Taking Photos with a Matchbox

Several times a year, Twitter user Jason Avery tweets challenges that are related to film photography using the hashtag #camerachallenge. In late July 2020 the challenge was to build and use your own pinhole camera.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea (as seen on the internet) of building a pinhole camera from a matchbox. Google soon found an instruction page at matchboxpinhole.com.

Here’s some of the materials I used.

The matchbox shown above was slightly too narrow to accomodate 35mm film so I actually used a different one. Cutting square…ish holes into the new matchbox.

Pin –> hole
Yeah, I know. But there’s only one word in German for pins and needles, so there. (Actually, theres „Stecknadeln“/“pinning needles“ and „Nähnadeln“/“sewing needles“ but they’re both „Nadeln“)

I didn’t make any more WIP photos. If you want those, you’ll find them in detail (and with better craftsmanship) at matchboxpinhole.com.

Instead, cut to: the finished Camera. It sure is an ugly little thing. Crafting was never my forte. Even in Kindergarten I was the kid who had to declare all his crafting projects gifts to his mother. At this point I wondered if it would take any pictures at all.

The bottom was uneven so I built a support from my son’s Lego. Still the construction seemed a bit too wobbly to prevent shake. Also the day I tried it was very sunny for Fomapan 400. At least the film transport appeared to be working fine.

The focal length is about 14-15mm. I can’t really measure the size of the pinhole but I guess it’s between .1mm and .2mm. That would put the Aperture somewhere between F/70 and F/150.

I used the F/90 estimate from matchboxpinhole.com but readings from my light metering app in bright sunlight were too fast for the manual cardboard shutter. So I used times from…say… 1/2s to three or four seconds and hoped that a stand dev would save the day.

After a walk through my hometown, I had to dismantle the camera to get at the film.

I have only the rough estimate what my aperture is and my exposure times were all over the place. So I played it safe and did a stand development in Adonal/Rodinal 1:100. This equalizes exposure because the developer exhausts itself in areas which require greater development while remaining active in less-exposed areas. So it’s a great method to salvage found film, film that you’ve forgotten exposure details about or, as in this case, film where exposure was dodgy in the first place.

The first look at the negative shows that there were some light leaks but also discernable frames. And those frames aren’t just white. There seems to be some contrast there. Not bad for a matchbox and a bit of soda can.

Now followed what is possibly the most tedious part of digital age film photography. Especially when the auto frame detect doesn’t detect your oddly shaped matchbox pinhole frames.

After scanning was complete it turned out that there was some obstruction in the Camera. Some dust in the pinhole or some shavings from punching the hole. All pictures have that dark smudge top left to center. Still the results are better than I expected.

I shortlisted my 42 exposures to 15 pictures that are shown below. Did some tweaking of tone values and dust removal.

And here are some digital photos of the same locations, for reference. These were taken a few days later. The lighting conditions were firly similar but shadows indicate that it was a few hours later in the day. Obviously, the field of view of the camera is very different.

All in all I’m quite pleased with the result. Despite the dark smudge the images are more than I expected from a bit of cardboard and tape.

From now on, whenever the technocrats debate about what camera or lens is best, my answer will be „Ah bah, all you really need is a matchbox!“

Addendum (2020-08-22)

A few days after I wrote this blog post, Karin Lizana tweeted about scanning the pinhole, so I did just that. I found out that my pinhole is not very round, is in fact roughly .2mm in size and you can clearly see the obstruction that made the dark smudge.

Veröffentlicht von kamerakata

Born in the 60s, Married (one kid), Statistician, Amateur Photographer, Live Role Player

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