Discovering digital pinhole

My previous post talked about making a pinhole from a body cap to use on my Fuji X-series cameras. I made three of these pinholes yesterday morning although the first was too large so was put to one side. This post talks about what happened next.

As I was putting away the few tools I used to make my pinholes I remembered the first cap which I’d put to one side. Could I remove the aluminium pinhole and thus free up the cap for further use? Despite being superglued it came out with a little bit of persuasion and some downward force. The body cap survived and therefore before clearing away for the day I had another go, this time using a small dressmakers pin. Popping the finished item on the Fuji X-Pro1 I was very happy to note that this was, as I’d hoped, a small improvement on caps two and three.

One thing I had noticed was that I could preview the image on the Fuji’s LCD screen. With the X-Pro1 it’s a rather dim image until you depress the shutter part way when you also get the exposure preview.

Finally, some of the guesswork taken out of framing a scene, especially helpful for getting in close.

This morning I thought I’d try the pinhole cap on my Fuji X-H1 which has an articulating LCD screen so easier to use when working low down which is my habitual way of working with the pinholes. The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t need to half-press the shutter to see the exposure preview. I did pop in and get the X-Pro1 and double checked that exposure preview hadn’t got turned off by mistake – it hadn’t!

Sun flare – in preview too!

The next thing I noticed was the screen … the live preview was showing the effect of sun flare in all its glory. I had the camera on a tripod so took the picture then compared that to the live view … they matched. I was able not just to frame the image but also to preview how the light was going to react with the sun in the frame or close to it.

I then had the idea for a pinhole selfie. Before now these have been very hit and miss and often ended up with a very central subject, but I realised I could get the composition more accurate. By standing behind the tripod-mounted camera and holding my hand in front I could work out where my face would need to be to sit where I desired in the frame (see above).

Sunday morning pinhole selfie!
Flare-free selfie (3 consecutive images – all uncropped)

So, will my new found pinhole freedom tempt me away from my film pinhole cameras?

Absolutely not! I love the unpredictable nature of my pinhole cameras and the serendipitous images that seem to occur more regularly than you’d expect. Yes, there’s a certain satisfaction from knowing that you’ve definitely nailed the sun flare but there’s also a great sense of anticipation when removing a roll of 120 or some sheets of 5×4 from the tank and holding them up to the light for that first look.

It wasn’t all about flare!
But it mainly was!

So, whilst the digital body cap pinhole won’t be replacing my film cameras any time soon, it will be something I will probably keep with the camera at all times. On occasions, usually when out with Senior Management, I will take just a compact camera with one lens. This is usually the Nikon L35AF but occasionally I will take a digital mirrorless Fuji instead. I don’t always get the opportunity for some dedicated photography time but one of my small cameras in my pocket or shoulder bag is a good insurance policy should an opportunity arise. Having a pinhole option without carrying two cameras will be a good bonus.

With tuppence for paper and string …

One of my favourite scenes in the original Mary Poppins film (1964 – I first saw it when I was six) was when the Banks family make their own kite … from paper and string. Sadly, my fine DIY skills are rather limited, I’ve built several large scale aviaries in my time but give me something that needs finer motor skills and I’m stuck.

I’ve considered buying a body cap pinhole for my (digital) Fuji cameras many times but have always been put off by the cost. My own research, backed up by many YouTube tutorials have suggested that making my own shouldn’t cost more than a couple of pounds – or tuppence for paper and string! Ironically it was the gift of a variable pinhole “lens” for my birthday a couple of weeks ago that finally stung me into action.

I will write about my experiences with the Thingyfy pinhole adapter in a future blog but suffice to say that whilst I can see it’s creative potential I was on the whole underwhelmed with something that costs around £80. It was this that stung me into action and online to buy a couple of generic Fuji X-fit body caps. I spent £3.50 on three body caps and as all the necessary tools were here, including superglue, along with several empty fizzy-pop cans awaiting recycling that was my total outlay for three (potentially at least) body cap pinholes.

I won’t bore you with the “build” as there’s plenty of material online doing just that. But, even for me with my meagre skills, it was a simple enough task and I was left wondering why I’d taken so long to get around to it.

Come in number three …

I used a hat pin for the pinhole as it’s a good size for my arthritic hands. My first pinhole turned out to be a little too large although the image it produced was very like that from the Thingyfy. This was at least a promising start. I looked at the hat pin and realised that the point is slightly bent so when I pressed straight down I was inadvertently pushing the widest part of the pin into the aluminium. So, with caps two and three I used the hat pin at a forty-five degree angle making sure that I didn’t actually fully pierced the metal. Just a small indentation which I then sandpapered away to reveal a fairly neat little pinhole.

Eureka!

And it worked! Cap two was a big improvement and cap three slightly better still. Both in fact are very usable and with the bonus that I think I can improve further still. My initial test subject (above) was the nearest thing to hand from where I was sat but I then took the camera into the front yard for a “proper” test.

Headless!

I misjudged the height of the image with the first attempt (above) but the instant feedback from the digital camera meant I could adjust things and try again (below).

Having noted that I think I can get the pinholes slightly sharper here are a couple of other observations relating to the camera I used, a Fuji X-Pro1.

For this test I used the cameras automatic exposure capabilities, set to the multi metering mode, with the ISO at 1600 simply to keep exposure times below 30 seconds. I found that indoors I needed to set a +2 exposure compensation whereas outdoors I was able to use around +1 or a third of a stop more.

One of the usual “features” of pinhole photography is the vignette that is often seen on the resultant images. My first pinhole body-caps show very little vignetting. One thing I did do which isn’t always mentioned in tutorials, was to chamfer the edges of the hole that I drilled in the lens cap such that the outer edge of the hole is slightly wider than the inner.

So, there you have it. My first foray into DIY digital pinhole photography. It won’t be my last either as I’m convinced I can get an even smaller pinhole with a bit more practice and a smaller pin.

A stream of consciousness

My last blog post generated a fair bit of conversation over on Twitter even though the images themselves were only to be seen in the accompanying video. To rectify that here are a few “views”extracted from the rather long negative.

As experiments go it was one of my more successful and whilst I cannot claim it as an original idea, I’m sure its been done many, many times in the past, it was new to me. Roman on Twitter kindly commented:

I like these photos a lot. Feels like a kaleidoscopic impression of a walk.

Roman W S on Twitter

I’d seen them as a visual stream of consciousness but like Roman’s description too. It’s given me an idea for a variation on the occasional 9 in 45 series. Just need to find the right opportunity – perhaps Holga Week in October?

Dry: An Update

If it’s been rather quiet on the dry plate front it’s not because I’ve not been busy. Indeed, I’ve used most of a box of the Speed plates in the last ten days or so. So, why the silence? A picture might help here.

Notice anything odd?

The example on the left of the three is something I’ve seen before as it happened on my first plate and I’d put it down to user error. However, chatting to Andy who owns the plate holders I was using, revealed he had a similar plate so unless we were both making exactly the same error, be it with loading or seating the holder, then the likely culprit was the holder. We were certainly not using the same camera and lens!

The issue with the other two is different to the first plate, suggesting perhaps that one holder was used for the first and the other for the second two examples? The shape of the light leak, whilst not exactly the same, is very similar too. There’s clearly an issue so some more thinking and testing was called for.

In the case of all three glass plates, used on two different days, each was exposed using exactly the same set up and at the same time as a sheet of 5×4 film. The sheets of film were all absolutely fine. Looking at the scans above shows that the exposures used for these plates were good too which is a small positive from this. I’ve plenty of experience with 5×4 and whilst it’s not impossible I think I can rule out loading errors. To be sure, I used one of the failed plates to load both holders in daylight and could find no way to mis-load them without it being very apparent.

I’ve even tested the plates from the current box themselves. Taking a fresh plate from the box in the darkroom, staying at least six feet from the safelight and putting it straight into the developer gives a perfectly clear plate. What we would expect. Later that morning I used a plate in an Ilford Obscura pinhole (no holder required) which also confirms the plates are probably fine. The other factor in favour of the plates not being the issue is that my first fail was with one of the plates that Andy gave me initially and not from those that I bought for this project.

As a final test I exposed a further plate with a newly-purchased double plate holder. It was a very bright, sunny day and the holder was positioned with the slide pointing upwards as is my norm for vertical compositions. There is the suspicion of an ingress of light, perhaps from where the slide goes, but nothing like the pattern on the earlier plates. I will remember to cover the plate holder in future just to be on the safe side, although that’s something for another day. Taken with everything else though this final test does seem to suggest that there is an issue with the holders I’ve been using.

Speaking to Andy last night he thinks he can see a split in one of the holders so we’ve both spoken to the manufacturer and explained our respective experiences. He is sending replacements to Andy and is going to test the original holders. I have to say the response from him has been first class and very refreshing.

So, a disappointing end to this phase of the project not to say an expensive one as I’ve used one and a half boxes of plates getting to this point. Undeterred though, my new double plate holder arrived last week and I am going to be ordering another box of plates today, I go into the next phase with some confidence.

Despite the issues I’ve demonstrated that I can accurately calculate exposure and I’ve had valuable hands-on experience in handling the plates. The developing methodology I’ve adopted is working well and I’m pleased with the results from the HC-110 too. So, loads of positives and I genuinely believe that despite the setbacks and disappointments I’ve learnt a lot so far. The next stage is to concentrate on compositions and locations that will utilise the glass plate aesthetic to its full.

That’s gonna be the tough part!

Running with the dogs …

… or shuffling about midst the early morning dog walkers!

“Saturday morning can you take the garden waste to the council recycling place”. “Yes, dear”. Those two little words had me out of the house before 8am and by 8.15am, chore completed, I was parked close to a local park to give my Holga WPC pinhole camera a run out. Apparently it’s also the time at the weekend when all the local dog owners take their pets for their first run out of the day. I lost count of the number of leg licks I received, or the numbers of “sorry mate!” they produced.

The purpose of this morning’s wander was to put a roll of Fomapan 100 through a newly acquired Holga WPC. This is a wide angle, pinhole camera from the doyen of lo-fi film photography and was an impulse buy driven by a member of the Twitter film community whom I won’t name to spare Will’s blushes. Having spent most of the previous week with a 5×4 large format camera, wielding a spotmeter and reacquainting myself with the Zone System it was a bit odd wandering about with a plastic camera, mini-tripod and a very laissez faire attitude towards metering.

But, sometimes that is exactly what is needed. Having spent the week being rather serious and deliberate it was very refreshing to spend forty minutes playing.

This mixture of the serious and the playful helps to keep me creatively motivated. I also have a natural tendency to have several projects ongoing at any time and this also helps keep me motivated. If one project is stalling slightly then no worries, just switch attention to another for a short time before returning. My dry plate project has stalled temporarily at present. It looks to me as if the batch of plates I purchased has a fault (I will cover this in my next Dry project update) and so I am pausing, taking stock and planning my next move. In the meantime, my ongoing interest in pinhole photography has stepped in to fill the gap as it were.

Prices of film camera gear have been increasing steadily for a while now but, is it my imagination, or do they seem to have accelerated since Brexit. In particular, cameras such as the Holga WPC have recently seen an upturn in prices. Whereas a few months ago the WPC could be had for between £40 and £50 new the prices are creeping up and the same online sellers are now asking £60-80 for the same camera. Brexit or profiteering whilst hiding behind a Brexit excuse? You take your pick!

So, a successful trial run means that the Holga WPC will be added to my pinhole arsenal. I’ve recently sold the 35mm pinhole camera as I’ve decided to concentrate on pinhole using Fomapan 100 in 120 and 5×4 but I still have five or six if you include the 5×4 doing the rounds on the “Dave’s Pinhole CameraWorld Tour”.

Pulling HP5+

I’ve been using film since the 1970s and in the last year or so it’s become my main photographic medium. In the last eighteen months I’ve developed over three hundred rolls of film and around a hundred sheets. One thing I’ve not done in all this time however is to “pull” a roll of film. Over-exposing when making the exposures and then reducing development time to compensate. Some people do it deliberately. Pulling film reduces contrast and brings out details in the shadows so can be helpful but it’s not something I’ve ever felt the need to do, certainly not with a roll of film. Until this week.

Arriving at the beach in Seaham on Monday afternoon I pulled the ONDU out of one pocket and the roll of Fomapan 100 out of the other. Only it wasn’t Fomapan; I had inadvertently put a roll of Ilford HP5+ in my pocket. Now, I like Fomapan 100 in the pinhole. The slower speed and the gravity-defying reciprocity give me many seconds of exposure which makes life easier when the shutter has to be opened and closed manually. With a 400 speed film I was getting shutter speeds of half-a-second and faster. What to do.

Seaham – North Beach

In the end I rated the film at 100/200 ISO, whatever gave me a workable shutter speed, and ignored the reciprocity factor. By my reckoning I will have therefore over-exposed the film by between one and two stops. After cogitating, and speaking to fellow photographer John, I decided that a 20% reduction in development time would be about right.

Getting low

So, today was the day. Back home, the laundry up to date, grandson Louie having his morning nap and I am in the kitchen developing the film. Ilford HP5+ developed in Ilford ID11, diluted 1+1, would normally get thirteen minutes in the tank but today I’m reducing that to ten minutes.

The negatives are well exposed although as expected they are a little flat in terms of contrast. Loads of detail in both shadows and highlights too. Perfectly printable in the darkroom however or indeed readily converted in a digital workflow. The images here were in fact copied with a digital camera and converted/processed in the Snapseed app on my iPad.

So, what’s the verdict? Or more pertinently would I do it again? Undoubtedly I would not hesitate to pull HP5+ again if the need arose. Would I do it deliberately? Probably not. Don’t forget we are talking roll film here. Using sheet film, where we can tailor the exposure and development of individual negatives, I would have no hesitation using this approach if the scene demanded it. This experience has shown me that the concept works and I suspect that I was lucky that the whole roll was used on the beach in consistent light and conditions. Had the roll contained a mixture of scenes and lighting conditions the results might not have been so consistent.

Face in the wood

So, the outcome of this enforced experiment has been very positive. Whilst I would not aim to deliberately over expose and under develop roll film it can work and my logic on this occasion was sound. I didn’t use the technique deliberately but nevertheless it’s been a very useful exercise and further proof that you’re never to old to learn new tricks!

Dry beginnings

Wednesday 30th June and the final pieces I needed to start my dry plate experiment arrived so, just after lunch, I headed to my back yard for my first attempt, clutching my Harman Titan pinhole camera rather than the Obscura I’d intended using. I still plan on using the Obscura but with the Titan newly arrived and also film holders on loan from Andy I wanted to give those a try.

My head full of the advice I’d gleaned from the pictographica website, messages from fellow photographers on Twitter and various other sources I set about taking the light reading.

Initial light reading of the subject

I started by metering the scene with an app on my phone. This wouldn’t be my go-to method for any photography other than pinhole. Experience has shown that for pinhole work, with all its foibles, the phone app is just as good as any other method. I was using a J Lane speed plate so I metered at f22, ISO 25. This then needs scaling to f206 and for this I use a conversion table that I’ve printed out, photographed and then saved to the Favourites folder on my phone. This is actually for an aperture of f216 but is close enough for my needs. My 1/20th second, see above, thus became 6.5seconds. Reciprocity then needs to be accounted for and over 4 seconds with these plates requires a fifty percent increase, so in this case 10 seconds which I “rounded” to 15 seconds for good measure. You can see why pinhole photographers have a plethora of camera supports in their bag.

It was then time for the darkroom to tray develop the glass plate, a technique that surprisingly I’ve never tried always preferring tank development. I rarely venture into the darkroom during the warmer months and was very quickly reminded as to why this is so. Even in shorts and tee-shirt it was soon very warm with the room blacked out and the door firmly shut.

The recommended developer for these plates is HC-110 but having none I used the ID11 stock that I had ready for use. I was using my usual darkroom trays as the simplest way to develop these plates is using open trays. I couldn’t find a suggested time for ID11 but there was a time of 9 minutes for D76 and given the similarities between the two developers this is what I opted for. Develop, stop, fix and wash. Straight forward and so it was out of the dark and back into the light.

This was the first intimation that something hadn’t gone to plan. I know the camera is OK as I’ve since tested it with sheet film so the options were either a dodgy plate or user error. I immediately tended towards the latter as being the culprit and inspecting the plate later I came to the conclusion that I probably did not have enough developer in the tray. I’d used up what was in the bottle and whilst this would have been sufficient for developing paper I suspect that it was not deep enough to fully submerge and keep submerged a plate of glass 1.3mm thick. I knew that there would be a learning curve with these and here was the first lesson. I as also using a black tray and so couldn’t see what was happening very well either.

But what were the positives from this? The negative image that is visible is properly exposed which hopefully suggests that my experience with film and pinhole cameras will stand me in good stead as the project progresses. I shan’t be using pinhole cameras exclusively either with glass plates as I have ordered my own dry plate holder so I can use the Intrepid too.

Whilst I had been concerned about dish development, apart from the warmth of the room this proved to be a straightforward process although as we’ve seen I probably do need to adjust my methodology. Finally, I now have a glass plate I can use for practicing loading both the Obscura and dry plate holders and also for “dry” runs with the trays so that’s a positive too.

Houston we have a problem

So, two immediate next steps. I’ve ordered a set of 5”x7” trays which will both reduce the amount of chemicals I need and also stop the plate clanking around in a tray designed for 12” prints. I’ve also ordered a bottle of HC-110, Jason Lane’s preferred developer, for use with the dry plates. I make ID11 in five litre batches for day to day use and yesterday only had around 300ml available. Not wanting to spend the time making up a new batch of developer and cooling it down for use I simply went with what I had – which probably wasn’t enough in hindsight. Using HD-110 as a one-shot developer at dilution B will hopefully be more convenient without sacrificing the consistency I am looking for.

Whilst I may expose a second sheet over the next day or so I won’t be able to develop it until the smaller trays and HC-110 arrive; no hardship as I am hoping this little project will keep me occupied for a few months yet. From late September onwards UV levels will start to drop considerably here in the UK from what I’ve read, if this is true I want to have nailed my technique for exposing and developing before the more challenging winter light.

#Dave’s Pinhole Camera World Tour 2021

Little did I know when on an impulse I offered John Martin the loan of my homemade (not by me) 5×4 pinhole camera that this would be the genesis of a collaboration with photographers from around the country joining in.

What if we send it round the world and make a ‘zine? Round the world may be a bit ambitious but certainly round the UK is doable.

The whisky talking?

I was sat in a cafe with a pot of tea on 16th June 2021 when John messaged me via Twitter. He’d been chatting to James, another photographer, about the camera he’d been lent. James was keen to try it out and John knew I’d be more than happy. After a few whiskys though they came up with the idea of a world tour for the camera and perhaps also a ‘zine. Thus was born this collaborative project.

Ready to start it’s tour

The camera itself was the result of an impulse buy I made from a charity shop; I figured that even if I didn’t use the camera regularly I was still doing some good for the charity. So, you could say that this whole project was founded on impulses.

Next week the camera moves on, down to the south coast if I recall, and the recipient is I believe a complete newcomer to both pinhole and large format photography. One of the things John and I are keen on doing is encouraging people who’ve never used large format before and to this end John is lending three DDSs to the project – which will be going south fully loaded!

The maiden image

The camera has a 50mm field of view, a 0.2mm pinhole and an effective f-stop of f250. To put that in context, a scene that meters at 1/30th second at f16 becomes an exposure of eight seconds BEFORE taking into account the reciprocity failure of the film stock. So, if you are using Fomapan 100, which is my go-to for 5×4 pinhole, this 8 second exposure becomes 56 seconds once reciprocity is factored in. If, like me you also routinely use a contrast filter for black and white photography (a yellow/green in my case), then this becomes seven and a half minutes!

The project already has five participants in addition to John and myself and we’ve only been kicking the idea around for ten days or so. Hopefully, as more images are shared with the #DPCWT2021 tag then more people will want to get involved. Watch this space!