Friday, September 14, 2018

The Variable Cuboid Pinhole Camera System


Evil Cube film path
My favorite camera recently has been the new Evil Cube, and the original Evil Cube before that, admittedly for the silly reason that I like the cuboid shape over the more rectangular aspect of my other cameras. I set out to make a camera that's similar in shape, but more wide angle, 45mm. The problem is that if you divide up a shorter box into a triangular image chamber, there's not enough room left for your 24mm film reels.  You'd have to make the box a little wider, and pretty soon, you might as well just have the original Populist scheme with the film beside a rectangular image chamber.

However if you could put the film plane in front of the reels, you could make the camera as short as you want.

So in order to figure out how to do this, the obvious thing was to check out how it's done in a medium format SLR, my youthful envy of which is driving this whole thing.

In most film cameras you've ever seen with the film plane in the back of the camera, the film path is pretty straight from one reel to the other, although as above, it might have to make two turns.

Medium format SLR film path
In an interchangeable back medium format SLR, the film leaves the right reel clockwise at the top going toward the right, makes about a 140° turn over a roller riding against the backing paper, crosses the image plane with the film facing out and turns around again, to be taken up by the left reel – a little more tortuous path.

Hasselblads have exquisitely integrated, precisely engineered mechanisms made from the best material to make the film move through the camera smoothly. I have a slightly more limited repertoire.

Experience has taught me that the 90° turn the film has to take in the Evil Cube required a little more engineering than the straight path of a Populist, so this meandering path was going to be another step up. That usually means more layers of cardboard.

Another revelation was that once the film was behind the film plane, the camera could be any length you wanted, shorter or longer. If it included a Pinhole Lab Camera style light trap, you could make interchangeable fronts with a variety of distances from pinhole to film. Don't even think about calling them lenses.

Suddenly I have a Variable Cuboid Pinhole Camera System.  Take that, youthful envy!

The back is designed sort of like the Evil Cube Template: a film carrier assembly, inserted into a back-of-the-camera box, with the front box overlapping the back.

The first attempt just used cardboard for the edge that the film rides over. I'm always impressed by how rugged film is being dragged across my cardboard dividers, but this was too much. I could barely nudge it a few millimeters at a time and I was sure there would be marks on the negatives from the compression.

Since 3/8 inch dowels are already part of my pinhole pantry, they might provide a more gentle curve for the film to follow.  I thought about placing plastic drinking straws around them, but they're narrower and I didn't want to reduce the radius of that curve. I did sand the dowel as smooth as I could and gave it a good coat of pencil graphite to make it as slippery as possible.

These are held in place by layers of foamcore above and below the film holder.

The film reels have to be kept parallel, and even with the lubricated dowels, the forces on the take-up reel to twist out of line are considerable. To keep the bottom of the reels in place, I whittled a shorter version of the winders and held them in a double layer of foamcore, and applied more graphite since it has to rotate with the film.  This violates my dislike for small pieces that can get misplaced, but I'll just have to be careful when loading.

One issue with having the film on the image plane in front of the box is that the back of the film with the numbers on it is now an inch and half inside the box with the film reels. I made light proof dividers for the film chambers with as wide a middle bay as possible and used a double-wide shutter to let more light in to see the numbers. In the first prototype, out on a sunny day, it was hard to see them when winding so I glued white paper to the sides to reflect more light.


This part also provides a little structure which helps keep the reels from wandering while you're loading the camera. A t-nut tripod mount is installed in the foamcore layers at the bottom.

The film holder goes into a frame which has a film gate in front of the film to keep it from spooling out into the front of the camera. It also provides an exactly 6x6cm opening so images don't overlap.


The winders are inserted and the frame is placed into the camera back which overlaps the winder collars.


The internal frame extends 10mm out from the back.

The fronts are made to the length you want optically, which slides over the frame and right up against the back.  There's a layer of foamcore (or a couple layers of corrugated cardboard) in the front, 10 mm shorter than the outside, which stops the two parts from sliding any further together.  The entire joint is covered by a light trap which extends over the back all the way to the winders to make it that much more difficult for the sun to sneak through to make mischief.


The camera fronts need to each have a shutter, but Hasselblad does it that way as well. They can, of course, have pinholes sized appropriately for the distance to the film. The viewfinders have to go on the front as well.

The film moves easily enough. It requires a loosen-first-then-wind technique and I've found that it tends to jam up if you tighten the take-up too much so it tries to pull film off the supply.  Better to let it stay loose until you get to the number, and then retighten the supply to flatten the film against the image plane.

When the camera is loaded with film, the fronts have to be changed in the darkroom or a changing bag. I didn't have any trouble doing it in the dark. I get a little dizzy thinking about trying to make a removable dark slide that would allow the front to be changed in the daylight.

I made three fronts.

A 45mm, which started the whole thing, has one of my double shutters and two .29mm pinholes, one on-axis and the other rising 10mm. There is a cardboard triangle on the top for viewfinding.  On the sides the axial and rising pinholes are marked with beaded pins and the image plane with cardboard lines.


Here's the back of Mojo's Bar and an acupucturist/holistic health store, with nicely parallel verticals.


The loading bays of the new addition to the Oshkosh Public Library. The film gate is something I have to work on because it obviously didn't prevent the film from bowing out.  The rising front isn't really worth it, to keep your verticals parallel, if the horizontals are wonky.


Another neoclassical building in Oshkosh with a modern addition is the Wisconsin National Life Building, now housing more of the Winnebago Dept. of Human Services. More pinhole fun with the curvy film. A guy came out of the building and we spoke about the contrast between the two structures, but he never mentioned I had a cardboard box on the tripod.


I made a 20mm front as an extreme example, although you could go as short as a 10mm. At this short a distance, in a regular camera with a 24mm film reel limiting the depth of the camera, you'd have to inset your pinhole into the camera body. I have seen this done. While trying to make the matched pair of pinholes for the 45, I made a .23mm, so I just used it for this one despite it being a hair big for this distance. At a 117° angle of view, it didn't seem worth it to put a rising pinhole on it. I reused the original shutter of Long John Pinhole and was surprised to find the edges of the shutter appeared in the images.


Here's my standard test shot of the entire north wall of the living room. Exposure was apparently five minutes from a quarter before until ten to nine. I could touch the mantle from where the camera was. I have long arms, but still... 


It's always fun to see how close you can get. This is about two and a quarter inches from Minnie's Nose.


The camera is just over my head with the tripod strapped to the shelf of the baker's rack with a bungee cord. This was adjusted for overall brightness and contrast, but otherwise left alone so it's a fair representation of the the degree of vignetting. I was expecting a circle with totally black edges.


As high as the tripod would go looking up under the arbor covered with morning glory vines. Surprisingly it was close enough to not have the rest of the yard visible.


On the extreme other end, I made a 200mm.  In the Some Assembly Required column on the Boston based Don't Take Pictures website, I saw a 600mm long 6x7cm format pinhole camera with a Pro back and an old box camera front. The camera maker had a really big pinhole on it because he wanted it fast enough to hand hold for street photography. That's the only other pinhole camera I've seen with a length to film format ratio this extreme. I just used a trusty #10 needle-diameter .5mm pinhole, which really isn't that small for this long a camera.


A long camera let's you close in to relatively distant compositions. The camera is tilted up a bit but the slightly converging verticals aren't the first thing you notice. I didn't think it worth it to put a rising front on this long a camera either.


Don't Take Pictures did a post on Long John Pinhole. She used a photo I took of a water feature in the Paine Garden and quipped that the long camera allowed me to get the shot without getting into the pool. Well, I had one leg of the tripod in the water for this one. The thing that caught my eye were the reflections of the vines in the water, and with a shorter camera, I would have had to have suspended the camera on a boom to get it to the right spot. This is at f400 with Arista.edu 100 so this was about an hour exposure. I made lunch.


Long cameras also make getting closer easier without getting the camera in your light (although I didn't have any trouble with Minnie and Mickey).  Not really a problem with this backlit dahlia in any case. The flower is about 120mm across so this is a 2:1 macro shot. This is probably heresy but I'd like it to be a little crisper. I think I'm going to change to a .4mm pinhole and see what develops.


I found several dumb errors in the template which I have to fix, and then the ultimate test will be to see if I can build a new back that fits into the fronts I already made and new fronts fitting into this back as well.

I'll probably do a "building-of" post when I make those, but it might be awhile.  This much engineering takes a lot of cardboard and we have to eat enough cereal and crackers to get the materials.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Testing's just another word for playing pinhole.

I'm testing a new concept for a camera. Building and using a prototype revealed lots of little improvements and errors on the template, so I'll tell you all about it when the new revision is built and tested.

Until then, I can tell you these pictures were done with a 45mm long 6x6cm camera, with an axial pinhole and a rising front pinhole 10 mm above the film axis. Mr. Pinhole says the image diameter is 86.4mm at this distance, so with a rising front I might see some vignetting in the top corners.

I also didn't install any three-dimensional viewfinders, I just drew pencil lines.

It's really hard to tell where you're pointing when you're in the photograph, but I used a long piece of dowel to point to where the edges of the image were.  My intention was to portray my bicycle tan, but this might not be the best film to capture that.


One objective, and actually what started the whole thing, was to see how the rising front behaved with this wide an angle. Any tilt or otherwise off-kilter alignment of a wide-angle camera is always exaggerated, and it looks like the camera is tilted down ever so slighty so the verticals diverge. The art deco Winnebago County Courthouse was built in the roaring twenties. They recently put all the high tech security screening stuff in what was the back of the building facing the parking lot, so the old main entrance is preserved but isn't used much.


Another rising pinhole test, another little used entrance to the courthouse. Looks like I got the camera more level on this one.


With just the pencil lines for viewfinders, with the camera as high on the tripod as it can go, with the sun in your eyes, it's really hard to tell exactly where the edges of the frame are. Several times I made that most common error of pinhole rookies: not getting close enough with a wide angle camera. This is the side of the Public Safety Building on very busy Jackson Street.  If the camera had been in the middle of the street to get the composition as previsualized, I probably would have ended up inside.


I wonder if the Greeks had any idea how persistent the architectural styles they developed would be? This was the original entrance to City Hall, formerly Oshkosh High School, now missing the massive staircase that lead down to the street. Like the courthouse, people now go in from the parking lot on the other side. A slight tilt down again. I gotta start using that level.


The front of Camera Casino.  Kind of looks like a theatre box office, doesn't it?  It was the Bijou Theatre from 1905 to 1912.  The owner and a staff member, standing at the front counter, noticed me and waved so I went inside to advance the film in the air conditioning and show them the camera. They're both roughly the same vintage as me, and have seen just about everything photographic, but neither has ever told me they had used a pinhole camera.


Speaking of vintage, an eight minute self-portrait on my sixty-ninth birthday with a new t-shirt and headphones from Sarah and a flat pick in my hand.


.29mm pinholes, one on-axis and the other 10mm above the axis, 45mm from 6x6cm frame on Arista.edu 100 developed in Rodinal 1:50.

Friday, August 31, 2018

From f295: Beantown and Back; my first travel series

F295 was an international discussion forum begun and administered by Tom Persinger. Originally just about pinhole photography, it expanded into all kinds of alternative methods.  I was the first member about a minute or two after I got a message announcing it on Gregg Kemp's legendary Pinhole Visions email list. I immediately posted the first picture. My basic format of pictures and text began there. It was active from 2004 until 2015 but it remains on-line. Recently it disappeared from the web for a few days, and that prompted me to decide to reprise some of my favorites here at Pinholica, for backup if no other reason. Where possible I'll upload the original image files and occasionaly edit for a typo or grammatical error.

The Roadtrip, Abroad and other travel posts with The Populist and a desk-top tripod on this blog began with this one on January 23, 2008.

Weekend before last I attended a conference at Boston College on "Immersive Education," using 3D virtual environments to teach. All taken with the Populist. (Yes, I know, I should have taken the Stereo Populist for this particular event.)

Outagamie County Regional Airport. Doesn't it look cold? United 7213 - On time


O'Hare. United 882. One hour late.


The excitement of business travel. Every hotel room in the United States looks exactly like this. Most have two beds though.


The conference took place at Boston College. We got there a little early and they got started late. This is the rotunda of Gossen Hall. Pretty fancy college the Jesuits run there. It was pretty dark and the place was deserted so I left the camera there while I went to the first demonstrations and came back and got it about half an hour later.


I did get to see my son's apartment while I was there. Don't be alarmed, it's actually a fairly decent place, it's just that his decorating style is a little post-apocalyptic. Of course when one of your parents comes to town, you can expect a free meal out. Here he and his girlfriend decide from all the possibilities. I'm standing behind him talking to his mother on his cell phone during most of the exposure.


The restaurant they picked has 85 kinds of beer on tap and 240 kinds of bottles. What do think that says about what he thinks about his dad? The food was good, though.


Here's one from a session on assessment and learning theory on Sunday. More of that fancy Jesuit college. On the panels of the barrel vaulted ceiling are quotes from Plato in Greek, Webster in English, and Virgil in Latin.

(Technical note. All the above on Walgreens Studio 35, the following on Kodak Gold.)


Another view of the lecture hall. Fancy, but cold. Notice most of the participants are wearing coats. It was like this all weekend. I'm not sure if this was Yankee economy or some kind of idea of penance.


Finally, on our way home. Sunset at Logan Airport.

United 545 from Logan and 5939 from O'Hare - on time.


I didn't include this in the original post: The Populist has a .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Long John Pinhole

I've been carrying around the Moderately Telephoto Pinhole Camera in a Plain Brown Wrapper lately and came to think the camera wasn't completely opaque. It seemed to be fine in lower light situations around the house and on cloudy days, but out in the summer in bright light there seemed to be a few very dense, low-contrast negatives which were denser at the top and bottom of the negative than in the center as if there were photons sneaking through the back and over and under the opaque backing of the film.  If an image was done just after another so it wasn't in the bright light as long, the problem wasn't apparent. The inside of this camera was painted with black interior latex paint. It sure looks opaque, but it could pass some light in the bright sun or when the camera is out for a while even in cloudier situations.

So I put four heavy coats of black Krylon on the inside.

I recently wondered why long image forming objectives were called by the greek-derived word telephoto and short objectives were just referred to by their wide angle of view. It turns out that a telephoto lens is one with a special group of lenses that makes the overall device physically shorter than it's nominal focal length.  I can't use that term for a pinhole camera.

When painting it, I didn't mask off the outside and got quite of bit of paint spatter on it, so it's not in a Plain Brown Wrapper anymore. The punk look of the paint spatter is kind of cool.

So henceforth it shall be called Long John Pinhole!

There's a long tradition of long things being named John.  There's Long John Silver, the archetype of a pirate whom we all speak like in September. Long John Baldry was a favorite member of the British Blues movement.  The one piece union suit workers wore to deal with unheated factories and farms are Long Johns.  An elongated cuboid of fried pastry dough covered with icing is called a Long John.

So out around town in the sunlight to see how this worked out.

I've noticed the way the morning sun lit this back wall of The Light Of The World, Church Of The Living God, Pillar And Ground Of The Truth, on previous bike rides and returned several times to try to photograph it.  On separate occasions I encountered: three children playing in the front yard next door; an ugly giant SUV parked in front of it; garbage day; an occupied police car parked across the street; and the entire congregation restoring the inside. Finally, last week I got there and the light was perfect and the whole block was deserted.  With just Long John Pinhole along I needed to be out in the street a bit to get the wall parallel to the film.  I worked out the distance, leveled the camera and measured the exposure while still on the curb. After stepping out in the street and starting to adjust the camera pointing, a young women came out to let her dog pee, which appears in the lower left corner.  I explained that I was taking a photograph of the church.  She didn't reply.


While on the subject of churches and putting a tripod in the middle of the street, I've photographed this scene before, but with a 45mm camera.  With Long John, it's much safer on the curb and the compression of the narrow angle makes the proximity of Boots Saloon and St. Mary's school and church more pronounced.


The Howard is a newly restored event and performance venue.  It used to be the Eagles Club.  When Andy was in high school the Madrigal Dinners were held there, the first gig of his band Independent Rain took place in one of the smaller rooms in the front and for a few years the Winter Farmer's Market was held there with a full bar available. It's visible for a mile with the First National Bank looming behind it when you look straight down School Street. As you get closer and the relative distance to them changes, the bank recedes until it's just a detail in the background.


I had noticed the stairway and various balconies on the side and came back to photograph them in the morning light.  When I saw the ladder leaning on the wall, the spirit of William Henry Fox Talbot overcame me. I parked my bike near the street, set up tripod and camera, and then walked into the parking lot toward the building to frame the picture. Turning around after closing the shutter, there were three workers I hadn't noticed sitting on the back of a furniture truck taking their coffee break, watching me. Assuming they wondered about the cardboard box, I told them I was taking a photograph.  One replied that he guessed that, and wondered of what.  I said "Lines, shapes, shadows. A historic building. It tells a story."  He said he could understand that.


Practically across the street from Merrill School is Firehouse No. 8, most recently housing a public relations firm and two posh apartments, and now for sale. I wonder if the tower is part of one of the apartments.


There's an apocryphal story that at the meeting to incorporate the city in 1853, it was named after Chief Oshkosh because the recent settlers from the east, who called their settlement Athens north of the river and Brooklyn to the south, split the ballot and the otherwise minority earlier French and Indian residents voted for the name of the chief and won. This memorial to Chief Oshkosh was created in 1926, 68 years after his death. It's currently being restored.  There's some doubt that it's his body buried there and just about everything about whole memorial is erroneous.  He had a pretty challenging life. In 1827, The U.S. Government got impatient dealing with a loose conglomeration of Menominee leaders spread over half of Wisconsin and appointed him chief so he's the one who shows up on some pretty sketchy treaties.  He did keep his people from being relocated to Minnesota and on the reservation he negotiated for, set up a sustainable logging operation which is still running.  Later in life, he got pretty disillusioned and died in a bar fight. In an ironic twist, between the logging and casinos, the tribe has done quite well in the 21st century and purchased the naming rights to the new Menominee Nation Arena on the south side.


So did the extra layers of paint fix the problem with my negatives? I'm not sure. The dense areas on the bottom are gone, but there were a few negatives that had the issue at the top and overall fogging.  I now think what's going on is plain old fashioned overexposed skies being diffracted by the smaller than optimum pinhole.  I did the digital equivalent of burning through the density and using a number 4 filter and got some kind of dreamy looking scenes people often associate with pinhole.

I wanted to show both sides of the north inlet to Miller's Bay but I missed and you can just barely see the tip of Ames Point on the left.


The south end of Miller's Bay is enclosed by Monkey Island, a settling pond for the city's water supply.  There's a second inlet between it and the park.


All with Long John Pinhole. .33mm pinholes - one on-axis with the film plane and one 12mm above the axis - 120mm from a 6x6cm frame on Ilford HP-5 developed in Rodinal 1:50.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Summer in the City

This July we have had almost continuously partly sunny skies with all sorts of dramatic clouds.

I set forth on several rollin' pinholin' adventures to take advantage of the interesting backgrounds.

Built as a response to Wisconsin's first-in-the-nation legislation establishing technical schools, The Beach Building was the Orville Beach Manual Training School from 1912 until the '70's. It was converted to offices, and now apartments. It was designed by noted local architect William Waters, but the front is probably more typical of his work than this back corner.


The Mainview Apartments, originally the Hotel Raulf, looms over the local office of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


You can always depend on the Catholic Church for architecture. While I was taking this a preschooler was clinging onto the playground fence thirty yards away yelling "What are you doing?" over and over as loud as he could.  I told him I was taking a photograph. He ran away toward an unseen companion repeating "He's taking a photograph!" at similarly high volume.



Where the hotel parking structure joins the hotel.


The loading docks at the Convention Center.


The Canadian National railroad bridge in it's normal raised position silhouetted against the sky.  This was about a 4 second exposure.  There were at least two boats in the picture that moved too much to be recorded, but the ducks in the lower right stayed put.


This one cloud seemed to make a composition all by itself.  Looks more like a ducky than a horsie to me.


Sailboat masts at the Yacht Club.


Clouds over the four backstops at East Hall Field.  This cloud looks more like an Angry Bird.


The front of a building for a change.  Merrill School. This is the elementary school side.  The second floor windows on the right were Andy's fourth grade classroom where we did a pinhole experience. This is the door they came out of to take their photographs and go back to the improvised darkroom in the copier room in the basement.  What originally caught my eye was the little garden plot planted by students and now completely overgrown in mid-July,


The corner of the middle school side under the shade of this really giant oak.


Our unruly magnolia doing it's impression of a Picasso sculpture


The above were done with the new Evil Cube.  I confess that I used the rising pinhole for all of them.

I also had the Moderately Telephoto Pinhole Camera in a Plain Brown Wrapper with me.  As with the last roll through this camera, in addition to clumsy double exposures and bumping the camera, I also had what I thought were some pretty odd low contrast exposures.  I now think this camera is not totally opaque but I did get a few exposures that were OK.

The Mainview Apartments again, although this time the slight fogging changes the tone and makes it look like it's about to be flattened by an alien death ray.


The Canadian National Bridge lowered with a train going over it. The barriers came down just as I got there.  I tried to get the tripod detached and set up with the camera on it while still sitting on the bike and nearly fell over three times. The train was nearly done by the time I was ready. I held onto the tripod to keep upright and seem to have given it a bit of a shake, but that gives it a kind of ghostly historic vibe.  This was the location of the first railroad bridge to cross the Fox in 1861 carrying all those wood and paper products from the factories powered by the river between Oshkosh and Green Bay to markets in the rest of the country.


There was another railroad bridge up river a mile, but it was dismantled around the turn of the millenium. The area across the river used to be pretty heavy industry centered around the Universal Foundry. It was a brownfield contamination site for years. About the time the bridge came down, the state and city created a program to clean up such sites and provide tax incentives and it's now all giant apartment buildings. The water tower is brand new. They just took down the old one last month. The tripod was sitting on a rocky breakwater on the riverbank.  My first attempt was ruined when I nearly fell in the river and grabbed the tripod for support again. I also took a second exposure before I realized I had turned the camera a little and so took this third one. A good bit of why I think the camera isn't totally opaque is that these exposures made rapidly one after another don't show much sign of the fogging.


Seduced by another cloud. Again, the previous frame was very dense and low contrast, but I was under a pretty thick cloud when I made this seconds later and it's a completely normal exposure.


The first twelve (!) with The New Evil Cube. .3mm pinhole 6cm from 6x6cm frame located 15mm above the axis of the film plane, with Kodak TMax 100.

The last four with The Moderately Telephoto Pinhole Camera in a Plain Brown Wrapper. .33mm pinhole 12cm from 6x6cm frame located 12mm above the axis of the film plane, except the one of the train which was done with the on-axis pinhole, with Ilford HP5.

Both developed in Rodinal 1:50