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Veijo Vilva

Pinhole Photography

is a liberating, enlightening and educating experience

A photo taken with a Lenox Laser 300 micron Photo Pinhole at 70mm (f/233), mounted on a folding 6x6 camera.
The scanned frame size is 54mm x 54mm. The nearest, 31mm high chess piece was only about 85mm from the
camera, which is why it looks slightly soft. The far edge of the chess board was about 27cm from the camera.

Photography without Lenses

But Why? Why would anyone in their right mind start taking pinhole photographs which can never be really sharp, at least when taken with a reasonably sized camera? There is no single answer, different people do have their different reasons. Pinhole photography is great fun and it can be the most serious kind of photography. There is the freedom from vying for the latest and the greatest the industry has to offer, and the freedom from the delusion that technically ever more perfect equipment is required for great photography. There is also the satisfaction of still being able to use one's own creativity and craftmanship to the full, of designing and even building cameras which may be quite unique and individual, an essential part of the art.

Pinhole photography is done with very simple cameras which instead of a lens have just a tiny hole or sometimes several of them through which light passes to the film. There are no adjustments to be made, usually there is no viewfinder, and the shutter may be fully manual.

A pinhole camera can be home built extremely cheaply and still produce astonishing photos which technically are indistinguishable from photos taken with the finest commercial pinhole cameras. However, even the commercial ones are very cheap compared with almost any other type of camera, and some are rather elaborately and beautifully finished, almost works of art.

A pinhole photograph is not razor sharp, but all parts of the image are almost equally in focus and there is no obvious focal blur. The image may be soft, but the softness is uniform from very near the camera to the horizon, which often creates a very dreamlike quality. On the other hand, pinhole photographs are often more documentary than customary ones just because there are no out of focus zones, on the photo one can see everything that was visible within the angle of view from the pinhole position, limited only by the resolving power of the specific pinhole system. There can be a very strong, enhanced feeling of being there.

The lack of focus inherent in a pinhole camera disturbs many people who feel they must be able to defocus parts of the view in order to concentrate just on the essence or who feel that the limited depth of field of most cameras is something natural. I'm quite the opposite. I'm disturbed by photos which prevent me from inspecting everything within the view, I get a headache trying to force the out of focus parts into focus, I prefer a slight uniform softness.

No camera is perfect or suitable for all purposes and all people. A pinhole camera does have many limitations, and so of necessity does every camera, even the latest and most expensive digital cameras, and some of the limitations do not overlap. Technically, photographic art doesn't require very much. Maximal resolution and minimal noise are in no way necessary for even very profound artistic expression, which, of course, doesn't mean that any odd blurry photograph is a work of art. However, a pinhole camera with all its limitations can give a creative photographer a degree of freedom from purely commercial pressures, very cheaply, and sometimes an opportunity to take photographs utterly impossible by any other means.

Pinhole photography does require a different philosophy, a different way of looking at things when composing a photograph. The background is always there, just like in real life.

My Very First Pinhole Photos, including a Five Minute Self-Portrait

I took these photos with a 35mm SLR camera having rather a non-optimal,
self-made copper plate pinhole fixed to a body cap -- just as a quick proof of concept.
(Refocused with Gimp)

However, this is the real McCoy:

1.5 seconds at Senate Square, Helsinki, Finland

One of the first photos I took with my Zero 2000 medium format pinhole camera (6x6).
Note the absense of geometric distortion. Agfa APX 100, exp. time: one second+.

Temple Square Church, Helsinki, Finland (1024x768 wallpaper)
(Zero 2000, Fuji Neopan 100 Acros, 1'30")
Photo taken on April 24, 2005, the Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (My Entry)

Digital Pinhole Photographs

A pinhole photograph taken with a Canon EOS 350D dSLR
Note the visibility of the dust particles on the sensor.
(local contrast enhanced and refocused with Gimp)

And three pinhole photographs taken with a Canon EOS 5D:
The image quality is much better due to the larger sensor. With careful post-processing, these photos are quite usable.


My Pinhole Galleries

Some Links

Zero 2000

Instead of starting with a home-made camera, I decided to play it safe and
ordered a ready-made one. I don't have a darkroom so a rollfilm camera
seemed to be the best choice.


The handmade wooden 6x6 pinhole camera (f = 25mm, f/138)
by Zero Image Company
  • Zero Image Gallery of photos various people have taken
    with Zero Image cameras. Regrettably the images are
    too small to do justice to the cameras.
  •, an authorized dealer of Zero Image cameras
    in Europe.

Another one of my first test photos with my Zero 2000

The 120 format film box is 30mm from the camera, the width of the box is about 30mm.
Of course, the 1956 vintage Rolleiflex 2.8E Zeiss Planar TLR in the background produces
very much sharper photos than this one - but often with a rather limited DOF.
The Minolta 110 Zoom SLR near the window is a very nice camera with lots of DOF.

The Retro Way : My Other Photography

The Retro Way : My Other Photography



Virtual Photographs of Virtual Worlds

  My Ray-Trace Gallery  

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