Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pinhole Conversion

Over the last month I have attended a couple of shows at a local art gallery... the first was the opening of a pinhole photography show called "Slowing the Selfie", the second was a talk/lecture/informative meeting about pinhole photography in general, and how to create a pinhole camera with a 3D printer.  I've met some friendly and enthusiastic local film photographers through these shows... I can't really describe how nice it is to babble openly about shooting film and have the response be "I totally get it!" smiles instead of "Oh... isn't that nice for you..." wary glances.

For a few years now I've had this idea simmering in the back of my mind to convert my grandfather's Graflex Century Graphic camera into a pinhole camera.  The bellows are light tight, I have a back for it that takes 120 film, and I'd end up with relatively large negatives (2.25" x 3.25").  The lens that came with it still works, so I didn't want to take that apart, and I decided to keep my eyes out for a replacement lensboard.  This project was not always on the forefront of my mind, but every few months I would poke around Ebay, not see what I was looking for, and wander off to a different project instead.  It was my frustration with not finding the lensboard that originally prompted me to buy the Viddy kit to build - that camera also takes 120 film, although the format is square and the negatives are therefore smaller.  After the first pinhole photography show I searched Ebay and found a lensboard that I thought would work, however it turns out it is far too large.  (Anybody need a lensboard for a Speedgraphic?)

I brainstormed a bit with some of the folks at the pinhole talk, and considered maybe using a 3D printer to just make a lensboard, but the edge has a flange that would be too thin for a 3D printer to create. Someone suggested I just cut one out of foam core.  I have plenty of that laying around in my craft room, but the foam core is too thick and also white.  Then I was chatting about options with my husband one evening, and the conversation went like this...

"Foam core is too thick, I need something thinner.  I could use poster board but it would be too flimsy.  Maybe I could make it out of fimo clay?  But that probably wouldn't end up being perfectly flat.  What I need is something about as thick as a photo matboard.
I suppose I could just use some photo matboard."

The funny thing is, I have GOBS of photo matboard scraps stuffed in my craft closet.

The only other thing I was missing was a pinhole.  In theory a pinhole is easy to make, people make them out of foil, beer cans, whatever scrap of tin/brass/etc... one can find.  I understand the concept of making one, but I also know that I wanted one drilled to a precise measurement so that I can make sure the image fills the frame of the negative, and so that I can calculate the exposure properly... and I knew I would be able to do that on my very first try.  Thankfully the inventor who gave the pinhole talk happens to make pinholes in batches, and has extra large ones sitting around his lab, so he was kind enough to pop one in the mail to me.

From there, the conversion was simple:

The Tools: Camera, matboard, opaque tape, pinhole, x-acto knife, pencil, ruler from my sewing gear.
Remove the lensboard, set on matboard trace, and cut out
Place matboard on camera and check to see the sides are light-tight
Cut hole in center of matboard and center the pinhole 
check to make sure the pinhole is centered
Tape pinhole on the backside of lensboard with opaque tape, covering all shiny brass parts
Attach new lensboard to front of camera


I will probably tape the outer edges of the lensboard just to ensure that there is absolutely no chance of light leaks around the sides, but from all my flashlight tests it seems to be really secure.  Now I just need time and a place to run a test roll... perhaps this weekend.

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