Seeing pinhole exposures can take a long time, we think…
Lensless Camera Manufacturing Company 4 x 5 pinhole camera review, updated.
Pinhole photography is probably the simplest form of photography, consisting only of a light-tight wooden box, a pinhole and a sheet of film. Although it is a simple process to make your own camera, the Lensless Camera Manufacturing Company (LCMC) in USA makes extremely good value-for-money pinhole cameras for those who want to buy a simple and reliable pinhole camera.
75mm camera showing ‘shutter’ and sight lines. High Street squeeze, Northcote.
I’ve made a number of pinhole cameras over the years but as I teach pinhole photography workshops I wanted a set of teaching cameras that were all identical and technically predicable.
As a result I bought six 4 x 5 LCMC cameras – two 50 mm, two 75 mm and one 150 mm – ten years ago for teaching purposes. This review is based on those cameras.
The construction of the cameras is very simple: a wooden box made from ply wood, painted black inside, a very accurately drilled pinhole in brass shim with a plastic ‘shutter’, tripod mounts for vertical and horizontal. The film holders are held in place with two pieces of dowel and are kept light tight with heavy-duty dense rubber strips. The camera holds normal 4 x 5 film holders as well as Polaroid film holders.
The consistency and accuracy of the pinholes as well as the camera construction is very good. My six workshop cameras have never leaked light, even when I forgot to bring the dowel to fit the film holders and had to use pieces of found driftwood. They are also quite tough, most of mine have been dropped once or twice, and only show dints – now regarded as ‘artifacts of the experience’. After ten years of workshops and many expeditions they all still function well.
The cameras are very easy to use. First the camera is attached either in horizontal or vertical position on the tripod. There is a wooden back that is very efficient at keeping dirt and dust – one of the biggest issues of pinhole photography – out of the camera. This back and the dowel rods are removed and the 4×5 film holder is put in place, the two dowel rods are rolled in place to hold it tight. Darkslide removed and ‘shutter’ opened, exposure made.
Camera showing dowel rods, film holder and sight lines. Diamond Bay, Victoria.
I use a small builder’s spirit level for accurate composition, I’ve also added ‘sight lines’ thin strips of black tape from the film edge location to the pinhole position. These help enormously in composition of the photograph. These can be seen in the accompanying photographs.
LCMC make a number of difference size pinhole cameras: 4 x 5, 5 x 7, 8 x 10 and 11 x 14. They also come in a number of different ‘focal lengths’ from very wide angle – 50 mm in 4 x 5 for example, to ‘telephoto’ – 225 mm in 4 x 5.
Wide angle are generally the most popular camera types used in pinhole photography. But it’s worth checking the sample photographs on LCMC website to see what ‘focal length’ will suit you. A 50 mm 4 x 5 is very wide angle, and you may end up with photographs of your camera tripod legs, until you get the feel for it.
With my three pinhole camera focal lengths, I find the 75 mm the most useful, the 50 mm is very wide, but when subject matter and conditions are good, it makes an excellent image as the Palomino Café, Northcote and Cape Conran photographs show. The 150 mm camera I use less often, but also makes strong photographs as Pulpit Rock, Cape Schanck show.
150 mm camera at Cape Schanck. Victoria.
The pinhole size and ‘focal length’ have been worked out to produce the optimum image quality – the resulting images produced are very sharp (for a pinhole camera).
I’d recommend these pinhole cameras to any one wanting to get involved with large format pinhole photography.
You will of course need 4 x 5 film holders and, if you don’t have access to a darkroom, a changing bag to load and unload them.
Although the camera comes with a chart with exposure times and lighting conditions on it, I think the very best way to expose for pinhole photography is to use a hand held light meter or light meter app. – as you would for medium and large format lens cameras. A conversion chart is then used to convert the smallest aperture on the light meter to pinhole apertures. This can also be done with an app.
This review was originally published on the Large Format Photography Australia Blog which ceased in 2013. After many requests it has been updated and republished with new photographs.
David Tatnall with 75mm 4×5 camera.
David Tatnall’s pinhole photographs have been exhibited recently at the Monash Gallery of Art in Victoria, as well as in a number of solo exhibitions in Australia. His pinhole work has also been exhibited at Cologne, Germany. Florence and Rovereto, Italy and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
He has conducted workshops and masterclasses in pinhole photography for the past ten years.
Main photograph: 4×5 pinhole camera. Boulder Cove. Erith Island, Tasmania.
All photographs by David Tatnall.
Palomino Cafe. Northcote. 50 mm.
Cape Conran. Victoria. 50 mm
Boulder Cove. Erith Island. Tasmania. 75 mm
Pulpit Rock. Cape Schanck. Victoria. 150mm
Cape Woolamai. Phillip Island. Victoria. 75 mm