Review: Zero Image 4×5 pinhole camera by David Tatnall

Review: Zero Image 4×5 pinhole camera by David Tatnall

This review is of the Zero Image 75B Basic 4×5 Camera System in the new Back to Nature series. Made from yacht grade timber with brass screws and attachments and are held together with elastic bands.

Zero Image Company has been making pinhole cameras in Hong Kong since 1999. Zernike Au a product designer and pinhole photography enthusiast founded the company and has ran it ever since. The Company make a number of roll film and sheet film pinhole cameras from 35 mm to 8×10. In 2001 they made one of the first multi-format 4×5 pinhole cameras – a camera that can be changed from a ‘focal length’ of 25 mm to 50 mm and to 75 mm, by adding or subtracting 25 mm frames.

The first series of this camera came in a high gloss lacquered finish. The Back to Nature series is finished with a hard wax-oil that is supposedly more eco-friendly. The 75B system is two 25 mm frames and one 25 mm frame with a built in turret with three pinholes and three zone plates.

It is possible to purchase this system as a stand a lone 25 mm camera, a 50 mm camera (that can also be used as 25 mm) or as combination of 25, 50 and 75 mm in the 75B. It is more cost effective to buy the camera in the 75B combination.

Zero Image 75B pinhole camera. Lillies Bay, Flinders Island. Tasmania

Using the camera.

These cameras are beautifully finished and are a pleasure to look at. Each frame has two tripod sockets for horizontal and vertical and four brass lugs to attach the elastic bands.

The three sections of the 75B camera

One frame has a black front plate with the pinhole ‘shutter’ and on the other side a rotating turret with three pinholes, one for 25 mm one for 50 mm and one for 75 mm. Also there are three zone plates for the same focal lengths. It also has two tripod sockets and four lugs for elastic bands.

Camera in 75mm mode with 4×5 film holder attached, showing tripod sockets and lugs for elastic bands.

If you are using the camera in 75 mm mode all three 25 mm frames are slotted together and secured with elastic bands. The rotating turret is turned so that the appropriated pinhole is in place – each is marked by small dots. For 75 mm the pinhole with two dots is put in place (same for the zone plate settings).

Turret with three pinholes and three zone plates.

Then a 4×5 film holder is put on the third frame and held in place with another two elastic bands. For the camera to be used in 50 mm mode the elastic bands and the third frame are removed and then elastic bands are returned to hold the two frames together. For the camera to be used in 25 mm mode both frames are removed and the film holder is placed directly on it and held in place with elastic bands.

The camera in 50mm mode with 4×5 film holder.

The camera comes with elastic bands. It is very sensible to get a number of replacement bands, are they perish, stretch or shoot off into the landscape when you least expect. I’ve found that hair bands work very well too. The camera is so well made the elastic bands simple stop the camera from opening, not a great deal of pressure need be applied. The same goes for attaching the film holder.

In 4×5 photography 75 mm is wide angle, 50 mm is very wide angle and 25 mm is extremely wide angle. Picking the subject that goes with each ‘focal length’ will take some time. Here the scene at Salmon Rocks at Cape Conran doesn’t look too distorted using the 50 mm.

Salmon Rocks. Cape Conran. Victoria. 50mm

Here are two scenes using the 25 mm ‘focal length’. The Morton Bay fig on the left due to its nature doesn’t look too distorted. Where as the Parliament of Victoria building on the right shows a good deal of distortion.

                                                                                                                              

I’ve mainly use the camera in 50 and 75 mm modes. I’ve found it difficult to find many scenes that I can successfully use with 25 mm with, however when they work they look great, see example three below.

The pinholes are made in very fine brass shim and produce sharp (for pinhole) images. The zone plates are printed on clear film.

The pinhole sizes are: 0.18mm (25mm), 0.28mm (50mm), 0.35mm (75mm).

F stops are: f138 (25mm), f176 (50mm), f216 (75mm)

For zone plate f stops are: f43.25 (25mm), f45.54 (50mm), f44.7 (75mm).

The camera will accept 4×5 film holders, Polaroid 545 and roll film backs.

The camera in 25mm mode with 6×7 roll film back attached.

Conclusions.

Explaining that your camera is made out of wood and brass and held together with elastic bands doesn’t always go down well. However the photographs that can be produced are extremely satisfying. I have found the elastic bands frustrating at times, especially when they break and the camera comes apart. But with experimentation and practice this occurs less and less.

Over all this is a good camera system for those who want and will use all three focal lengths. However if you only want to use it as a 75 or 50 mm camera, it probably isn’t your best choice. There is a deluxe model with cable release and spirit level, but the basic model works fine. Additional frames can be purchased that will increase the ‘focal length’ by 25mm for each frame added.

Zero Image have recently released an 8×10 camera. It’s worth noting this model doesn’t use elastic bands to hold the three frames together but instead a clever system of lugs and a spring to secure the film holder. It also has brass framing marks to aid composition, something the 4×5 is lacking.

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.

Recently published pinhole camera reviews by David Tatnall:

Harman-Ilford Titan 8×10 pinhole camera

Lensless Camera Manufacturing Co. 4×5 pinhole camera

Harman-Ilford Obscura 4×5 pinhole camera

Examples of photographs made on the Zero Image 4×5 pinhole camera.

Egg Beach Reserve. Flinders Island. Tasmania. 75 mm

Point Ricardo Beach. Cape Conran. Victoria. 50 mm 

Untitled. From Transience series. 25 mm

 

Main photograph at the top, Zero Image 75B camera at Egg Beach Reserve, Flinders Island, Tasmania. All photographs by David Tatnall.

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