Review: Ilford-Harman Obscura 4×5 pinhole camera by David Tatnall

Review: Ilford-Harman Obscura 4×5 pinhole camera by David Tatnall

The Obscura 4×5 pinhole camera is Ilford’s second pinhole camera design in recent years. The first iteration was the Titan 4×5 and 8×10 cameras designed by Mike Walker of Walker Cameras. We reviewed the Titan 8×10 camera in May 2017.

The Obscura is a much lower cost single shot 4×5 version (ie: a single sheet of paper or film is loaded into the camera in the darkroom or changing bag).  The camera is made from expanded PVC with a chemically etched 0.35mm pinhole. It has a ‘focal length’ of 87 mm, making it a slightly wide angle and an aperture of f248. It is a very clever and simple design. It consists of two boxes (slightly larger than 100 x 120 mm) that slip one inside the other and are held in place by magnets.

In the darkroom or changing bag the two parts of the camera are opened and a sheet of 4×5 film or photographic paper is placed in the larger box. The slightly smaller box slides into the larger one holding the film or paper in place (and giving the photograph a border). The magnet, which is surprisingly strong, holds the two parts together.

4×5 contact print showing border. Northcote Amphitheatre.


The pinhole cover (or shutter) is also held open or closed with magnets, so the likelihood of accidental exposure is slim. There is a standard tripod screw thread under the camera.

The camera is very light (300 grams), and small (149 x 123 x 99 mm) making it one of the smallest 4×5 camera on the market.

The camera comes packaged in a slip apart box, that includes not only the camera, instruction booklet, but thirty sheets of paper and film: ten sheets 4×5 Delta 100 film, ten sheets 4×5 FB direct positive paper, ten sheets 4×5 MG RC paper as well as an empty three draw light-tight box (for putting exposed film and paper into), an exposure calculator and a set of stickers.

The exposure calculator is a cut out and assemble your self three-dial calculator printed on, to quote Ilford, ‘fairly waterproof paper’. Other copies can be downloaded from Ilford’s web site if the original gets lost or damaged.

The sheet of stickers are mainly for show, but one sticker with sight lines is actually useful. These diagonal lines help you to compose the photograph by showing what will be included in your image. It’s only a guide, but until you get the hang of pinhole photography it’s very useful.

Using the camera

Loading the camera with film in a changing bag is easy. Inside the changing bag the camera is opened and the two parts put side by side. The film box is opened and one sheet with the film notches on the top right or bottom left (so the emulsion is facing up) is put into the larger box. The other box with the pinhole opening is then slid into the first and held together with the magnets. The film box is closed; the changing bag opened and the camera is ready to go.

Once the exposure has been made the camera and empty light-tight three-draw box is put in the changing bag. The empty light-tight box is opened, then the camera, the exposed film put in the box. This is closed, then the changing bag is opened. The box containing the exposed film is taken out and the box of unexposed film put in and loaded into the camera as before.

It takes around a minute to load the camera. But care should be taken to be sure the camera is dust free, before loading it with film or paper.

To avoid confusion it’s a good idea to write ‘Exposed’ on the box with exposed film in it.

I found the camera easy to use. However you do get strange looks loading and unloading the camera in the changing bag in public places. I found I got into a rhythm using the camera and the loading and unloading became easier and quicker each time.

Changing bag, film boxes and camera. Northcote Amphitheatre.

The Obscura Pinhole Camera is a very good camera for anyone wanting to start large format pinhole photography. Simple to use, does not require film holders, very small and light, and produces very good photographs.

This camera has been used a lot in workshops over the past five years and shows very little sign of wear.

The test camera was supplied by Vanbar Pty Ltd & Ilford Australia.

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.

Review: Harman-Ilford Titan 8×10 pinhole camera

Review: Lensless Camera Manufacturing Co. 4×5 pinhole camera

Example photographs made on the Obscura 4×5 pinhole camera

Northcote Amphitheatre.

The Caves. Bunurong Marine Park. Victoria.

Eagles Nest. Bunurong Marine National Park. Victoria.

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.

Obscura 4×5 pinhole camera. Northcote Amphitheatre.

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David Tatnall is an Australian fine art photographer & editor of View Camera Australia.

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