Art Meets Function – Pinhole Cameras

January 10, 2017 ·

Hugh O. Smith

No Lens, No Focus, No Kidding.

Getting bored and tired of “everything looks the same” digital imaging?

In this digital age of photography where almost anything is possible, it is sometimes refreshing to step back and take another point of view. It is so easy to create an image in digital, we sometimes forget how much fun photography can be like the good old days. Enter the ONDU pinhole cameras.

For the uninitiated, pinhole photography is as simple as it gets; a light tight box, a pin sized hole for a lens and a simple guillotine “shutter.” Exposures are measured in “alligators.” One alligator, two alligator, 3 alligator, 4 alligator, etc. The typical pinhole camera has no viewfinder so the photographer guesses at his point of view and, although pinholes are available for digital cameras, it’s film that really shines in these cameras.

All of this makes for a unique experience and some photographers have really exploited that simplicity to the extreme.

Some go so far as to build their own cameras with everything from oatmeal boxes to airplane hangers. For those of us who a.) aren’t do it yourselfers and b.) appreciate fine wood working, the ONDU cameras from Slovenia may just fill an appreciative void. I will tell you that from the moment I first had these cameras in my hands, I fell in love with them.

ONDU was founded in 2013 by Elvis and operated by Elvis and his brother Benjamin. Elvis is trained as an industrial designer. Elvis is currently finishing his studies at Academy of fine arts and design in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He also spent two years in Krakow, Poland, where he extended his knowledge of industrial design and practically taught himself how to work with wood.

The studio and manufacturing is in Lokovica village in the mountains near Velenje in Slovenia.

Elvis Halilovič created a new range of simple, handcrafted, elegant, durable, and easy-to-use pinhole cameras. After the success of their initial product line, the Halilovičs are now back with the Mark II version of their camera.

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The group of 5 units that ONDU currently manufactures including the hand sewn carry bags

What’s In the Box?

The ONDU’s come packaged in a sturdy box ready for international shipping. Each camera (except the 4×5) comes complete with camera, exposure guide and instruction booklet and suggestions about using your new camera.

Each camera comes with its own carrying bag. I can’t tell you the excitement I felt when opening these little beauties. Did I say I love these cameras?

In 2012 Elvis started designing self-sufficient geodesic domes intended for multiple practical uses. This concept manifested itself in a project called “The Floating City”, which incorporated several of these domes with various functionalities based on a platform which was floating in the middle of Velenje lake in Slovenia.

Currently, the ONDU catalogue of pinhole cameras include 10 handmade units from 35mm to 8×10. I had the chance to use the 35mm, 6×6 and 4×5. All are made with maple and walnut and are as much appealing to the eye as they are fun to use.

My particular favorite is the pocket 6×6. Here is a photograph of my “take anywhere always have it ready,” the 6×6 with a tabletop tripod. I recommend this unit to keep in your car.

The front view of the 6x6 in my hand to give you an idea of the small size of the camera
The front view of the 6×6 in my hand to give you an idea of the small size of the camera

 

The rear view of the 6x6 with the rare earth magnets that hold the back in place. It also displays the metal spacers used to make film transport smooth
The rear view of the 6×6 with the rare earth magnets that hold the back in place. It also displays the metal spacers used to make film transport smooth

The ONDU pinholes, while not offering much in the way of innovation, are beautiful pieces of handmade wooden sculpture. They are as beautiful to look at as they are to use. That’s reason enough to buy one or two of these wooden sculptures. Each camera is made of precision fitted maple and walnut with the back “plate” held in place with strong rare earth magnets.

The extensive use of rare earth magnets is indeed innovative, eliminating the need for complicated machinery. They not only hold the back plate well in place, but magnets are used to hold the shutter closed, hold the winding knobs in place and the roll film plate.

The top deck of the 6x6 and reveals the use of magnets to keep film under tension when transporting to the next frame
The top deck of the 6×6 and reveals the use of magnets to keep film under tension when transporting to the next frame

All of this makes for a cleanly designed and executed piece.

If you are new to pinhole photography, be certain to read the instructions carefully. For example, when using the 6×12 multi-format camera, the photographer must remember that 6×12 exposures start with #2 and proceed in increments of 2, 4, 6, etc.

Visit their website HERE 

Interchangeable Lenses? We don’t need no stinking lenses. Well, kind of. Since there is no lens the interchangeable “lens” is the pinhole. The effective aperture is f/150 on ONDU Cameras and gives an effective exposure of 15-20 seconds in bright daylight. Because of the slow speeds, I try to choose objects in motion such as this view of the Spokane River in Washington State.

Riverside Park on the Spokane River with an exposure of 20 seconds
Riverside Park on the Spokane River with an exposure of 20 seconds

 

Due to the focus of pinholes being roughly 0-infinity, I also try to find objects with long perspective like this gravel factory in Chewelah, Washington
Due to the focus of pinholes being roughly 0-infinity, I also try to find objects with long perspective like this gravel factory in Chewelah, Washington

You Will Need

Film

Choice of film of course is primary. I choose a relatively slow ISO such as Ektar 100. It allows me to use longish exposures (typically  6 seconds in daylight) and I choose color film since the images will be scanned and easily converted to black and white if desired.

Some photographers will choose black and white film, but I prefer color since the scanned images of color film do not exhibit the grain structure of black and white film.

Tripod

I prefer a small table top tripod simply because they fit my style of photography. I like low angles so my little tripod allows me to do that. I shoot low angles such as the images you see here of our beaches in Mexico.

Subject Matter

And now all you need is a subject. Nothing could be easier with the pinhole cameras. Try moving objects such as water. With a 6 second daylight exposure using ISO 100 film, waves take on a beautiful blur. Also try buildings from a low angle. Night shots are not out either. In fact, anything that can exploit the slow exposure of the pinhole is fair game.

The perspective of the ONDU and deep depth of field make for interesting images. It is helpful to try to include a near/far perspective and unique angles.

You want Bokeh?

Bokeh is defined as the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens.

Sorry. Everything is in focus with a pinhole although with ONDU’s you do get two pinhole sizes and this might be considered minimal bokeh. Those pinhole sizes are

The 135 Pocket Pinhole: 35mm film, 25mm focal length and f/stop of 125.
The 135 Panoramic Pinhole: 35mm film, 25mm focal length, shoots 36mm x 24mm standard  format or panoramic double frames at 72mm x 24mm (FOV of 113°) and an f/stop of 150.

The 6×6 camera has a pinhole size of 0.30 mm, a focal length of 40 mm and f/stop of 150 with a standard tripod mount.

All pinholes are custom manufactured in Slovenia by a company specializing In PCB manufacturing to precise measurements ensuring consistency from camera to camera. Elvis states on the ONDU website that these cameras are designed to be handed down through generations and these certainly live up to that.

These handmade cameras are certainly things of beauty and produce typically atmospheric pinhole images. Did I say I love these cameras?

So eliminate photographic boredom and buy one or two of these beautiful wooden low fi cameras. Always have one with you!

In the interest of full disclosure, ONDU sent me a 6×6, 6×9 Multi format a 35mm Pocket, a 35mm panorama and a 4×5 to keep and review.

Resources

As an addendum, The next worldwide pinhole day is April 30, 2017

You may find this website On Pinhole Photography helpful.

Pinhole Cameras by Chris Keeney .


Hugh O. Smith
October 2016

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Hugh O. Smith

A Philadelphia native, I have lived in Baja California for the past 3 years.  I make photographs. You can follow me at www.jargonart.com  I started shooting as a stringer for newspapers and in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania.  I opened my commercial studio in Center City, Philadelphia in 1972. I shot catalogs for Spencer Gifts and Lenox China among others.  I shot fashion, runway and headshots until about 5 years ago as my wife and I started slowing to a merciful crawl and traveling and writing.  My work has appeared in magazines from Shutterbug to Sports Illustrated and I am a regular contributor for Trillium Art Magazine. I am a regular editor and contributor to 1X.com Magazine.  I have exhibited in Europe as well as the U.S.  My work hangs in the permanent collection of private collectors as well as corporate venues.  Currently, my work is in the permanent exhibit at Polo’s Gallery in Rosarito, Mexico.  I have published 6 books including Art of the Muse (books 1 and 2) as well as 'Italy, through my lens.' Paris, Through my Lens.' 'Ireland, through my lens.' and others.  You can also follow all of our work at www.jargonart.com 

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