How to make a pinhole camera

Pinhole cameras rely on the fact that light travels in straight lines – a principle called the rectilinear theory of light. This makes the image appear upside down in the camera.Pinhole cameras rely on the fact that light travels in straight lines – a principle called the rectilinear theory of light. This makes the image appear upside down in the camera.

One thing that inspires many pinhole photographers is the craft of building their own cameras. Finding new materials or a perfect box can be like uncovering a hidden treasure.

The pinhole camera is amazing in its simplicity. It is, in its most basic form, a light proof container with light sensitive material at one end and a pinhole at the other.

Pinhole cameras are characterized by the fact that they do not have a lens. If a camera has a lens, it is NOT a pinhole camera.

When the shutter is opened, light shines through to imprint an image on photographic paper or film placed at the back of the camera.

Pinhole cameras rely on the fact that light travels in straight lines – a principle called the rectilinear theory of light. This makes the image appear upside down in the camera.

The focal length of a pinhole camera.The focal length of a pinhole camera.

If the dimensions of your camera and the size of your pinhole are correct you can take a photograph that will compete on a technical level with a photograph from your digital SLR camera.

A small pinhole generally produces sharper images than a larger one. However, if the pinhole is too small, light waves may be scattered slightly at the edges of the pinhole and cause distortion or loss of focus.

Smaller holes also increase exposure times, since they will let less light into the camera.

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A focal length about equal length to the diagonal size of the paper or film is a normal focal length. A shorter focal length is called a wide-angle, and a significantly longer is referred to as telephoto.A focal length about equal length to the diagonal size of the paper or film is a normal focal length. A shorter focal length is called a wide-angle, and a significantly longer is referred to as telephoto.

Focal length

The focal length of your pinhole camera is the distance between the pinhole at the front of the camera and the paper or film at the back of the camera.

Focal length facts

Short focal length

  • Wide angle
  • Short exposure times

Long focal length

  • Telephoto
  • Long exposure times

The three photographs show the different effects when varying the focal lengths. The image on the left was taken with a pinhole camera with a focal length of 15 mm, the one in the middle used 30 mm and the one on the right 60 mm, all taken on 120-film / 2 1/4The three photographs show the different effects when varying the focal lengths. The image on the left was taken with a pinhole camera with a focal length of 15 mm, the one in the middle used 30 mm and the one on the right 60 mm, all taken on120-film / 2 1/4″ film.A camera with a 100 mm focal length will produce an image circle with a diameter of 350 mm. A small image circle causes light fall off and vignetting at the edges of an image.A camera with a 100 mm focal length will produce an image circle with a diameter of 350 mm. A small image circle causes light fall off and vignetting at the edges of an image.

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