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Pinhole with digital cameras

Digital pinhole is for some a bit of a contradiction in terms. The great Gregg Kemp wrote an essay, 'What happened to pinhole photography' if you want to have a think about it further. I also I far prefer colour negative 35mm cameras. (See instructions here) but digital, it is too accessible a technique to ignore so I will share a few mutterings with you. It isn't so much photography, more painting with light.  

I far prefer colour negative 35mm cameras. (See instructions here) 

To create a sharp pinhole image the pinhole needs to be close to the film plane. This is tricky with most DSLRs as the CCDs are fairly small (about half the size of 35mm in area) and are recessed into a camera. Even if you could get the pinhole into the lens barrel it would be impossible to get a wide angle (and therefore sharp) image. Full frame DSLRs are better but this problem is still there.

The best digital cameras to use are either Medium format (pricey) or mirrorless 4/3 cameras with interchangeable lenses. The best by far is the Pinwide (available here) which also opens up pinhole video. 
After saying this, here's how to do it!

DSLR pinhole

Materials. You will need:

  • A DSLR (Full frame is best but don’t worry about it)

  • 5cm square of aluminium from a drink can

  • A pin (dressmaking or thin needle is best)

  • Body cap with hole drilled innit.

  • Flashgun (or mobile phone light)

body cap.jpg

Construction (Video here)

Cut a 5cm square from your aluminium can and flatten it out. Make sure the metal is washed and dry.

Get your pin or needle and, very carefully, start lightly drilling into the aluminium until just the very end of the needle pokes through. If you have a fine piece of emery board with practice you can make pinholes around 0.2 of a mm in diameter, you can see how wide your pinhole is by holding it up against a ruler. Anything half a mm or less will be fine.

Cut out the aluminium pinhole and tape it to the inside of your body cap.

4 Measuring the hole.jpg

Taking images


The viewfinder will be too dark to see through (half the fun!). Set the camera up on a tripod or chair in front to a wall.

Work out where the angle of view is by getting a friend to look through the viewfinder and see where a torch or flash going off is visible.
At this point put a small marker (blu tack) on the wall. When you have done all four corners, you have your frame to work within. (Keep the camera stationery)
This will give you a 'canvas' area to work within for long exposures, lighting, studio flash etc. 

DSLR pinhole studio.jpg

Taking images

Hand held 

Using the camera in a 'normal' way is usually disappointing. The image wont be sharp and aiming it (due to the telephoto nature) is tricky. You will also need to crank up the auto contrast. Its worth experimentation but dont expect to replicate Ansel Adams. One area that does work is pointing the camera into the sun which also enables exposures short enough to eliminate camera shake
Many hand held images will require cranking up the auto contrast. Its worth experimentation but dont expect to replicate Ansel Adams. Far better to:

Hand held flash

Using a flash: eliminates camera shake, freezes movement and (due to the need to use the flash very close) opens up the unlimited depth of field obtainable with a pinhole. The flashgun needs to be set to manual (full power) and pointed at the subject held no further then 4cm. The ISO should be set on around 800. Often the auto exposure within the camera results in the correct exposure to occur.  I usually end up pointing the camera at parts of my anatomy but other ideas could be: pouring liquid, falling cake decorations, etc. 
Other ideas can include: Depict a journey, a self-portrait for the time it takes to read a page of a book, place flowers on top of the pinhole with camera on its back, combinations of flash and movement can also be used in any of these images. 

digital eye.jpg
digital teeth.jpg

Mobile phone lights

Never tried this but I reckon its worth a bash!.  

Pinhole Video
Incredibly tricky but worth a bash! There’s quite a few on the web but many are fairly rubbish as people use them the same as they would a normal video camera. This really is a place where your brain is the viewfinder!

  • Wait till its sunny.

  • Set your camera to as high an ISO as you can
    (be aware at these heady heights the
    ‘auto setting on your camera will give up!)

  • Set your camera on video mode.

  • Accept you wont be able to see anything,

  • Eat some messy food!

  • Put in long grass and slowly take off

The best pinhole video in the world ever here! (Me and Katy at Falmouth Uni!)

sony pinhole camers.jpg
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