April 29 is International Pinhole Camera Day, something I only learned about when my mom brought home a Kikkerland pinhole/solargraphy camera kit from the local art supplies store (Island Blue Print here in Victoria). It was a great gift, a pick-me-up that I needed that week. I was excited not only to practice some papercraft (one of my hobbies), but also build myself a camera and to experiment with my first pinhole.
The project was a bit more than I bargained for…
Coming in a nice square box with three pre-cut black cardstock pages and a metal pinhole aperture the kit seemed simple enough and is advertised as complete within an hour. The paper is strong, flashy on one side and dull on the other (although the instructions don’t say which is inside/outside, the dull usually points towards the outside).
The complete camera looks interesting … and looks like it might work!
Being someone who has made a few paper and plastic model kits, I tend to study the instructions first in case of any curveballs and potential tough spots. The Kikkerland instructions suggest pre-scoring but not dry-fitting, and also claims that double-sided tape is strong enough for most of the construction. They lied.
I tried double-sided tape for the front box segment and soon found, even with scoring, that the tape would not hold the pieces together in the proper shape. I didn’t have white glue or super glue (what I’d recommend using) so used YES bookbinding glue. This is not a quick-setting glue so caused me a few problems when I wasn’t paying attention, but sets like concrete and worked well enough.
Construction is relatively smooth until the film box (inside, where the film sits in front of the shutter). This piece is a maze of folding and deciding which part faces which way and some parts sit lose once completed.
By now, if you’re following along at home, you will have three box sub-assemblies including the aperture box. These fit together (for now) but the tricky part is now in front of you. The film advance spool was the most difficult piece of construction. It is supposed to be two pieces of paper glued together which will pinch the film end and allow a winding motion. The two pieces are each folded about four times to make them stiff, but because of the thickness of the paper it is hard to ensure the glue holds. I left mine under a stack of books for an hour to ensure they set.
To attach the two long pieces together with enough security (and because I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it based on the instructions) I used an awl and two brads (metal folding clips) to hold them together and make the space larger. After slipping this sub-assembly into the assembled camera and fighting for twenty minutes with the advance knob, it seemed to be complete.
The complete camera looks interesting, looks like it is made out of paper, and looks like it might work. I loaded the camera with 100 ISO Lomography brand colour 35mm negative film and noticed one problem right away: the film window doesn’t fit the film. The film canister does not have a good or secure place to sit and is centered above the window. I cut off two millimetres from the window and it should work.
Other problems: there is no measured film counter so I’ve been winding the advance knob twice and hoping for the best, but as I shot more the film will build up and I’ll doubtlessly be winding too much. There is no rewind ability so you have to get the developer to take the film out in a dark room (and ask for the camera back), the shutter flap is so tight it makes all exposures jerky and thus likely blurry, there is a very vague exposure guide (like all pinholes, but still…), there is no viewfinder, and the fit of the two outside boxes is so tight with the insides that you’re not sure if you’ve broken the advance winder or not.
Final judgement: it took me over three hours and bunch of extra supplies to complete this project. It looks cool, makes people talk, it only cost $10, and if it works it will bring a new element to my film photography. The downsides are that all my shots will likely be over/under exposed, off target, or shaky, if they turn out at all.
Right now, without seeing my first roll, I’d say it was a bit too much trouble but it was worth a try. If the film comes back with amazing results it won’t take much to sell me on the technique, but I’ll probably just stick to using my Diana’s pinhole function.