Fixing a wayward pinhole

As someone more used to creating pinholes I took a twisted delight in sealing up one in the bellows of a junk-shop find.

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Just a few weeks ago my younger daughter gave to me for Father’s Day, a Vest Pocket Kodak Model B camera that she had spotted in a junk shop window. She sure knows the way to my heart!

The camera was clean and appeared to be in good condition. The shutter worked smoothly and the aperture stop control rotated with just the right detent at each stop. The bellows were clean looked to be in good order and the lens assembly pulled out and clicked into place as it should. All that was missing was the scribe for the Autographic function – by sliding open a door on the camera back information could be scratched though the film backing paper and exposed to light to write the information onto the film itself.

Junk shop find for Father’s Day.

It took a bit longer to work out how to open the film chamber. Researching on line for instructions and other information identified that the camera was an early model. Production began in 1925 and in 1928 the method of opening the film chamber was changed from two sprung buttons on the side of the film chamber to a lever worked from the front. My camera has the sprung buttons on the side so is pre-1928. I also came across the suggestion that that my example, made by the Canadian Kodak Co. of Toronto was not only an early model but one that may also be relatively rare. On the other hand it is very common for these cameras to be found minus their Autographic scribe!

One of four apertures is set by rotating a disc situated in front of the lens: They are numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4 but with a bit of careful measuring I calculated them to be f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32 respectively. The shutter has two settings, T for Timed and I for Instantaneous which sounds like something around 1/40 second. The final twist is that the shutter lever operates in both directions.

With all that information the camera took on quite an exciting prospect and I duly sourced a couple of rolls of ReraPan 100-127 black and white film with which to check it out. Fortunately there was an empty spool still in the camera so as soon as the new film arrived I was all set to load a roll and take some pictures.

The day the film arrived was cloudy and I only made two exposures, at the widest aperture setting. The remaining six exposures were made a couple of days later in bright sunlight with aperture settings 3 and 4. The film was developed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+9 for 7 minutes at 18°C, scanned and the files adjusted for black and white points in levels.

The light leak was pretty obvious. Even on the exposures made in dull light the triangle of overexposed image was clear. On the sunny day images the same area was obliterated. My ninety year old camera has probably been lying at the back of a cupboard or in an attic for many decades, hence its excellent outward cosmetic appearance and well functioning mechanicals, but it will have been closed up with the bellows tightly folded together. Opening up the camera, and time, has perhaps been just too much for the folds in the leather. A repair would be necessary to restore the camera to working order but given the overall condition I reckoned it would be worthwhile.

It’s been a while since I made a pinhole camera so I decided to turn the idea on its head and make a pinhole image to locate the leak! I took some measurements of the internal dimensions of the bellows and made a template for an insert. In the darkroom, the insert was cut from a sheet of MGIV RC Satin paper and placed inside the bellows with the emulsion side outwards. With the camera back in place, the film counter window taped over and the shutter closed I placed the camera outside in daylight for five minutes or so then returned to the darkroom to develop the insert.

From the developed paper I could be sure the light leak was from a single source, the position of which was easily identified. I made an initial repair with a small piece of electrical PVC tape. It was much easier to do than I had anticipated as the size of the camera allowed easy access to work the leather with my fingers from both sides. I finally remade my repair by taping all the way along both top-edge creases as it looked neater. I tested the repair with by exposing couple of paper negative exposures on MGIV RC Satin paper cut to fit the film chamber.

Paper negatives confirming that the light leak has been fixed.

The electrical tape is light tight and sufficiently thin and flexible to fold up neatly with the original leather of the bellows. With that small repair, I reckon I can be confident to load the second of the two rolls of film I bought and expect good results in bright light. Roll on the sunshine!

Author: Donald Tainsh

A lifelong explorer of photography

1 thought on “Fixing a wayward pinhole”

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