Friday, February 24, 2017

Roadtrip: Happy hour and happy dogs

Went to Eau Claire for no other reason than to go out with Gene and Laura.

Started as is traditional with happy hour at the Joynt.

The next morning we hung out in their sunny family room.

Here's Arthur perched on Gene's knees. Bichons Frise are about the best you could ask for for short exposures.

And Bob (I think) cuddling with Laura on the couch.

And both later hanging out together on their own furniture.

All with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36 frame.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A snowy day

It's been a gloomy January.  Very few sunbeams to work with and the only thing I could find around the house that inspired me were these roses Sarah had drying in a bowl on the counter.

One day it snowed when the temperature was right at freezing so it stuck to all the trees, and that looked interesting.

Down the garden path.

The watering can where it was left at the end of the growing season.

And one of the giant oaks at the end of the soccer field at Merril School. 100 developed in Caffenol C-M, .32mm pinhole 60mm from 6x6 cm frame.

Monday, February 6, 2017

So just how much difference does it make?

There was a lot of interest in my comparison of brass and aluminum pinholes last week, with lots of comments on Facebook expressing definite opinions of one sort or another, and one especially got to me where a rookie pinholer wondered how to avoid "blurriness."  There were several responses that seemed to imply that the only way was to buy a commercial pinhole.

So I felt it was probably the responsible thing to do to actually take pictures with a variety of pinholes to see exactly how much and what kind of difference it does make.

My original plan was to make the best pinhole in the same size out of several materials, but I quickly found out that's pretty difficult to do with hand-drilled pinholes, and some materials are harder to work with than others.  Again, I used my standard technique of drilling through with a number 10 sewing needle, in this case held in a cork from a bottle of Scotch, against a hard table with a matchbook cover underneath the material so the needle could just penetrate enough to make the size hole I wanted, in this case .3mm, and then sanding the burr off the opposite side, and in one case, sanding the drilled-into side to make it smoother. I thought about getting a micro-drill at this size, but that would have been a mail order purchase and I could envision breaking something that small the first time I touched it. (Curious how you work with those - something like a tiny hand drill?)

So here are the six pinholes, this time rendered at the same scale. They range from about .29 to about .33mm.  I mounted them on the outside of the shutter of a 60mm 6x6 camera so I could change the pinhole between each exposure.  (Mr. Pinhole says .32 is optimum at this distance) 

They are from left to right:

1. Sheet brass .05 mm thick from a roll I bought in 1992 that has had thousands of pinholes made from it. It's pretty close to round but not quite.  It's hard to spin the Scotch cork around - maybe I should use a pencil or an exacto handle I could twirl more easily instead. 

2. Very thin brass foil.  I only had about two square inches of this stuff.  I kept making slightly oval pinholes and it was difficult to get a really perfect edge.  If I tried to smooth out the edge, I'd end up enlarging it, so this was the best one I could do.

3. A piece of beverage can aluminum (a beer can, Justin). This is the initial state which one commenter described as "craters of the moon."

4. The beverage can aluminum with the drilled-into side sanded to remove the crater rim. I was using 400 grit sandpaper, so maybe I could do better with a finer grit, but I checked at the hardware store and decided not to put $6.00 into it just for this project.

5.  One commenter mentioned that "cooking" aluminum was a fine material.  In retrospect, I supposed they meant a disposable pie pan or something like that, but I used regular aluminum foil. I tried several times to sand the burr off the back side but kept tearing it, so when I got this relatively circular one about the right size, I quit while I was ahead. From it's appearance it should be a really awful pinhole.

6. A Gilder Electron Microscope Aperture, which is in copper that's probably about .025mm. Maybe not a premium priced laser drilled pinhole, but the best I could do, and I can't image how those expensive pinholes can be rounder or smoother.

So here are the pictures. They are all half hour exposures about three feet under a couple flourescent fixtures, using 100 developed in Caffenol C-M.  They vary a little in density and it's impossible to get the scanner software not to do a little preprocessing, but I tried to make them as unmanipulated as possible.

1. The .05mm thick sheet brass.

2. The brass foil.

3. The Aluminum with the crater rim.

4. Aluminum with the crater rim sanded off.

5. The Aluminum foil. Notice that the bottom of the frame is slightly lower contrast than the top, something I didn't expect from diffraction at this scale.

6. The Gilder electron microscope aperture.

There's a little difference in contrast, but that may have to do with variation in exposure based on the slight variations in size.  Except for that diffraction caused fogging at the bottom of No. 5, it's a little hard to tell them apart when looking at them at this scale.

But the argument about this sort of thing was about sharpness, so let's look at some details. These are actual pixel reproductions. I scanned them at 2400 dpi, so assuming you're looking at them at "actual size" in your browser and based on the native screen resolution of my MacBook Air of 128dpi, that means these are like looking at a 42 inch print!

This is the text below that high speed camera shot on the upper left hand page of the encyclopedia (The bold text in the first line actually says "High speed camera."  Because of the variations in density, I adjusted the levels on this detail to where I thought you got the best look at the text.

The diagram of the pinhole camera on the right hand page of the encyclopeda.

The Cheerios shutter on the camera to the right.

The shutter speed dial on the Canon F-1.  In this one you can clearly see the reduced contrast in No.5.

And lastly, the 529 Graphite designation on the shutter of the Chaneloflex.

I guess there's a few conclusions that can be drawn.  

First it's a pretty robust process.  Even the ragged, three dimensional hole in the aluminum foil created a reasonable image, and with a little care you can easily drill a pinhole that most people won't be able to tell the difference from an expensive laser drilled aperture.

To that rookie pinholer that everyone wanted to buy a premium pinhole, I think your problem was a pinhole that was too big.

One thing that I sort of knew already from some experiments I did a long time ago is that diffraction is going to reduce contrast as much as it's going to reduce sharpness.

A surprise was that the aluminum pinhole with the crater rim looks like it performed a hair better than the one where I sanded it off. Go figure.

And of course, the Gilder aperture wins in sharpness, if you're into that sort of thing, and I bet if I repeated the experiment with a .15 aperture on 35mm film it would make more difference. 

But there are other considerations. Drilling your own pinhole is just more pinholey than buying one. That's kind of a snotty attitude, but it's about as close to religion as I get. And of course concept, subject matter, lighting, creative use of motion and composition can elevate an image more than simple sharpness.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Brass or aluminum

I recently ran across a blog (Sorry, don't remember whose) which discussed the quality of image and how pinholes drilled in soda can aluminum were inferior to those drilled in brass foil which were inferior to the pinholes you got with a premium pinhole camera like a Zero.  So I thought I'd take a look.

The pinholes below were made with my standard technique for pinholes which are smaller than the diameter of the needle I'm using.  I drill against a hard table top that the needle won't penetrate with some cardstock underneath it depending how far I want the needle tip to penetrate depending on the size pinhole I want.  For pinholes approximately .15mm, I drill right against the table.  For pinholes approximately .3mm, I use a matchbook cover, and for about .4mm a cereal box.  The following examples are about .3mm.  I then sand the burr that forms on the bottom side off with a piece of 400 grade emery paper.  The pictures are all of the top side that the needle drilled into.

First the aluminum.  When first drilled, it looks like the needle point splashed out a crown around the hole, and when sanded left all sorts of crap in the hole.  Not a very good pinhole. Removing the debris was fairly easy by placing the needle back in being very careful not to enlarge the hole and giving it a spin.  I wondered if I could get rid of this rough crown by sanding the side the needle entered.  I knocked it down a little bit as in the middle picture and then really worked it over and did succeeded in minimizing it, but it looks like I distorted the edge a little bit.

I'm afraid my scanner freaks out when faced with extremely bright highlights on a shiny surface, so I had to switch to a cheapo microscope attachment on my phone so the image quality and scale is different, but the hole is actually about the same size

So now with the brass. What you might notice is that with the brass, the needle first formed a dimple in the material and then created the hole.  The brass is a little thinner than the aluminum in the first place, and this dimpling makes it even thinner at the edge of the hole.  There's still a little bit of a splash, but it's much smaller than with the aluminum.  And this is right on the first go.

Then I wondered if it made much of a difference when completely drilling the pinhole through the material without the hard surface beneath it, so I drilled a couple with a piece of styrofoam under the material and pierced it completely with my number 10 needle to make a hole about .5mm.

Looks like that didn't make too much difference. The aluminum still creates that ragged crown before the needle goes through, and the brass looks about the same too.

I don't have a premium pinhole camera, but I thought it might be instructive to make a comparison to a Gilder electron microscope grid, which in addition is made in some even thinner brass.

This one happens to be a .15mm so it's also magnified a lot more

I guess technically it's a lot better.

At this point I should probably mount these on cameras and do an exhaustive comparison of image quality, but it's late.

Comparing 120 format images done with my 45mm Glenlivet Vertical Populist and 60mm Portrait Cameras, which have .3mm Gilder apertures, and the 45mm camera I made a few weeks ago,  and the 60mm new Evil cube which have .3mm hand drilled pinholes in brass, I really can't see that significant a difference.  I know I did the pictures for my experiments with developing paper in Caffenol with pinholes drilled in aluminum (although those negatives were 4x5), so you can still get some pretty decent pictures with that universally available material.

On f295, there would occasionally be an inquiry about how to make the sharpest pinhole images, and the discussion would inevitably devolve into statements that pinhole really isn't about sharpness so you probably shouldn't get too hung up about it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New 6x6 at 45 and better results with caffenol

Although I built the Evil Cube specifically for photographing the mansion at the Paine Art Center, when I went over there I also took the Glenlivet Vertical Populist.  I discovered I probably had more opportunities with the wider angle and if I had a second 45mm camera, I could take better advantage of the time I was there.

So I took the template I made for the 120 Populist, cut 3 cm out of the middle to make it 6x6 cm and cut the flaps and the film bay spacers down to 45mm and put the film counter hole in the middle.  Otherwise, follow the recipe.  There are some modern improvements such as three layer shutters and using cut off nails to keep the film reels parallel. The Student Services from the University were giving away those rubber wristbands (how can anybody stand to have those on their wrist?) in the school colors, black and gold. They turn out to be just the right size for the 120 populist and wide enough that you can cut them in half so placed on both sides, they hold the winders on very securely, and turned with the lettering inside, give that professional black body look. I hand drilled the pinhole which is .27mm.

I had been experimenting with caffenol developer last year using my old Compact 120 6x9, and had significant issues with background fogging - I thought.  I got some improvement working with table salt as a restrainer, but the pattern of the fogging increasing toward the edges of the film made me a little suspicious so I shot another roll and developed it in Microphen.  Turns out the Compact 120 6x9 has a low level general light leak, probably where the pieces go together but maybe also through the winders. Time to experiment with another camera.

I intended to develop the first role through this new camera with Microphen to double check for light-tightness, but I used the last of it on the roll from the Compact 120. I've had very little problem with light leaks with the Populist scheme, so I decided to go ahead with caffenol.  I used the standard C-M formula, but I added 6 grams of table salt (in 500 ml) as a restrainer since I was still using Arista 400.

I was very pleasantly surprised how well it turned out.

I started out on my bicycle to get some historic sights in Oshkosh.

I had to move into the middle of the street to get one of my favorite scenes - Boots Saloon, right across the street from a Catholic Church and Grade School. Only in Wisconsin.

An overgrown window in a dilapidated abandoned factory.  Once again, I wasn't paying close enough attention to making sure the film was tightly wound, and ended up with a curved film plane, which many people consider pinhole fun.

The giant sundial downtown in Opera square.

Speedboats stored on racks at the Mercury Marine Engineering Lab.

The roll sat in the camera for quite awhile while I waited for inspiration, but finally last weekend I decided to just finish it off around the house.

A sunbeam on the crystal doorknob in the bathroom.

A decorative pull on the curtains in the upstairs hallway window.

And another sunbeam in the corner of the kitchen next to the refrigerator.

I guess I'm warming up to black and white again. I've got plenty of washing soda, vitamin C and instant coffee left. I thought the Arista 400 was a bit grainy so I've gotten some of the 100.  Another lesson I had to relearn was to get some wetting agent.  I had significant scum marks on these negatives that took forever to retouch out.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A small dog

Regular followers may recall me mentioning a character missing from my posts in Boston who has no respect for pinhole time.

When he was just a puppy, I did get one photograph of Jeremy just after I had taken him for a long walk with the specific intent to wear him out.

He and his roommates recently visited Wisconsin, so I had the chance to pursue some other schemes.

Even the fastest moving animal will stay relatively still while they're asleep.

Another method is to take advantage of lighting situations where the exposure is only a second or two.

I'm not above using bribes to increase my chances.

When you become familiar with his routine, you find opportunities.

Things can change quickly when something gets his attention.

Petting is another good trick to keep him in one place.

But sometimes, he just seems to know he's having his portrait done.

All with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


I'll leave you this year with a party.  Not the last day of the year, but the last day of the semester - The Good Friday Scholastic Colloquium. Originally started by a biologist in the '70s who currently holds the title of Esteemed Mixologist for U-Club, since his retirement the colloqium has been organized by an archaeologist, who also serves as mixologist at U-Club, although without the title.

It's a movable event, but usually is held in the combination Anthopology Department student lounge/seminar room/storeroom.

Refreshments provided by the attendees. The historian on the left related to me that one of the most memorable experiences of his education was building and using a pinhole camera in a junior high school science class.

This year it took place on a snowy night so the attendance might have been a little sparse.

Myself, the organizer, and one of my former employees closing out the event.

All with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.