Friday, September 20, 2019

The long game with the Variable Cuboid.

When I made the Variable Cuboid Pinhole Camera System my intent was to make a camera shorter than the Evil Cube but with a similar form factor. When I realized the design also allowed for as long a camera as I wanted, I made a 200mm front as an extreme example. I only made three exposures with it.

Recently on Facebook, someone inquired if anyone had done any pinhole work with a medium format camera longer than the ultra-wide angles that are ubiquitous among popular pinhole camera makers. (James Guerin describes 24mm as "a long focal length" in the description of one of his cameras.)  I responded with pictures I had done at 60, 80 and 120mm. That got me to thinking about that 200. I got it out and went out about town with it. If I can't find 12 pictures suitable to the ultra-narrow view, I can always change it - it's the Variable Cuboid.

The little lighthouse at Bray's Point, where the Fox flows into Lake Winnebago, is part of someone's private residence. To get this limited composition with a wider camera, I would have to be in the back yard. Not very polite. From right by the street with wide angle, the lighthouse would have been diminished and it would have included a lot of distracting surroundings. But it's reachable with the extra air between the film and the pinhole.

In order to get close enough to compose with a short camera, sometimes your mere presence will disrupt the scene you were after. I've failed trying to photograph groups of sea gulls before. They didn't mind me if there was a bit of the lake between us.

Some things you just can't get close to. The machinery and counterweights for the Canadian National Railroad Bridge are way out in the middle of the Fox River.

You'd have to be rather high to get this perspective with a wider angle.

Riding around downtown, I often see interesting juxtapositions of the eight story First National Bank Building and it's two and three story neighbors, but when I get close enough to frame the scene, the nearer building is blocking most of the bank and the relationships are completely different. Getting just a narrow angle of view allows me to take advantage of those more distant viewpoints.

Popular myth has it that widow's walks were intended for families of sea captions to watch for the appearance of the ship. This house was built by a steam ship captain 200 feet from the Fox which gives some credibility to the story.

It turns out that they were just a popular feature of Victorian Italianate architecture. This one is a half mile from the river and the chimney blocks the view in that direction.

The Exclusive Company has been a chain of recorded music and stereo equipment stores since the '50s. If you're from eastern Wisconsin, you're probably already thinking "Say it with me!" The owner was everywhere on rock radio using that line to end his ads. You can just read it above the door. They still have a huge selection of DVDs and LPs. They moved to this location only about 10 years ago. It used to be a Woolworths. I used to buy records in a Woolworths when I was in high school. The camera was almost too long. I was backed right up against the door of the Blue Moon Coffeehouse on the opposite corner and barely fit the building in the frame.

I could get as close as I wanted to these giant oaks in East Hall Field but I wanted to include the houses to put them into context. The well known compression of space by long objectives helped me feature the houses which are half a block beyond the trees. It was really windy and I wanted to capture the trees moving, but it looks like the camera was vibrating a little as well. It's kind of a big sail.

Another big tree across the softball field from near home plate. It looks to me like one of those compositions where you leave a lot of sky to put book titles into.

So whaddya think of the image quality? The pinhole is a classic #10 needle hole completely piercing .002 inch brass for a .5mm aperture. At 200mm, that's f400. Mr. Pinhole says .596mm is optimal. I think I detect a little diffraction. It has a very distinctive look. Detailed enough but with a bit of zone plate glow.

Looked at in terms of 35mm camera lens equivalents, it's not that long - about 110mm. Think how often you zoom out a digital camera to that angle of view. I think it seems odd because medium format glass that big is really expensive and, of course, nobody makes pinhole cameras this long.

Tmax 100 stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.


  1. This was a fun read. You've great results, and I like the way you bust the conventions of ultra-wide angle.

  2. Nick, we can always count on you to push the boundaries of the usual. Thanks for the inspiration to try something different. John