Saturday, January 27, 2018

Pinhole Lab Camera Accessories: A Tripod

June 2019. When my university retiree account disappeared with a new change in policy, the pictures I uploaded to this blog while logged into that account disappeared. I'm working on fixing that but it's going to be at least a summer long project. 

Sometimes you get involved in a project, and because it's interesting and maybe for reasons that could either be described as obsessive-compulsive or religious, you go at it for a little while too long, and then find that maybe it's not worth it.

In workshops, I've always found it frustrating not to be able to give everybody a tripod so they could have freedom in placing and pointing the camera. I used to give out doubly bagged sandbags for participants to mush into a surface for the camera to sit on to level it or to point it up or down a little. With the Pinhole Lab Camera with it's rising and falling and left and right shift pinholes, my intention was to overcome that somewhat, but you know, you don't always have a perfectly level surface, and sometimes, you just want to point the camera directly at something and take advantage of that sweet rectilinearity of the pinhole when it's on axis with a flat piece of film.  There's also the issue, also addressed by the rising front of the Pinhole Lab Camera, of having the foreground fill half the frame.  If you're taking a portrait of someone across the table, having the camera six or so inches above it will help a lot with the composition, and the rising front can have a strange effect on shapes like heads near the top of the frame.

Wouldn't it be cool if you could make a tripod as easily as a pinhole camera?  How pinholy!  You could take advantage of the skills and materials used to build (and for me, design) the Pinhole Lab Camera.

Links:  Original Description    Construction    Feeding and Use    Link to Templates   Excusado

So I laid out the template so that it would fit on a tabloid sheet of paper. I tried to make the legs as long as I could on that paper size. I could make them bigger on multiple sheets, but you'd have to do the "glue A adjacent to A" several times and that increases the chance that something's going to get glued down out of alignment.

The forces on a tripod are greater than on a camera, and this model relies more on multiple layer lamination and folds and flaps to get the strength to adjust and hold the camera.  Maybe relies on them too much.  Some parts have multiple folds and it takes six binder clips or clothespins to clamp some of them.

I mentioned I worked for my dad in a plant making feed and fertilizer mixers in a previous post.  He not only managed the plant but he was the designer and engineer as well.  I make these templates on a computer with Illustrator and do repeated iterations to find out what works.  My dad would do it on a drawing table with trigonometry and the parts would fold and assemble together the first time. The feed chutes for those mixers had to fit into existing buildings and come in at some strange compound angles. He gave me the Chemical Rubber Company book of Standard Mathematical Tables for high school graduation.

So, what have I come up with?

It's a desktop tripod about 7 inches tall.  Not too big, but getting it that far off the surface it's sitting on gives you a lot of flexibility with composition.

The tilting head is held by a bolt and wingnut.  I just happened to have the little spring which allows a variable drag to the tilt so you don't have to constantly loosen and tighten it, you can just move it freely and it will stay in place.

It attaches to the camera with rubber bands. I hate to have a roll film camera without a tripod mount, but it's a pain with a single shot camera, especially one that's intended to be used in all sorts of orientations.  So the tripod has a little platform that can be attached with rubber bands. (Carry extras.)

It has a head that will tilt back and forth about 45 degrees.  It's a little steadier if that tilt is toward the single leg side of the tripod, but it's easy to switch from one side to the other if you're tilting the camera the other way.

If you need to tilt any higher, you can just change the orientation of the camera.

The legs are restrained from opening by a piece of butcher's twine (I do this in my kitchen) threaded through each leg through holes big enough to get it through and move, yet small enough to give a little resistance to hold the movement in place. I did this by glueing the end of the twine to a toothpick.

By adjusting where those legs are, you can make the camera level on a non-level surface.

It's admittedly a limited set of flexibilities, but it adds dramatically to the supports you can utilize and maintain a level camera. (You do want a level camera, right?)

It's very light and wouldn't be much use in a breeze.  Maybe if I could find those sandbags.

It's just a hair on the complicated side to make. The template is on-line if you can figure it out from these images.

The problem is that you can buy a table top tripod better than this for under $10.  You can get a 50 inch good-enough tripod from Target for $11 and a pretty decent 62 inch one from Freestyle for $30.  And you can get some real deals on spiffy vintage travel tripods for cheap on eBay. You'll need to make a platform to attach the camera with the rubber bands.

But if you're feeling pinholy some Sunday...


  1. I'm going to give your tripod design a try. Well done.

    1. Joe, I should have referenced your post I think we, as well as most 19th century tripods, share a few of the same ideas, but your designs are much more elegant and functional (and bigger) than mine. BTW, how would you make the ends of the feet less slippery? It works alright on a rough surface, but it’s kinda slidey on polished marble. (Note the pieces of tape under them in one of the pictures.)

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