Pinhole magic on the trail

I carry two cameras on the trail, the Argus C3 and the Ondu 135 pinhole.

I’ve already talked about the Argus and shown you what it can do.

So what’s with this other magical little box? Why would I want to add such a thing to my already too-heavy pack?

What is a pinhole camera?

Pinhole cameras don’t have lenses, that bit of glass in front that lets you focus in and get those nice, sharp images. Pinhole cameras, as the name suggests, have only a tiny hole on the front end to let in the light. If you make one yourself, the hole is likely to be a literal pinhole in some suitable soft metal. My home-modified pinhole has a piece of a Genesee Beer can (making it a truly Rochester camera). Most modern commercial builds, like my Ondu 135, have wonderfully precise laser-drilled holes. Is one better than the other? It depends on what you are looking for. The Ondu cameras have much less distortion, but my home-modified camera has distortions of a quite delightful nature.

Having a pinhole out front instead of a lens means…

  • Exposure time is a lot longer, from a second or two up to hours or even days. I always use a tripod or other steady-rest.
  • Everything is in focus, from as close to the camera as you can get it on out to infinity. Window screens look really interesting from a quarter of an inch away. Others have demonstrated the same for assorted body parts.
  • Everything is a bit fuzzy. How fuzzy depends on the size of the pinhole and the size of the film. The bigger the film the sharper the image.
  • Figuring out exposure time is challenging. If you can measure the size of the pinhole and its distance from the film there are calculations available. Otherwise you guess and record the results and build yourself an exposure chart.

The home brew version

Wikipedia tells me that Argus sold approximately 2 million copies C3 model during its 27-year production run. There are lots of them still and circulation and available inexpensively on eBay and the like. I had five C3 camera bodies at last check. One of them had a completely jammed lens. I decided to put the body to good use by converting it to a pinhole. The lens was so badly jammed that I had to knock the glass out with a cold chisel. (Oh, did that hurt.) After that I could disassemble the lens and mount my beer-can pinhole in it. It took a couple tries, but I ended up with a quite usable camera. I took one of my favorite photographs ever I took with that camera back in 2016, holding again a power pole while on my two-mile noon walk.

The Ondu 135

I have two Ondu pinhole cameras. The 6×6 shoots roughly 6×6 centimeter squares with medium-format (e.g., 120) film. The 135 uses 35 mm film. (The 1 in the 135 refers to “35 mm in a can”, now the standard packaging.) Both are exquisite little bits of cabinetry.

When I’m in the mood to shoot 120 film I use the Ondu 6×6 pinhole and my faithful Yashica-D Twins Lens Reflex (TLR). You will meet both eventually.

Lately I’ve been shooting 35 mm film with the Argus C3 and the Ondu 135, shown here on one of my recent Letchworth jaunts.

Show me the pictures!

My Instagram followers have seen many of my pinhole photos, both on the trail and having a post-trail brew. Sometimes I even include the sprocket holes. I took this one by the Genesee River bank in Letchworth State Park a few weeks back.

I took the following photographs on my along the Gibsonville trails at Letchworth that I wrote about two weeks ago.

For the photography geeks, I shot these on Kodak DXN 400 (black and white film designed for color processing) and cross-processed the film in D76 instead of sending them out to a lab. It was a less than wildly successful experiment. I edited the in negative scans the Gimp to tweak all possible contrast from the really awful negatives. I loaded my faithful Ilford HP5 Plus in the camera for the next round.

The chimney is all that remains of the officers’ quarters from the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corp work camp

You get really interesting flares when you point a pinhole camera toward the sun.

Steve / pearwood
Soli Deo Gloria

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Comments 4

  • dave beaty : Dec 30th

    Always fun to see your stuff Steve

    • pearwood : Dec 30th

      Thanks, Dave.

  • John Potter : Jan 1st

    Fascinating. And long live the Flower City!

    • pearwood : Jan 1st

      Thanks. Yes!


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