Handmade Rustic Pinhole

At the end of April, it was World Pinhole Day. As I recently made a one-use-only matchbox pinhole camera, I decided to go all out and build my own reusable pinhole camera for this year’s event. I wanted to make it as cheaply as possible. This was mainly due to the fact my only experience with woodworking was at school, 30+ years ago. I figured I could work on this ‘prototype’ and then make a second one next year which would improve on this first one. I would say design, but I didn’t design it. I just found some wood and went, “Hmm, that might work.”

My father keeps budgies, not as off-track as you think, he often makes things for the cages. That means we have pieces of wood lying around. I looked through it all and found a piece that was fairly flat and even. It wasn’t perfect but it seemed a good place to start.

Now I had a box that was slightly longer than a 120 roll. As for the depth of the box, I did actually do some preparation for that.

For this camera, I wanted to use a better pinhole than my matchbox so I ordered 3 laser drilled ones from Reality So Subtle. At that point I didn’t know which one I wanted so I ordered a 2mm, a 3mm, and a 4mm version.

Before I started to build my version, I did a bit of research into the optimal focal length I needed for each pinhole. I read this article and used this calculator. In the article, he used a 0.3mm pinhole so I used the same focal length of 66.49mm (ish, as I am not that precise at cutting wood)

I then sawed and sanded a front piece to my box, marking where the pinhole would sit. At this point, I realised the wood I had was the wrong choice. It was too rough, hard, and uneven to make the insides or a light-tight back.

So after making this piece and I waited for a planer to arrive to even out where the back would sit, for magnets to work the shutter and attach the back, and for some balsa wood to make to inside parts. That wood would be easier to cut to size and be less scratchy on the film. The project was getting a little more expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as buying a fancy pinhole camera.

Anyway, once those pieces had arrived, I got back to the task.

I made a shutter and added a tripod mount.

Look at that fantastic nail job. I eventually put some foam around the tripod mount to act as a cushion to stop it from wobbling so much.

Next, I made the inside sections and put in a little extra wood to cover the light leaks. There were some other smaller leaks, but I figured I could fix those with paint. I also realised I had made it all far too deep and not high enough. The film spool sat back far too much so I added more wood to bring it forward. That would be something to fix in the next version. The lack of height meant I had trouble securing the take-up spool. I couldn’t fit anything to stop it from moving around too much. I ended up putting a screw in that I could move up and down. That system caused its own issues as the screw thread caught on the spool making it hard to advance, another area for improvement.

Once I had made the back, I also made a rudimentary winder and painted the insides black.

To see if the winder worked, I tried a dummy spool with just the paper. The spool caught on the screw and the winder snapped.

So I swapped it for a small screwdriver wrapped in foam. The article I linked to used guitar knobs, I will use these in the next version. For now, this would work…I think.

So here it is, the final version of my prototype pinhole, which I named “The Rustic”. Oh, and I made a red window to see the film numbers. Due to the depth of the back, I had to add extra wood to the back to keep it secure. This also acted as a light shield, but it made the numbers hard to see. I also added foam to the back for extra protection. The magnets I added didn’t quite keep the back in place as the pieces of wood were uneven, rubberbands fixed that. I actually made the back out of plywood as it was flatter. The next version will be made of this wood as it was much easier to cut and use.

I loaded some Ilford HP5 I got at an Ilford walk and took photos in my garden. When I finally developed the results, I was ecstatic. There was no overlapping, the exposures were good, there were no light leaks, but there was a dull section in one corner.

I made the camera a 6×8, so I got 8 shots, I missed one shot as I couldn’t see the numbers easily. Here are the 7 other shots.

I was happy with the results, they were better than I have gotten from other pinhole cameras but the black corner bugged me. I figured it was from the naff hole I made in the ‘too thick’ wood for the pinhole so I made it slightly wider and thinner on the inside.

For the next test, I loaded a roll of Kentmere 100 and went a little further afield. During the first test, I notice the roll didn’t quite wind on properly. It got jammed right at the end of the roll and the screwdriver eventually broke the take-up spool. Basically, I put the hole too close to the internal wood parts and it got stuck on that and the screw. It happened again on this outing. I can’t fix the issue on this version, but will on the next. I have a list of things to work on for the next version.

Here are the results from that roll, again missing one shot.

Yeah, no black corner and a reloaded pinhole camera.

So where to take it for World Pinhole Day?

I ended up deciding on Middleton Woods, near Ilkley. I love that place in springtime. Where better to spend the day and this time I would use colour film. I put that link to the woods there as I haven’t done that walk and would like to…maybe next year with version 2.

This time I loaded a roll of Kodak Ekta. I checked the reciprocity rate for this film and it gave an exposure of 2:47 minutes for the measured exposure of 90 seconds. The black and white films were all between 9-16 seconds, so these were much longer.

Here are the results…all 8 of them, Kodak numbers were much easier to see.

These longer exposures seem to have enhanced the pale section in the middle, could it be a light leak or a reflection inside somewhere??

Either way, I am really pleased with the results and yes, I did carry my Ant Man toy around the woods. This will probably be my final outing with The Rustic as I plan to make version 2, a multi-format pinhole for next year.

I chose one image for the online WPH gallery which you can see here… online gallery here.

Interestingly, as I was wandering the woods with the camera a few people stopped for a chat. They said they had made a pinhole camera at school, I never did. Maybe if I had, The Rustic would be less rustic. Hopefully, version two will have a different name.

Ooh, I just realised…now I have made two cameras I can add a section to the Camera Post List!

My own section 🙂


8 thoughts on “Handmade Rustic Pinhole

  1. Clare Williams says:

    Really interesting and I especially love the colour shots. The one with the stream is my absolute favourite and the white light leak only adds to the ethereal quality of the image.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aly says:

    This is awesome Peggy. I have a pinhole camera I created from a kit someone gifted me but haven’t had a chance to use it yet. I think I’m a bit intimidated by it, but now you’ve got me really wanting to try.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. brineb58 says:

    Fantastic work and results!!! I made an oatmeal box camera way back in the 70s when I was in college … then in the early 2000s I heard about WPD and found instructions online to make a foamcore 4×5 camera which I used a few times (I did buy a laser drilled hole) I have a few commercially made pinhole cameras, but there is something magical about building your own!!! I have yet to attempt color film, but I may soon!!!


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