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.


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