How to make your own DIY pinhole camera for 35mm film using a matchbox

Jan 1, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to make your own DIY pinhole camera for 35mm film using a matchbox

Jan 1, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Coming to you from the guys at COOPH, here are two ways to make and shoot with a pinhole camera. The first is analogue. Yes, that’s right, it uses 35mm film, the construction is as cheap and simple as it gets. All you need is a matchbox, a fresh roll of film, an empty film spool, an empty drinks can, some thin card and a whole mess of electrical tape.

The second method is for interchangeable lens cameras and can work for either 35mm SLRs or DSLRs (or mirrorless cameras) and essentially just converts your standard camera body cap into a pinhole lens for your camera.

Making a pinhole camera that uses film isn’t that difficult in principle. You literally just box with a hole in it – a really tiny hole – and a way to load film or pass it behind the hole in between frames. In this example, that film loading and frame advance mechanism is built right into the camera itself, as the film spool canister forms part of the camera.

The tricky part is to ensure that there are no light leaks – and that’s where a whole bunch of black electrical tape comes in handy. Depending on how high quality the tape is, you might want to cover it in two layers to ensure no light gets through at all except through the hole on a small piece of drinks can on the front of the matchbox. If you want to know if the tape you’ve picked will let any light pass through, simply cut off a small piece, hold it in front of your eye (not too close!) and look at a light source. If you can see it at all, double up those layers.

The second method is also simple and essentially just requires drilling a hole in a body cap for your camera, mounting a small piece of drinks can to it and piercing a small hole.

Exactly how sharp the images will be will depend on how cleanly the hole is cut in the metal offcut from the drinks can. You’ll need to work out your aperture, though. Your focal length is basically the distance from the hole straight to the film plane (or from the hole to the sensor in the case of digital) and your aperture is that focal length divided by the physical diameter of the hole.

For some easy maths to illustrate, if yours works out to be a 20mm focal length and you have a perfect 0.2mm hole in the piece of metal, that’s an aperture of f/100. If you’re using the Samsung NX with a flange distance of 25.5mm with a 0.2mm hole, that works out to almost exactly f/128 (f/256 for a 0.1mm hole, f/64 for a 0.4mm hole).

If you’re building a body cap pinhole and you’re not sure of the flange distance for your camera (which ultimately would be pretty close to the focal length of your pinhole) there’s a list of flange distances for just about every mount ever made available here.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “How to make your own DIY pinhole camera for 35mm film using a matchbox”

  1. Juan Martin Gerardi Avatar
    Juan Martin Gerardi

    Useless