Digital SLR Pinhole Photos

Pinhole Lens Held Up to the Light

Below are some digital pinhole images I took on my Nikon D300S. Click on the first thumbnail image and then you can use the “>>” button to click through the pictures.


Yes, they aren’t perfectly sharp. Considering that it was made with a pinhole in a piece of metal I’d say it is very good. The images do clean up nicely with a contrast tweak and slight sharpenning. 100% zoom isn’t pretty – very soft – but when resized down around 1024 wide they look acceptable.

Read on for Pros and Cons a How To and further directions->

Impeding Good Pinhole Pictures on Digital Cameras:

  • Small Imaging Area.  The photos I took above were on a sensor that measures 0.9×0.6inches. There is a lot of detail captured for such a small space, so imagine having a much larger area to capture information and that is what film would provide.  Most pinhole pictures are taken on film – either roll film or large sheets. The larger the film the better.  I’m planning to make a panoramic film pinhole camera that would take 12x6cm (4.8×2.4inches) captures on 120 film.
  • Crop factor.   No wide angle.  The pinhole is 41mm away from the tiny sensor on my Nikon SLR causing the camera to only capture what is directly in front of the camera.  An interesting solution to this would be one of the Sony Nex digital cameras that don’t have a flappy mirror in front of the camera, so the pinhole could be super close to the sensor.  A second solution would be to take a bunch of pictures of the scene with my Nikon and then stitch them together into a wider field of view.
  • Dust bunnies on the sensor make little black circles and specks on the photograph.  With film you’d wind to a new negative after each photo, so there is much less chance of dust messing up the picture.  Look close to the photos I posted above, and you’ll be able to see the specks.

Positives towards using a Digital Camera:

  • Can take as many pictures as you want.
  • If it is really bright out, the scene may be barely perceptible through the viewfinder. Allowing you to frame the scene in a controlled manner.
  • No film developing costs.

Propose more pros and cons in the comments.

How to make a simple pinhole lens for your SLR digital camera.
Disclaimer: This tutorial calls for using pointy and sharp items. Be careful and don’t injure yourself. Practice safety procedures – wear gloves and eye protection etc. If you follow these instructions, you agree to not hold me liable if and when you hurt yourself or others.

This pinhole lens will mount the metal sheet on the outside of the camera body cap, and will be a bit simplified than the one in my pictures. I went a little overboard and didn’t gain anything.

What you’ll need:

  • Sewing pin. The thinner the pin the better.
  • Thin stiff metal. Can use aluminum from a pop can, or disposable metal food pan.
  • Donor camera body cap. The body cap is the plastic cap you put on your camera body when you don’t have a lens on. Buy a 10 pack on Ebay for cheap – after you toss the ones that don’t fit perfectly you’ll have 2 or 3 left that you can use for pinhole projects.
  • Tape. I like tape.
  • Fine sandpaper.
  • Drill and drill bit, and or Dremel.

1. Cut a circle, a little smaller than the body cap, out of the metal sheet.
2. Poke the pin 3/4 of the way up the point into the center of the metal circle. The pin shouldn’t go all the way through.
3. Twist the pin gently to ensure the hole is round. The goal is to not enlarge the hole at all.
4. Remove the pin. There should now be a little metal ridge on the back side of the metal circle.
5. Sand gently this metal ridge down. The main goal of this step is to get the ridge removed. The circle metal sheet is not prepared to mount on the body cap.
6. Cut a centered ~3/4 inch hole in the body cap. You will be taping the metal sheet to the front of the body cap, so the goal is to remove the material that will block the light hitting the sensor, but leave enough plastic to mount to. I used a Dremel with a pointy tip that was meant for wood, but worked alright. Slowly drilling a hole in the center would work alright to as long as you secure the body cap down and don’t drill a hole in your hand.
7. Tape the metal sheet to the front of the body cap, so that the pinhole is directly in the center. You’ll want to tape it flat, so that light wont get in the edges. Using black electricians tape or similar would be a good option.
8. Hold the pinhole lens up to the light and make sure the only light is coming through the pinhole. If there is any leaks on the edge of the metal, cover them up good and tight with black tape, construction paper or some other opaque material.

Now the pinhole lens is done.

How to use the pinhole lens:
1. Mount the pinhole lens on your camera body.
2. Attach the camera to a tripod, or set it on the table or ground.
3. Set your camera to Manual mode.
4. Set the ISO to 100 or 200 the lowest your camera goes. Double check that the camera isn’t automatically changing the ISO on you, if you have that feature enable, disable it now.
5. Change the shutter-speed. If you are using ISO 200 and it is really sunny, a shutter-speed around 1/2 second to 1 second is needed. If you are using ISO 100 and it is really sunny, a shutter-speed around 1 second to 2 seconds is needed. If it is not sunny you’ll need a lot longer exposure time.
6. Set your camera to the timer mode.
7. Press the shutter button and wait for the timer to count down and the camera to take the picture. Always review the pictures after you take them to make sure they are bright enough and properly exposed. The shutter-speed needed depends on the hole size and how bright it is outside.

Resources:
Pinhole Designer – Is a program for Windows that will help figure out the optimal pinhole size, field of view, film exposure times and film reciprocity failure times.
Mr Pinhole – This site has useful web based calculators to help you plan a pinhole camera. I’ve used the “Camera Design Calculator” page to help me figure out what size pinhole I need taking into account how far the pinhole is from the camera sensor.

Pictures and Extra:
6400dpi Scan of Pinhole
Scanning your pinhole is one way you can measure the width of the hole. Once you scan your pinhole you can use the measurement tool in your graphics application to figure out the size of the hole. This hole is about 53 pixels wide at 6400 dpi, so that is 53/6400 of an inch or 0.2103mm.

Front side of my pinhole lens.
This is the front side of my pinhole lens. I cut the center plastic away, and move the entire thing backwards 5 millimeters. Completely unnecessary because it doesn’t make the angle of view noticeably wider, so a lot of work for nothing. The pinhole is just visible.

Back side of my pinhole lens.
This is the back side of my lens.

Try pounding the metal thinner. Thinner the metal sheet the better. What I found was that if I made it too thin the metal became soft like tinfoil and brittle, so I couldn’t make a perfectly round hole and it would end up with raggedy edges. After 3 tries, I got a good pinhole.

I hope you can see that there is many ways you can make this. Get your pinhole round and go for it.

Have fun! Ask questions below and I’ll try to answer them.

This is a working document.

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