Monday, April 4, 2022

Triple Heresy

I'm still obsessed by the opinion that it is difficult to achieve the Zen of Pinhole if you have more than a single option when you're out making photographs. Another thing I can't get over is the idea it's not workable to use cameras where the pinhole is farther from the film than the ultra-wide angles available on popular 6x6cm format cameras.

To resolve this conflict, I loaded the uber-heretical 120mm Long John Pinhole, which also has a rising front pinhole, and the maxima-heretical 200mm front on the Variable Cuboid. A little intimidated by the f300 and f400 ratios, I went down to Camera Casino to buy their last two rolls of HP5, but someone had bought one of them! They had a five roll pack of Tri-X and broke it up so I could have a second roll of faster film. Both films have about the same reciprocity-failure profile, so it shouldn't make any difference. In case you're really into that kind of comparison, the Tri-X was in Long John Pinhole and the 200mm had the HP5.

To compound the heretical behavior, I also broke one of my own sacred tenets of Pinholiness—using a pinhole that I hadn't drilled myself.

For a long time, I felt that less than optimal diffraction was not that much of an issue and you could get a little crisper rendition of detail using an aperture smaller than Lord Rayleigh recommends. Long John Pinhole had .33mm pinholes at a distance where the equations called for .462mm.  Close-ups done with it seemed as sharp as anything I've ever done, but when overexposed, the pictures would would be soft and looked almost like they were slightly fogged. After doing a quick experiment about the effect of diffraction, I got a new respect for the mathematics and decided to put something closer to optimal on Long John.

In about 2005 on f295, Earl Johnson organized a group buy of Gilder Electron Microscope Apertures. I once produced a slide/tape tutorial on how to insert them into the microscope. (Open the vacuum valve first!) They only come in tubes of 100. Earl got one tube of each size and distributed 10 of each to everyone who participated. One of the .15mm is on The Populist. I've used all the smaller ones since but I still had the bag of .4mm. I just gave a talk with a microphotograph of one of them along side my hand-drilled pinhole and was impressed by how perfectly round they are with a smooth thin edge. Despite my philosophical reservations and to get out of drilling them myself, I installed two on Long John Pinhole. Still not quite optimal, but a lot closer than the .33mm pair.

With a long camera, it's hard to get your fingers down to the front. It was easy to change these because I had made a pinhole mount so you could tape them on outside the camera, and then push it in to the front.

By the way, the 200mm has a hand-drilled .50mm pinhole—the easiest possible, done by completely piercing the brass with a #9 quilting needle. Also a little smaller than the optimal .59mm.

Although I have taken pictures inside, my house really isn't big enough to use these cameras. 

One issue with narrow angle cameras without viewfinders is that a fairly small error in pointing can change the composition a lot. Long John looked like the choice for this scene because it seemed to call for the rising front. After futzing around with it, I ended up using the on-axis pinhole. The corner and the tree shadows were intended to be the subject but the camera was pointed a little to the right. That happened with a lot of these. Most of them were close enough that a little cropping could yield a reasonable composition.

This is an excellent example of the utility of the 200mm camera. I've stopped and unloaded the tripod several times in the past for these white cubes atop the rough bricks. When approaching close enough to frame the scene, the point of view becomes significantly up and the wall hides the cubes. You could get something like this view with a wide-angle camera but you'd have to be 25 feet tall, and then the relationships would be different. With the 200mm, the composition as originally seen when riding by it was preserved. I nailed the pointing on this one by the way.

Down the street at another corner of the Water Treatment Plant, this trick with the 200mm wouldn't work because there was a tree in the way, and it's quite a downslope to the street so the viewpoint wouldn't change at all. I could get what I wanted in the frame with Long John and also had the rising pinhole to keep the verticals parallel.

This hole near the foundation of The First Evangelical Church is probably a vent for the HVAC, the laundry or the kitchen, that would be a pipe in any other kind of building. I used the 200 because I had plenty of room to get away from it and didn't need the rising front this close to the ground. I intended to do my "hey-my-camera-has-a-square-format" composition but I missed. It does kind of follow the rule of thirds. Yeah, that's it.

When out with the 200mm in the past, I stopped and began to frame up this unusual apartment building, but didn't take the photograph because the lighting was exactly like this—a sunny day with the sun directly behind it. I always said I'll have to come back on a cloudy day but I never did. They're in the process of tearing it down, so I'd better take the opportunity. It's always been covered by this odd yellow stucco and in my selfish photographer's heart, I think it makes a better photograph with the dark lumber exposed. I was surprised by how far back I had to go into the park across the street to get the framing I wanted, which again turned out pretty accurate.

I couldn't get that far away from this old smokestack and vine covered walls, so Long John was the only choice, and to avoid tilting up, used the rising pinhole. This is one that might have been better to wait for a cloudy day, not because of anything to do with pinhole, but because it would have featured the vegetation better.

There's really a lot happening on the side of the old train station. The street was too near to use the 200 and the other side of the street was too far away. Again, Long John. Again maybe tilted up a little more than I wanted, but hey, Abstract Expressionism!

Tight cropping is the essence of a narrow angle camera. I was again surprised how far away I had to get for the whole side of the bank to be in the picture. Despite being only eight stories high, this gives me the impression of my memory of the giant wall of buildings across the Chicago River from Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop.

A few yards to the left of where the camera was for the bank picture, the sun defines the planes of the back of the Exclusive Company, with Long John's rising pinhole.

The next day was overcast—exactly why I bought the ISO 400 film. The sunny day before, the f300 and f400 cameras needed only 2 and 3 seconds. I hadn't expected that in these conditions, which I think a film data sheet would describe as cloudy-bright, the exposures were only 3 to 5 seconds.

Oshkosh is pinholier than I thought because there's this giant advertisement for the most traditional pinhole camera ever—the famous Quaker oatmeal box. A double cylinder with the the lid removed by a string dividing the outside near the top to make the easiest camera to light-proof. No problem getting far from the wall in the parking lot and used the 200mm. I had to tilt up a bit but with this narrow view, it's hardly noticable the verticals aren't parallel and more to the point, doesn't look like the building is falling over backward.  

Staying with the 200mm for this arrangment on the back of The Grand Opera House across the alley. I was backed right up against the rear exit of a photographer's studio.

This balcony sticking out from the City Center Mall used to be an exit from the parking ramp. A few weeks ago I considered this picture when out with the 45 and 30mm cameras. Nearer to it, looking up, it didn't look anything like this arrangement. I could get well away from it to use the 200mm.

South Main Street is supposed to be at the cusp of a renaissance but the only new development has been the Arena and the Fifth Ward Brewery. A few "luxury" apartment buildings are in the planning stages and the old Miles Kimball building is finally being renovated. This block looks pretty cosmpolitan until you notice that the windows are all covered with plywood and random sheets of wall board. The display yard of a monument company is just across the street so I had enough room to get all three floors in with Long John Pinhole and his rising front option.

Another tightly cropped picture because I didn't point Long John Pinhole exactly where I wanted and had to crop as best I could.

Blended Waxes, as you might expect, burned completely down a while back except for this wall. They incorporated it into a standard 21st century factory. It and the rest of the building are all painted in a cool, almost 18% reflectance grey, which you can't tell because this isn't color film. From across Main Street, it just fit in Long John's frame.

Another two story structure that just fit for Long John Pinhole is one of my favorite vendors in Oshkosh, Oaks Candy. 

Across the street is the Baumann Building which I would have loved to get a picture of with Long John Pinhole, but there were cars parked on both sides of the corner. With the 200mm I concentrated on the turret. When I was in a city leadership program in 1995, as an example of restoring historic properties, we were given a tour of this renovated apartment and the Star Theater next door, which the developer intended to restore to show vintage movies. Nothing's changed since then.

I seem to be neglecting the backs of buildings on the south side. Behind one I found this large stump left against the parking barriers. Some of my favorite oaks have recently been removed to make way for a new middle school. It was kind of emotional to see this remnant of one of the giants left in place. Plenty of room to get far enough away for its portrait and no need for the rising front, so the 200mm.

This wall covered with branches with the smoke stack adding more height to the scene called for the rising pinhole from Long John. This week I learned "blown out skies" were a technical cliché with inexperienced pinholers.

The tower on the Italianate former fire station is surrounded by power lines. With the 200mm, I could squeeze in between all that clutter.

There were two frames in each camera that I rejected because the pointing was so far off I couldn't stand it, so that means raw angle of view does not change your chances for a proper composition. I really can't see any difference between the Tri-X and the HP5, semi-stand developed together in caffenol.


  1. Excellent mastery of craft, Nick. Not to mention the composition and presentation. Thank you.

  2. Nice work from the Pinhole Heretic. I still have a stock of the ems pinholes and ship them out to people from time to time.