The simple pleasures of pinhole camera photography
It seems like I needed a trip back to my photography roots. The good old days when film was king. How about a quick shout-out for the Kodak Tri-X 400? I must have shot a million rolls of the stuff.
I go back to the Kodak Brownie days, taking photos looking through a muddled viewfinder trying to capture the action. Next came dropping off the film at my local camera store and waiting for those prints to return along with the negatives. Sharing those magic moments was what it was all about. How about flash bulbs?
Did I mention anything about actually advancing the film and rewinding manually? Seems like it was so long ago. I couldn’t have imagined how far photo technology would progress back then. Taking digital photos with your phone would never have crossed my mind. I’m still waiting for that flying car. I wonder if that’s going to happen in my lifetime. Actually, technology is moving faster than I thought, there’s flying car news this week.
To re-create the past, I decided to pick up a film camera at Freestyle Photography Supplies in Hollywood. They have so many choices but I zeroed in on the P-Sharan STD-35 Pinhole Camera Kit priced around $27. The prices of the different pinhole cameras varied from about $200 to $12 depending on the materials it’s made from including: teakwood, plastic, cardboard or a paint can.
This was really going back to the basics. Taking a photo with film, a box and a pinhole to let in light. It couldn’t get any easier. This camera was perfect, it used 35mm film and featured a f/130 f=22mm lens — I mean pinhole.
It is made out of cardboard and took about about an hour to assemble. It was ingenious the way they built the kit. There was no need for glue or scissors. They did use these tiny pieces of double-sided tape which were a tad hard to handle.
After assembling the camera in record time I’m still trying to track the official time. It was time to take a few photographs. A tripod was a must, the camera featured a tripod mount which stuck to the bottom of the camera. It was a little tricky moving the cardboard shutter up and down without nudging the camera.
The exposure was listed on the camera back: with IS0 100 film the exposure was 2-3 seconds for sunny skies, 3-4 seconds for cloudy conditions and 10 minutes for moon light. All my exposures seemed fine, usually about 3 or 4 seconds with ISO film. They looked pretty much the same.
Next, with my camera loaded with ISO 200 35mm color print film, I ventured to three different locations: downtown Los Angeles, the Huntington Beach Pier, and the Great Park in Irvine.
The objective of this experiment: Was it going to be more fun taking photographs with film and a pinhole camera or just point and click with my cellphone? It certainly seemed like more of an adventure. First of all, there’s no viewfinder. So this is really the front-runner of point-and-shoot cameras.
My first attempts were very wide angle and devoid of people. With the long exposures, people just walked in and out of my frame. Not everyone stands still. I did cheat a little and had the film processed at the local drugstore and scanned the film into the computer using my Canon 8800F scanner.
I just wasn’t in the mood to go too far back to my photo roots. I don’t miss developing film. Making prints always seemed like the real art. Of course, I really don’t miss the chemicals either, plus I’d still be setting up a darkroom instead of getting this blog post done. You need to draw the line somewhere.
When I walked though the aisles of paper, film and chemistry at Freestyle, it really did bring back some great memories of my early days in photography. There wasn’t anything quite like watching that great black-and-white print magically develop in the tray.
It’s great that many schools still teach the old traditional styles of photography. Freestyle also sells the popular styles of the Holga cameras, which have had a resurgence as the retro film trend becomes more popular.
The Huntington Beach Pier was my first stop, but a late start and the fog made it a tough shoot. And yet, maybe the inclement conditions made for a more interesting photograph.
The last location was the Great Park in Irvine, which featured a nice orange balloon and carousel. I did get talked into going up in the tethered helium balloon, which reaches a height of 400 feet. I don’t like heights, but they did mention a 104-year-old had gone up for a ride, so it really seemed safe, I told myself. After the ride I was ready for more. What a quick, nice ride and view of Irvine.
How about the results? Shooting with a film camera like a pinhole or Holga is an experience that everyone who enjoys photography should try. It really does slow the experience down to its raw form. It’s a lot of work. I guess I am really spoiled by the digital age or maybe just getting lazy. My iPhone and Canon D7 are so convenient to use and the quality of photos and video is outstanding. It’s really tough to compare them to using film, it’s really more a matter of taking the time to capture the image and enjoying the art of photography.
July 9, 2011, 1:58 pm
I use antique cameras all the time. It's an important point in all of my courses. Some of my best photos are from a Diana I found at a vintage store and bought for 2 bucks.
July 9, 2011, 2:58 pm
In this fast paced, digital world, it's nice to remember a simple time – like when you got your first camera and what kind it was (a kodak, in a brown leather case) thanks for the memories!
July 11, 2011, 3:18 am
So, do you like your 7D?
July 11, 2011, 5:42 pm
I think you mean 7D for the Canon, not D7. Regardless. Good article!
July 3, 2015, 12:41 pm
She says I love pinhole cameras. I took 2 with me to Europe in 1999. First let me say, the cameras were custom made for me by Dallas artist Edward Ruiz. And they used photo paper – not film. Waaay back to basics. The cameras are true works of art and alas, were too cumbersome to use daily. I did manage to get a few great shots that I treausre; one in London and one in Italy. The artist was kind enough to develop the prints for me. I personally have never had the patience for dark rooms. I'd like to fit the cameras for film and try more. the artists website is here in case you're curious: http://edwardruizart.blogspot.com/
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