My Lo-fi Technology

I’ve taken a hiatus from this blog for the past four months, mainly because my wife and I had a second child in March. But I’m starting to feel almost human again and have begun to find time to devote to my photography. I have a number of posts in the works but decided to start by going back to the beginning — with some basic technical information on my cameras and film.

To some degree my interest in pinhole photography has always been shaped by a low-level aversion to technology, so writing down these details presents enough challenges that I actually have to look up some of the specifics. In any case, for those of you that find this stuff interesting, here’s the background on my lo-fi technology:

Cameras

The camera I’ve used for most of the past 25 years is a small cardboard box built by my friend Randal Hunting. Randal followed the basic structure of a camera designed by Peter Olpe, a teacher who for many years used pinhole photography in his classes at the Basel School of Design. Olpe developed a design that worked well enough that he sold it commercially, and recently I’ve been using one of these models. The pinhole on Olpe’s camera is slightly smaller (.20 mm) than the one on my first camera and the resulting images slightly sharper. The focal length is roughly 28 mm. Exposure time, depending on the available light and film speed, is between 1-6 seconds in bright sunlight, 2-16 seconds in overcast light, and up to several minutes or more in low light.

Randal also very generously made me a more complex variation on his initial camera, one that allows exposing two frames at a time, thus creating panorama images. I love the proportions of these photos, as well as the lack of a wide angle effect, the result of a curved back on the camera.

I also have a Santa Barbara 4×5 sheet film camera that I’ve used over the years. It produces terrific shots, but the challenge with a large format camera like this is obviously that taking photos is a more complex undertaking than with roll film. But if you’re up for it, or just have to have the large negatives, the Santa Barbara is a nice camera. It’s available for purchase on pinholecamera.com.

Last week a friend forwarded me a link to a new Kickstarter project, ONDU Pinhole Cameras. This family of of six wooden pinhole cameras is made by Elvis Halilović, an industrial designer, photographer, and carpenter in Slovenia. The cameras look gorgeous, and on the basis of that alone I bought one. Beauty aside, the cameras include some features I particularly like. The designs are simple and clean, with a minimum of moving parts and pieces, all held together with strong magnets. The simple design means that changing film should be relatively painless (my current camera is wrapped in black plastic and held together with glue tape, so changing film takes some doing). The cameras come with a standard tripod mount, something I’ve been dreaming about for years. And finally, in contrast to the inevitable wear and tear my cardboard box cameras sustain, the ONDU promises to be sturdy enough to last a life-time. Pinhole sizes on the ONDU cameras range from .20 to .30 mm, while the focal length ranges from 25 mm to 60 mm. Unfortunately I’ll have to hold my breath until October to get my camera — ONDU’s Kickstarter campaign has been so successful that they have a long list of orders to fulfill.

Film

Olpe’s camera, as well as the Ondu, are both designed to hold medium format film. 120 film has a protective backing, which allows you to change it in broad daylight. It also has numbers on the backing, which enable you to determine how far to roll the film for each exposure. I generally use Kodak T-MAX (100 ASA) or Kodak Tri-X (400 ASA) for my black and white film and Fujicolor Pro for color — again, either 100 or 400. A low-light film I haven’t tried yet, but hope to soon based on reviews by the folks at Lomography.com is Ilford’s Delta 3200 Professional.

A special thanks to Peter Olpe and my friends Randal Hunting and Brad Clemmons (who studied with Olpe in the mid 1980s), without whom none of this pinhole business would have come to pass.

Olpe camera

Peter Olpe’s 6×6 pinhole camera, made from the Olpe & Bussiek assembly kit.

Hunting camera

Randal Hunting’s homemade panorama pinhole camera.

Santa Barbara Camera

4×5 Santa Barbara pinhole camera.

6x12_multi_frontal_913

ONDU 6 x12 multi-format pinhole camera. Photo © ONDU 2013.

Top banner photo © Bluebarn Pictures 2011.