Friday, July 21, 2017

10th anniversary iPhone Box Pinhole Camera



I mean how can you not make a camera out of an iPhone box. It's almost exactly the height of a 120 reel.

My used iPhone 5, which didn't come with a box, turned into an attractive little brick one day this winter, and I'm not sure I can live without Pinhole Assist, so I bought a new iPhone SE.  I suppose the boxes for the 6 and 7 are close to the same width, just a little longer.

There's a rich tradition of making cameras from iPhone boxes. I've seen 6 x 6 cm and 6 x almost 9 cm for 120 and versions for 35mm. I'm pretty sure I saw several simple versions loaded with photo paper using tape for a shutter (which would take about 10 minutes to make) this year reviewing submissions for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.

Ir's a really good box. It's a double layer of pretty high quality card which is reliably opaque. The printed outer layer wraps completely around the box so there are no seams or overlaps. It is still paper but it's pretty durable. I used a damp cloth to clean off excess glue several times, and you can erase pencil marks and fingerprints without damaging the surface. The top fits on the bottom precisely with hardly a gap between the two.

And of course it really looks good.  I couldn't cover up that design. This one has several Sharpie marks in one corner where it looks like somebody got a little too enthusiastic signing a shipping form on a palette full of iPhones, but I thought that gave it a little provenance and patina.

Of course there are things you can't change.  It's 36mm from pinhole to film. Kinda wide but that's actually pretty popular.  (The Zero 2000 is 25mm.) With a 6 cm film width that makes the angle of view 80°.  In order to make it a roll film camera the front of the camera needs to be the bottom, inner part of the box.  I can think of ways around those but Occam's Razor ya' know.



I decided to make it 6 x 6 cm.

The box is about 20mm wider than I need. I put a double layer of black foam core at either end.  The interior structure is made  from flat pieces of black matte board. Vertically, it's just a little longer than the 120 reel, so in the film bays, there's a single layer of matte board at the top.



The winders are my standard 3/8 inch oak dowels with the whittled ends, but they're glued into some cut-off cork stoppers from our local olive oil and balsamic vinegar vendor to give a little more torque when advancing the film and a more finished look.  They're only held in by friction, but I tried to make them pretty tight. My prohibition against violating the design meant I didn't want to use a winder minder, which would require rubber bands. They're actually a little hard to get out.

The bottom of the box is mostly white with a few labels with small printing and bar codes that identify the individual phone with a big white space in the middle.  In order to blend in the front shutter as much as possible, I constructed it out of solid white poster board, which I got at Walgreens of all places.  There is a layer of black poster board in the back of the sliding shutter to make sure it was opaque. It only ended up covering one of the bar codes.  I usually have the shutter pull out of the top -  I think out of some sense of symmetry - but since the top part of the box overlaps the bottom by just a little bit, it got in the way, so the shutter slides out to the side.

I made a .26mm pinhole. Mr. Pinhole says .253 is optimal.  That makes it f138.  Kinda fast, but that's part of why these short pinhole cameras are so popular.

Earlier this year I found a piece of liver of sulfur an art student gave me years ago and seemed to successfully tarnish a pinhole moderately dark with it, so I bought some liver of sulfur paste to try again. I assumed sanding the brass would be sufficient to remove the coatings that are commonly applied to sheet brass so I didn't follow the directions to clean it with ammonia (This is really a smelly process).  In my first experiment with the paste, it seemed to change the shiny brass only slightly -   until I looked at it with the Teslong. Those coatings must be pretty tough, because under the higher resolution, I could now see that right around the pinhole, where it was actually pierced and most aggressively sanded to remove the burr, you could now see it was tarnished nearly all black, which is all you need.  The rest of the brass can be shiny as new, but if the pinhole itself is black, you've gotten all the optical benefit.  Also, I used to be bothered by getting the sanded off material stuck inside the pinhole and it was tricky to get rid of it without enlarging the pinhole accidentally.  I'm not sure if it was the liver of sulfur or running it under hot water for minutes afterward but this one is really clean.

One thing I like about the SE box is that it has an image on the phone that's relatively symmetrical around both a vertical and horizontal axis, so I could make the camera in it's horizontal position without it looking like it's laying on it's side. The only thing that really determines what's upright is where the tripod mount and viewfinders are. Since the format is square, it really wouldn't matter if you made it vertical (which I have done a couple times with Scotch boxes.)


My original intent for the film counter shutter was to cut out the iPhone image, but I was afraid I couldn't cut it out neatly enough.  I just made the shutter from black matte board with a couple of laser printed copies of the image to imitate the original appearance of the box. Again, the image gave me plenty of room with featureless black areas, so I didn't have to match anything too exactly.

I ended up using a square nut for the tripod mount. Since the card stock of the inner box is so thick, I had to inset it into the box or the tripod screw wouldn't reach it. It will be held on pretty firmly by the outside box so I'm not too worried about it falling out.

Again in a bid to be as unobtrusive to the design as possible, I used white beaded pins for the viewfinders.

So what kind of pictures would be appropriate to take with an iPhone box camera?

The iPhone practically invented the selfie. I love how prominent the new scar on my right knee is.


People post a lot of pictures of cats on the internet that are probably done with iPhones.


Meals seem to be another popular subject - brocolli and cheese quiche with watermelon.


I see people using iPhones to capture local sights and attractions such as the statue of Chief Oshkosh in Menomonie Park.  I love it that he's looking out over Lake Winnebago facing away from the city.


I wonder how close I can get with this thing - it's a little tricky with this wide angle.


One night I had a fit of insomnia and you're not supposed to read on your iPhone if you ever expect to get back to sleep, so I read about the Photo-Secession.


Our first iPhone was a 3GS in 2009.  About that time a home decorating store in Oshkosh gave away these black sheep pillows as some sort of promotion. I decided it would make a good head rest where I sit on the couch.  As we sat down that evening, I asked Sarah what we should name it. She was engrossed by her first transcendent experience with the source of all knowledge in her hand and immediately replied "Steve Jobs."


Sarah's family farm is over the ridge from Ellsworth, the nearest town, and cell reception varies from awful to non existent, but there's this spot under the tree toward the barn where it's a little more reliable.


And I'm sure vegetarian Steve Jobs would approve of a picture of tomatoes and a garlic scape from the farmers market, and home-grown orange cherry tomatoes.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Camera maker manifesto


I shouldn't use the term manifesto, because that implies I'm trying to convince you of something, and I firmly believe you'll have more fun and be more creative if you just do what you feel like, but "statement of personal objectives and standards" doesn't make as snappy a title unless you have a Masters in Business Administration.

I think a lot about why I make cameras the way I do, and why others do it differently. Writing about something often makes you spin it around and look at it a little differently, and there's always the possibility that someone might comment and realign my perspective a little.

I make cameras that I want to use. For many years it was single-shot cameras, but my current goal is to have a roll film camera that's reliable to use, portable, and reloadable in the field. That of course means absolutely light proof. Never saw light leaks as charming.

Being made from paper, they're not as durable as wood with brass hardware, but they only weigh a few ounces and you could drop them off a ten story building and they would probably bounce without exposing the film. Some have been covered with opaque black photographic tape which makes them moderately waterproof, and I'm starting to experiment with clear finishes.

They're not made for sale. Since I promote the idea that anybody could make a camera as well and put directions how on the internet, it would be kind of weird to expect anyone to buy one. I think making your own camera is the ultimate sacrament of pinholiness. (Ya gotta do it at least once.) Recently the purpose of making some of them is to make sure those directions on the internet will yield a usable camera, and I do use them to make sure. I occasionally give them away.

I expect the images to be as good as those coming out of the best highly crafted cameras you can buy. This is determined by the shape of the exposure chamber and the pinhole. My experiment last winter demonstrated that anyone can make a pinhole, while not measurably better than expensive commercial pinholes, good enough that in most applications you can't tell the difference. (This post is about camera making, but, it's not the camera that takes the picture, it's the photographer.)

I started out drilling my own pinholes, but got hooked on Gilder electron microscope apertures for about a decade. Just in the last year or so, I've gotten a little superstitious about using anything but hand-drilled pinholes, and am actually having fun seeing how good I can get at it. Not about to say to an audience of pinholers that sharper is better, but it's fun to try.

You have to know roughly what's going to be in the picture.  My viewfinders are triangles on the top and sides of the camera which point to the edges of the image. Some 3 dimensional object like a bead does a better job than just a line drawn on a flat surface.

You need to know that the film is advancing, and how far.  With 120, a window with a shutter in the back does this, and for 35mm, counting sprocket holes with an audible clicker will tell you if you've advanced exactly one frame. I'm not as concerned about knowing how many frames I've exposed. Discovering when you get to the end of the roll seems to work with the zen of pinhole. I'm not fond of directions to rotate so many turns for each exposure.  If you space it right at the beginning, you get increasingly large gaps between frames toward the end.  If not you can overlap images. Wasting film is definitely not pinholey.

A tripod mount is essential.

I prefer a flat film plane, but that's an aesthetic, not an engineering decision.

My cameras are hand-made. The most complicated machine I use is a scissors. I don't have any woodworking or metalworking equipment or experience.

Glue, card stock, foam core, wooden dowels, paint, brass for the pinholes and the occasional cork from a whisky bottle are all the materials, often recycled from another purpose. I've been using the same bottle of Aleen's tacky glue for years. Much of the card stock is from packaging. I have bought a sheet of foam core and one each of black and white card stock in the past year (Tons of scrap pieces were available when I worked at the university). I bought a 100 x 6 inch roll of .002 inch brass shim stock on a grant in 1992. It's gone through the grant kits, through a dozen workshops and I've still got about a quarter of it left. It is about as good a material as you can get. These are pretty inexpensive materials. I was raised by a depression-era child of immigrants, so I guess I'm a little cheap.

I've promoted the idea that you could print a template so you didn't have to measure everything, glue it to an appropriate substrate, and just fold it and glue it together. You could argue that printing a template with a computer is high tech, but it's one that's available to everybody. I don't own a printer. I go to the library when I need templates.

I don't always use the printed templates. Sometimes I don't use a ruler to measure, for example using the actual film reel to measure parts that have to be that size. Lately, I've taken to cutting some parts without a steel rule, just following lines by hand.  My cameras look handmade.

It may seem that I don't care what my cameras look like, and that may have been true in the past, but I've been playing around with the idea lately.

I definitely don't care if it looks like a lensed camera. Just about every plan or kit for a paper camera either has parts or printing on them resembling parts of a lensed camera. Some of them with the most parts, which can be tricky to put together, include multiple-part, moving, functionless assemblages to look like viewfinders, shutter speed dials and for Pete's sake, focusing rings - on a pinhole camera!

Lately though I've gotten the idea to make them with the printing from the cardboard I'm using facing out and working the packaging design into the parts and trying to get the parts to line up with the original illustration. I've done it several times in the past, but now I'm working on the sixth camera in a row this year in that category. Blog posts about these coming up. Watch this space.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Overexposing Tri-X in the Oshkosh Populist

Over the last two decades, I somehow have gathered six rolls of 35mm Tri-X.  The only time I've ever done any pinhole with 35mm in black and white was last year when I finished a roll that otherwise had been used in a camera with a lens.

My student period from earlier this year made me a little curious again, and I decided that the Oshkosh Populist with it's panoramic format would be a good tool to use this film with.

I'm used to guessing exposures with ISO 200 film in an f160 camera (The Populist) so I thought f144 at ISO 400 wouldn't be too different.  Turns out you can't get away with overexposure with silver the way you can with color dyes, and I ended up with a lot of blocked up highlights, and even a few shadows that were a little hard to push some light through.

But, lets see if we can get anything out of these negatives.  I only got three I liked.

As the name implies, the Oshkosh Populist is all about working with the level topography of Oshkosh.

The Buckstaff Plant on South Main St. has been an eyesore and fire hazard since it closed in 2011.  A good bit of the rest of this area can best be described as blighted, although a few somewhat industrial businesses still operate. This year, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to locate a minor league  team in Oshkosh - the Wisconsin Herd (of deer, get it?). The Buckstaff plant was finally torn down, and the new arena is under construction, and hopes are high that it will bring a major renewal to the area (a micro-brewery is already starting across the street).


Just across the railroad tracks on Lake Winnebago, on a island all it's own is the Pioneer Inn. It used to be one of the hot spots for business and vacation travel in Oshkosh. It closed in 2005 when the owners got into a dispute with the Department of Natural Resources over a reconstruction project of the hotel, and it's been vacant ever since.  I wonder if the new arena will be sufficient impetus to get it going again?


On the north side, hemmed in against Highway 41 and suburban housing developments is the Oshkosh Correctional Center, a 300 prisoner medium security prison for men. Except for the entrance, it's surrounded by a giant berm and all you can see are the lights and guard towers. I couldn't tell if there was anyone looking down at me while I was taking this picture.


I'm going to continue to see what I can do with the Oshkosh Populist with this stash of sort of out-dated Tri-X.  I replaced the .27mm pinhole with the .2mm I measured with the Teslong USB microscope, which gets me about a stop slower.  It's theoretically too small for the 35mm distance to the film, but I've had success with smaller than ideal pinholes in other cameras, and I think diffraction is more likely to lower contrast a bit than sharpness, which I could kind of use with these negatives.  I've also learned my lesson and am stopping to actually measure the exposure, and I've been practicing trying to make one second exposures.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Measuring pinholes with the Teslong USB microscope.

If you follow me on Facebook, you may recall that I posted about a new favorite toy, the Teslong USB microscope. It's about the size of a pencil with a camera at the end that's held on a nicely adjustable stand.  There's a focuser on the other end so you can adjust it to various distances, and it has LED lights on the camera end to illuminate the subject. It's marketed as a microscope with up to 200 times magnification. (Just so you're not wondering about it, that's a .2mm pinhole at the right of the screen.)


In the comments to that Facebook post, Earl Johnson asked if you could measure pinholes with it. Well, since the magnification is a function of it's distance from the subject, which the device can't report to the computer, you can't tell directly what the size of anything is.

I usually measure pinholes with a scanner. Since the scanner knows exactly where the pinhole is and is scanning at a precisely known resolution, you can just read the actual size right off the screen.  The highest I can scan is 4800 dpi, which makes this .3mm pinhole about 60 pixels across. A bit of a problem is that the scanner software doesn't deal well with bright highlights and the pinhole is made from brass, so it tries to fix that and makes a way too high contrast image and it's often difficult to see just where the edge of the hole is. This example is better than most. Anyway, it works but it could be better.

I just happen to need a .2mm and a .15mm pinhole this week, so I got my brass, needles and emery paper out and tried to see what they looked like on the Teslong and see if I could measure them.

First I had to standardize some things. I wanted as much magnification as I could get, so the first thing I did was see how close I could get to something and still get it in focus. When you turn the focusing knob, you can feel stops at either end. So I put it at what I thought was its near point (lenses, ya know - by the way I just learned that term from Wikipedia) and then slowly pulled it away from the table until it was in focus.  That turns out to be about a quarter inch. It's pretty easy to get it set up to it's minimum focus repeatably.

200x magnification means movement gets magnified 200x too, so pointing is a little tricky. That swirly mark that's on the screen in the picture above was made when my drilling needle, which I was using to hold down the brass against the table, swept across the screen. Pretty exciting. By carefully moving it by nudging the base around you can get enough control moving it to find what you're looking for. The field is much less than that illuminated area, but it's possible to find the approximate center of the spot of light. You don't need the pinhole to be in the center, you just need it on the screen.

The camera uses the shareware video capture program VLC to display the image in a 1280x720 pixel window. VLC wants to capture video, so the easiest way to get a still image is to do a screen capture.

What I need now is a known object to compare my pinholes to.

I happen to have several sizes of Gilder EMS pinholes. They come in vials of 100, but Earl Johnson, I think, still resells small quantities for about $1 USD apiece.  I'll let him give you contact info in the comments if he wants to. Anyway, my stash includes some .2mm apertures - just what I'm trying to measure.

They look pretty good under magnification.



Selecting just the pinhole, it measures 100 pixels across (how convenient), so now I can measure with it and it's a little better than twice as sharp as the scanner  (recall that my scanner had 60 pixels for a .3mm hole).

I happened to have a pinhole that I recently measured with the scanner as .2mm, so I put that under the scope. I took the new image and pasted it next to the image of the Gilder aperture. I guess my measure with the scanner was pretty accurate. They're exactly the same size.  But, what you can see now is that around the edge of my homemade pinhole is a bit of fuzziness, probably dust from sanding off the burr on the exit side of the needle hole.

I bet some canned compressed air would get rid of it, but I don't have any of that. Blowing with my lips didn't do anything. So I stuck the needle tip in as gently as I could and spun it a little. That pretty much did the trick cleaning out the schmutz without enlarging the pinhole. Not bad. I think I'll use this one.

Now I've got to try to drill a .15mm.


I used my standard method for .15mm pinholes, drilling right against a hard table top, this time with the needle held in the eraser of a pencil.  Much to my surprise, it measured 75 pixels - exactly .15mm - and very clean with no fuzz. Two for two. I guess I'm starting to get the hang of this.

Both pinholes are now mounted on cameras so we'll see how they do when I get some film through them.


The Teslong seems like a pretty good deal for $41.






Friday, June 9, 2017

Two orphaned 120 rolls of Portra 160.

I've just finished two rolls that started one way last year and then kind of got forgotten.

When I finished the roll which I took to the Paine Art Center in the Evil Cube, I thought I had left the camera sitting empty on display on a tripod in the living room, but when I went to load it for documenting my surgery experience, I pulled the back off, saw that I had reloaded it with Portra 160 and as fast as I could, pushed the back closed again.  Wanted to use the 400 for the medical coverage, so I just rolled the 160 back on the original reel (why you have two winders) and put it in the freezer with a note on it. After I finished the Shut-in challenge with the faster film, I loaded the orphaned 160 back into the Evil Cube.  It was on frame one when I opened the camera, so I thought I would be safe to advance to frame four. Turns out, frame three was probably OK.

This was when the magnolia was still blossoming, and I'm always taken by the pattern of the falling petals around the trunk and the daffodils.


By this time in my recovery, I was cooking a little again, so got seduced by a sunbeam in the south kitchen window. Since I've taken similar shots many times, I hung the cane on the sink to place it in context.


This was a week before WPPD, and I did a more loosely framed version of the same dish of fruit that was tightly cropped on Pinhole Day.  It's actually sitting on cake plate (you can see the shadow of the base), but it looks a little like it's floating in air.


The other orphan roll, was from the other camera I had with me that one gloomy day I shot in the Paine Art Center, the Glenlivet Vertical Populist.

It was very dark except for a few minutes of sunshine that day, and I could only fit one hour and a half exposure in with that camera. This is in the powder room off Mrs. Paine's sitting room. It's behind a velvet rope across the door which is just to the left of the frame, so you never see it face on like this.


When I got home, I put the camera on the shelf in the basement and kind of forgot about until I shot the other orphaned roll.

In order to ride for the first time after surgery, I had to put the summer tires on, which I did on the sunny driveway.


One of the oaks making a calligraphic stroke on the garage.


Gene and Laura came to visit. Here's Gene shortly after they arrived after driving through rain for three hours.


He had calmed down quite a bit the next morning.


Laura in a near real time discussion of a casting announcement for a community theater production.


Don't you just hate having to use up the leftovers after you have guests?


And, in case you were wondering about what happened to that tulip trying to grow up through the rose thorns on Pinhole Day.


The first three with the Evil Cube.  .3mm pinhole 60mm from 6x6cm frame.

The rest with the Glenlivet Vertical Populist. .3mm pinhole 45mm from 6x6 frame.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Experimenting at Mosquito Hill.

It was early May before we got to Mosquito Hill.  BTW, no cane, no using the tripod as a cane. Woo Hoo.

I also took my new snotty attitude to let pinhole be pinhole and don't get hung up about camera and subject movement.  It was actually pretty windy.

Right away just behind the interpretive building, we came across a half eaten snake carcass.


A lone bloodroot clinging to the side of the hill.


One good thing about rocks is they really hold still well.  The bottom of the exposed rock at the switchback. This spot never gets any sun and is always wet.


After watching Twin Peaks, this image seems more significant than it did before.


I think this is the top of the groove where the ski jump was.


A tiny tunnel where a rock fell against another ledge.  Geology in action.


At the cliff where the North Path runs around to the south side of the hill, a rock face.  Actually  I see about six faces in this photograph.



There are rocks at the top of the hill I'm sure didn't fall out of the sky.  I supposed they were moved here during the ski jump era.


Can you tell what scale this one is?


It's actually about three inches across.  The Populist was stuck inside one of the tufts of regular grass that dot the hillside.

At the top of the hill, that most common cliche of pinhole, pointing the camera up into a tree.  My intent here was to illustrate that the trees were just leafing out, but the sky and the general composition turned out well.


A stripe of blue sky woven in with the trees, clouds and mayapples in the woods on top the hill.


On the north side of the hill there's this stripe of maple seedlings about twenty yards wide that goes from the top to the bottom of the hill.


Jacks-in-the-pulpit like to hang out at the lower end of the curve around the switchback.


They're kind of up the hill and over a rut from the path, but if you collapse one leg of the tripod and hold it against the hill with one hand, hold down the other two fully extended tripod legs with your feet, and fully extend the elevator, you can get close enough for a portrait.


These didn't turn out that different than what I usually do,  Oh, well. I tried.

All with The Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.