A Leica pinhole camera?

I do Leica bit of fudge when making a pincam …

A wee pressie from my sister. She thought it was just a novelty tin of sweets but I knew what it really was … and I do Leica fudge or two when making a pincam!

Preparatory stage – hard work!
Repurposing commences.
Simple pinhole repurposing tool.
The pinhole (RUFLI 0.3mm) … see my last blog for an explanation of RUFLI.
Lightproofing materials, felt, paint and tape.
Felt strip applied to lid.
Flat black painted inner and baffle constructed from foamcore and tape.
Inserting the baffle.
The baffle also holds the photo paper in place.
In camera the image is inverted and reversed.
6-minute car journey exposure on Direct Positive paper.

RUFLI – the pinhole unit of measure

Pinhole photography is an excercise in the art of approximation and imprecision, a venture into the realms of serendipity.

Everything to do with pinhole photography is measured in RUFLIs: The diameter of the hole made by the pin can be fairly accurately measured but in reality a regular pin, for instance, makes a hole that is RUFLI 0.5 mm across, the distance from the pinhole to the image plane might be RUFLI 75 mm making the aperture RUFLI f/150. On a sunny day with regular photo paper the required exposure would be somewhere in the region of (i.e. RUFLI) ten seconds or so.

RUFLI should be pronounced ‘roughly’.

My mobility of late has been hampered by a torn calf muscle and photography has had to take a back seat. However, today I hobbled out with a tin can punctured by a pin, the hole sealed by a piece of electrical tape, and the screw-on lid sealed from light leaks by a strip of sticky-backed felt. Inside the can was a sheet of 5″x7″ Ilford MGIV RC Silk photo paper. My mission was to make a shoreline exposure of the paper in the can. Mission completed, here’s how it went.

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The observant may notice a few things in these photographs of the coffee-tin pincam:

  • The pinhole is positioned about three-quarters of the way up the can, not dead-centre as might be expected. This is not a mistake! When the pinhole is centred, so will be the horizon. By positioning the pinhole as I have I can raise or lower the horizon giving greater emphasis to sky or foreground depending on whether the can is upright or upside-down.
  • I’ve labelled the pincam with what look like accurate measurements of P.D., diameter and aperture, ignoring the RUFLI unit of pinhole measurement. This is merely an illusion created by the number of decimal places used. Had space on the label permitted, each parameter would have been prefixed ‘approx.’.
  • I refer to P.D. – Projection Distance. All too often the distance between the pinhole and the image plane is erroniously referred to as the focal length. However, ‘focal length’ correctly refers to the distance from the nodal point of a lens to the plane of focus of the lens. In a pinhole camera there is no lens and therefore there can be no focal length. Light projects through the aperture of the pinhole and continues to the image plane. ‘Projection Distance’ is simply the use of accurate terminology and is RUFLI correct.

For my image of the shoreline I wanted more foreground than sky so I turned the can upside-down.

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I developed the paper negative in Ilford Multigrade diluted RUFLI 1+9 at RUFLI 17ºC until it looked OK-ish in the darkroom safe-light. I only took RUFLI 35 seconds or so.

Once dry I scanned the paper negative and inverted it to a positive in software. After a bit of tweaking of levels, these are the scanned negative and positive images.

shoreline negative
shoreline positive

There. I’ve hobbled happily with a pincam and my leg is so much better now an image has been made.

I’m thinking the paper is a bit fogged and could do with a tad more contrast. That might be due to light bouncing around the exposed shiny interior of the can. A quick spray of the inside with flat black paint should solve that for next time. Or it might be that the bedsheet I used to create a dark space in which to load the paper into the pincam was only RUFLI effective …


Making Contact

A weekend’s confinement due to mishap turned into a successfully useful photographic time.

As a result of an unintended upending on a flight of steps I’ve found myself confined to the house nursing torn calf ligaments. It’s been rather frustrating sitting around with my leg up (in more ways than one!) over a fine, bright weekend when I’d much rather have been out and about with a camera.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and I put my confinement to good use finalising the details of a talk I’ve been asked to give later this week, making a(nother) pinhole camera and doing a bit of contact printing on hand-coated paper. Put like that I’ve had quite a busy weekend!

The talk is for the Democratic Camera Club which meets on the first Thursday of each month at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh. I had been asked some time ago to give a talk in November but just last month was asked if I could bring it forward to October so my preparation time has been at a premium. I’ll be talking about pinhole photography, showing examples of the work of several contemporary artists and photographers who use the characteristics inherent in pinhole photography to realise their vision in their images. I’ll be including my own Continuum project in the presentation.

The opening slide for my forthcoming talk.

My friend Oonagh Devoy had asked me a few days ago for some advice about converting an old suitcase into a pinhole camera. With our exchange still fresh in my mind and nothing better to do I set about making a model suitcase pincam from mountboard. Based on a fairly standard box within a box design, the construction was straightforward but did present a challenge for preventing light leakage around the opening lid of the ‘case’.

Having completed my construction I looked out the paper I’d coated with SE1 Emulsion a couple of months ago, loaded a sheet into the model suitcase pincam and hobbled outside to try it out. With an aperture of about f/128 and projection distance of 30mm I gave a one minute exposure in the good bright sunlight of the day.

Model Suitcase Pincam with first test image

With the paper exposed, one thing led to another and I just had to get my darkroom set up. I managed without too much difficulty and decided to make use of the setup to make a few contact prints from some of my glass plates on other sheets of the SE1 Emulsion coated paper.


So there it is. A weekend’s confinement due to mishap turned into a successfully useful and enjoyable photographic time. Can’t complain really. However, it might be a different matter hobbling about with a stick at work tomorrow!