Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Populist for Minnesota

Recently on the League of Upper Midwest Pinholers Facebook page, Scott Stillman announced he would be giving a presentation on pinhole photography in anticipation of the annual Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day celebration at a regular event at the Minneapolis Photo Center. At the end of the post, he wondered if anyone could loan him a Populist to demo for the crowd. Hmmm, could he be referring to me?

My first thought was "Hey, it's a camera anyone can make – build one."  But almost immediately reconsidered that Scott was a young guy who was probably pretty busy and has demonstrated his bona fides as a pinhole photographer adapting a lot of cameras to work without a lens.  Also, I hadn't built one in a long time, and then thought of a joke I could build into the camera.

Since this camera was going to Minnesota, I made it out of the carton from a 24 pack of Wisconsin beer, Leinenkugels of Chippewa Falls (famous for being where Annie Hall grew up).  I'm from Eau Claire about 10 miles to the south of Chippewa, and therefore drank Walters when I lived there, but they don't exist anymore, so I now consider Leinies my local beer, even though I now live on the other side of the state.  (Chief Oshkosh Brewery no longer exists either in case you were wondering.)

On the front I put the portrait of the Chippewa maiden that has been the symbol of Leinies since it was founded.  I think most young men who grow up in northwestern Wisconsin are probably secretly in love with her.

I had to do some tricky placement of the pattern to get the image aligned on both the camera front and the shutter.  She's on both the front and back of the carton, so it wasn't all that difficult.

On the back, of course, I had to put the map of the State of Wisconsin.

I did use tape from Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing.

It's a completely stock Populist with none of the modifications I've done to The Populist, but that's appropriate to the purpose of the build.

I hand drilled the pinhole.  I probably should have used a Leinie's can, but I have a lot of brass shim stock around so I used that. I just used a common pin against a marble table top and sanded it with some 600 grit emery paper.

That's it on the left,  compared to a Gilder .2mm Electron Microscope Aperture on the right at the same magnification. It measures out to about .18 mm. A little small, but it looks pretty round and smooth, and exposures shouldn't be much different than for a .2mm. I've always used a .15mm Gilder aperture on The Populist, which is precisely 1 stop slower than a .2. Close enough for modern films.

While I was building it, I couldn't help but think of Gregg Kemp, in who's memory this year's Pinhole Day is dedicated. For the last few years Gregg was extremely bothered that so many people who submitted images to Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day just bought a pinhole lens cap for their Digital SLR and fired away on auto exposure. To him, the pinhole experience was more about crafting your own camera and experimenting with the medium than it was simply about the fact that no lens was involved. What struck me is this is all pretty easy to do adequately and with a little care can be done pretty well.  I'm not as concerned as Gregg was about this, but if you want to honor Gregg this Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, make a camera, or at least, drill your own pinhole. There are lots of other simple camera designs out there besides the Populist.

That having been said, there are a couple points I noticed while building this camera.

The clicker is unquestionably kind of tricky. It has to extend over the divider by just about 1mm and there's not much tolerance. If too high, it folds over, and while it still makes a click, it's a very quiet one. Luckily, it's pretty easy to try several times until you get a good loud click. In order to make it easier to place, it really helps to load the film, and with some kind of marker that's going to be visible on black tape, put a little mark through the sprocket hole. I'm lucky to be married to an artist with a vast collection of pens including a gold one that shows up really well, especially on 3M #235.

The second thing I noticed was that it's really helpful to get the slot in the winder wide enough, and long enough to really engage the tab inside the take-up reel.   The one on the left will feel a little like you're engaged with the tab, but if things are a little tight, it will slip and ride up on the tab and it takes a lot of force to keep the reel rotating.  The one on the right, although it's a little ugly, sits completely over the tab and stays engaged more reliably.

Having a craft knife like an X-Acto to cut the winder and shutter holes neatly and accurately is really worthwhile, rather than using scissors only method I included since I thought a craft knife might not be a common thing to have, and maybe dangerous with younger builders.

We often talk about the role of serendipity in pinhole, but Murphy's law is the flip side of that. Very early in the process of working on the Populist, I realized that the default print setting for a PDF file is fit to paper, which will often reduce the size of the image to the printable area of the printer, which can sometimes be very subtle.  I changed the default setting of the file to print at 100%, but I think some printers and PDF viewers don't recognize that. I put a 25mm bar on the diagram so you could check the size.

I knew I had some diagrams in a box in the basement, and just grabbed the one on top.  I remember actually noticing the 25mm bar, but didn't measure it. As I was making the camera, it did seem oddly small, but then I'm so used to The Populist which has several layers of tape on it. When I put the film cassette in it, I had to really jam it in there, and when the camera was closed, I could just barely advance the film, and it wouldn't rewind at all. I finally went down stairs and got one of the prototypes and what do you know, it was about 2 or 3 percent smaller than it was suppose to be, and I had to start over. Moral of the story: measure that calibration bar.

I've told Scott to give the camera away as a door prize, so if you're in the Twin Cites on April 5th, check out his talk and maybe get a hand made camera to use on Pinhole Day. If not, it's a camera anyone can make.

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