat the shutter lockout when the lens cover is on.  The sliding mechanism simply blocks the shutter from  being tripped.  use a file, exacto knife or rotory tool to remove the small peice of plastic that prevents the shutter mechanism from firing.

Next take the lens cover paddle and gring or ream out the interior until it has an open space in the middle.  Once you get it where you want it, dress the hole with a razor knife to keep it smooth as possble.

Mix up your glue and apply to the a ring.  Glue your filter to the ring and trim off any excess once dry or cured (in the case of epoxy).

Step 7: Modification #4 Redscale Chamber

Why do you want a redscale chamber?  Glad you asked.  Redscaling refers to shooting film the wrong way.  You take the photo through the antihalation layer.  The light hits the film layers in the wrong order, so you get red or sometimes yellow photos. Just another fun thing you can do with film.  This will turn your PN2011 into a bicam (bi=2, cam=camera).

OK, set aside the camera guts and concentrate on the back.  The idea is to cut away the back enough to expose the film, but leaving enought to guide the film through the camera.  Luckily, the markings on the back can be used as a guide.

Once you have the hole in the back, its time to glue on your box.  I used the box from some old iZone film.  I glued my pinhole in the box before I put the box on the back.

I used epoxy for strength and gap filling capability.  However, it is clear and will pipe light where it should not be, so I made it black with a sharpie.

Step 8: Putting It Back Together (almost Done)

Once everything is dry or cured, it is time to make this look like a camera again.  Basically reversing the taking it apart instructions.

Fit your new modified back on the camera.

Replace the spring latch part and the shutter release button.

Ensure your dental floss moves freely and thread through the holes you drilled in the side.

Fit the front and back together.

Replace the four screws.

There you go.

Step 9: Finishing Touches

I glued a magnet on the face of the camera and tied the floss pieces to some steel washers.  The washers, stuck to the magnet  keeps tension off the shutter mechanisms inside and preserves the 1/250 shutter speed (it may be a little bit slower, but not by much).

If you hang the multiple exposure thread with washer down instead of stuck to the magnet, you can get a slower shutter speed although I don't know what that is... we'll see.

I'll use my favorite pinhole shutter (black electrical tape) most of the time, but since the pin hole is pretty big, I built a fast reaction shutter with a magnet, some black closed cell foam and a clam clip (a new age version of the paper clip). With practice you can get down to 1/25 of a second.

Well, there ya go...from a one trick pony to a several trick pony.  Once I run through a roll of film, I'll update this instructable with some photos from the modified camera.

So dig out your old PN2011 and make some mods and then some great images before Lomography folks discover it and jack up the price 1000%.

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    13 Discussions


    5 years ago

    Confused. How does the multiple exposure thing work? I keep pulling my thread but nothing happens.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction


    For this instructable, I had 2 strings coming out of the camera. One for the bulb feature and one for the multiple exposure feature. Make sure you have the correct one! You may be just opening the shutter. The multiple exposure one pulls a mechanism to recock the shutter. Hope this helps!


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Um, yeah, I can tell the difference between the two. I take a picture, pull the string, but am unable to take another on the same frame.

    Uncle Kudzu
    Uncle Kudzu

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Below is a pinhole photograph made with the Vivitar PN2011.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Pretty cool! Modifying a simple camera like this into a pinhole camera has a lot of advantages. It is light tight, has a film transport mechanism and a built in shutter (the lens cover). Since the pinhole produces the image through diffraction instead of refraction, no one should complain about the quality of the lens!

    Uncle Kudzu
    Uncle Kudzu

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for pointing out that this camera has a tripod socket. I found one for 0.99$ at the local thrift store and I'm getting ready to pinhole mine for the upcoming Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.


    help! after taking it apart my shutter won't work anymore. it still makes the clicky noise when it winds but the shutter doesn't click


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction


    Don't panic! The most likely cause is that you tightened the lens board screws too much. This pinches the space the shutter paddle occupies and the paddle can't move. You will hear a click, but the shutter does not fire.

    Disassemble your camera again and loosen the screws that hold the lens board. Do a few tests by cycling the shutter a few times to make sure it fires before you put the front cover back on.

    Good luck!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Do you think this will also work for the Vivitar Ultrawide and Slim? its basically the same thing but more panoramic-y


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, you can do these types of hacks with the Vivitar UW&S. Check out this instructable:

    Lots of good hacks.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    this is awesome. Thanks so much for sharing. Ill be sure to do this


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I'd encourage you to modify it!  It is really easy and fun.  I tried to format the instructable so you could do any single modification or all depending on your needs.

    Even if you don't, the PN2011 is a pretty snazzy camera and fun to shoot.  I like putting it an enormous tripod and watch the reactions.  Most people are convinced it is some cool new digital!