287 Views |  Like

Camera Roundup

Brief conversations with the makers of popular pinhole cameras

Leonardo Camera
Leonardo Camera, from Pinhole Resource

 

Merlin Paintcan Cameras
Merlin Paintcan Cameras

 

Original 120mm Pinhole Blender
120mm Original Pinhole Blender,
from Pinhole Blender

One of the great things about the lensless community, is the passion so many people have for not only making images, but for making cameras as well. It appeals to the left-brain—more architectural—side of the discipline. For those of us who are not that technical or handy, there are a few people who share their passion for making cameras with the rest of us who are not so technical.

The handful of commercial camera-making ventures out there, are generally small endeavors—often the outgrowth of personal passion. They persevere despite the world pushing a digital agenda.

Without Lenses was curious about how many of these companies got started and what they think the future of pinholing looks like. We spoke through email with Nancy Spencer and Eric Renner of Pinhole Resource, Chris Peregoy of Pinhole Blender and Jim Kosinski who makes the Merlin Paintcan Camera and asked them each a few questions. The makers of the Zero Image declined to comment for this article.

………………..

The Leonardo

We were lucky to catch up with Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer, proprieters of the Pinhole Resource and former publishers of the Pinhole Journal. Eric and Nancy make the Leonardo pinhole camera and their website store is one of the only places to find a variety of interesting and unusual pinhole paraphernalia, including cameras, pinhole shutters and books.

Without Lenses: Where are you all located?
Eric Renner / Nancy Spencer: Southwest New Mexico. 30 miles east of Silver City, in the Mimbres Valley, it’s very rural!

WL: How long have you been making cameras?
ER/NS: The Leonardo has been made since about 1995. Both Nancy and I have done pinhole for many, many years.

Molly Caged
Molly Caged by Adam Hawkey
Leonardo Pinhole Camera,
Polaroid type 55, f250
 
Molly CU
Molly CU by Adam Hawkey
Leonardo Pinhole Camera,
Polaroid type 55, f250

 
Sleepy Sister
Sleepy Sister by Adam Hawkey
Leonardo Pinhole Camera,
Polaroid type 55, f250

 

WL: How long does one camera take to make?
ER/NS: In production, a 4×5 – 3 inch Leonardo takes about an hour. We have made over 4000 of these.

WL: How many folks work with you?
ER/NS: Just the two of us. When Eric’s two sons were in college they helped too, while on vacations.

WL: What kind of workspace do you have?
ER/NS: Just a very small shop with a bench saw and a drill press, no heat. Most people would not consider it a workspace.

WL: Which camera did you start with?
ER/NS: Eric made many pinhole cameras to do art with before the Leonardo, the earliest ones were mat board and could take a 75 foot roll of 9 inch high film (aerial film) making 6 pinhole panorama images. (1968). If you look through Eric’s book "Pinhole Photography: Rediscovering an Historic Technique" you’ll see some of the cameras.
Nancy started with an oatmeal box. By 1995 we started to make the Leonardo in all sizes.

The Santa Barbara pinhole camera was one that Pinhole Resource initially sold as well as the 4×5 Pinhole Camera Kit and the 120 film PinZip, in about 1988 was when we initially carried those.

Pinhole Resource Inc., a 501 3 c non-profit started in 1985. When it got difficult to pay for the printing costs of Pinhole Journal in 1995, we started to make the Leonardo cameras which then made it possible to keep Pinhole Journal alive. By that same time all the major camera suppliers wanted to carry pinhole products.

WL: What’s the oddest camera you have ever made?
ER/NS: Hard to say which is the oddest. People have related to the red pepper camera, since it acts like a natural safelight. The most complicated one Eric ever made used a 10 foot piece of photo paper and had thousands of holes around it. He was teaching at the Visual Studies Workshop in 1974 when he made that camera.

WL: Where can people buy your cameras?
ER/NS: At the Pinhole Resource website – pinholeresource.com, Calumet, Freestyle Sales, Glazer’s Camera in Seattle and others.

WL: Do you drill your pinholes yourself or have them made?
ER/NS: Minute Aperture Imaging makes our pinholes, that’s Bill Christiansen. They are high quality micro-drilled and polished pinholes.

WL: What about zoneplates and seives – are those available or are you thinking about adding them?
ER/NS: Pinhole Resource started selling zone plates and were the first to do so commercially for pinhole photographers. The original zone plates (75mm to 300mm) were made by Kenneth A. Conners and then he turned their manufacturing over to Pinhole Resource . Sam Wang was able to make very short focal length zone plates (38mm and 45mm), so he makes ones we sell for digital cameras, Nikon, Canon EOS, Minolta, Olympus and Leica.

WL: Have you seen growth in the amount of orders since digital has become so pervasive or are you seeing a decline?
ER/NS: There are more people ordering digital pinhole and zone plate body caps and less large format cameras. We get orders from everywhere in the world.

WL: It seems to me that there are more people making cameras than ever and there are more "commercial" ventures. What are your thoughts on this?
ER/NS: As long as money is to be made there will be any number of quality to inferior pinhole cameras on
the market. Pinhole Resource has always tried to carry the most unusual ones and the ones of the highest quality. Some of the most unusual pinhole cameras, the Hexomniscope and the Omniscope, made by Matt Abelson, are sold by us. We also sell a Abelson Pinhole, Zone Plate Slit Turret Kit and the Apo II Turret made by Bill Christiansen.

WL: Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, any parting thoughts?
ER/NS: We have 4 new books out: "on deaf ears" by Nancy Spencer and Eric Renner—pinhole images of our assemblages, lens images of the assemblages; "Under the Blue" by Nancy Spencer—pinhole and zone plate digital landscapes; "American Disguise" by Eric Renner—how images impact culture; "Flight" by Nancy Spencer and Rebecca Wackler—a story of a woman and her swans told in pinhole photographs; and the fourth edition of "Pinhole Photography: Rediscovering a Historic Technique" by Eric Renner comes our in Nov, 2008.

………………

The Merlin Paintcan Camera

Merlin Paintcan Camera creator Jim Kosinski is also a teacher, ranging from kindergarten to university level. His cameras are often used in workshops with kids and his website is full of great advice for how to become a pinhole photographer, even without a darkroom. When Without Lenses launched, one of our first congratulatory emails came from Jim. We caught up with Jim to learn more about his path to making these cameras.

Paper Tulips
"Paper" Tulips by Deborah Kac
Merlin Paintcan Camera, F/200 at 3 minutes

 
Chillin
Chillin by Deborah Kac
Merlin Paintcan Camera, f/200 at 4 minutes

 

Without Lenses: Where are you located?
Jim Kosinski: We’re located in the picturesque village of Cherry Valley, on the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. We look over the Mohawk River valley to the Adirondack Mountains. Cooperstown is just a few minutes away.

WL: How long have you been making cameras?
JK: It all started around the turn of the century and MERLIN cameras went on sale about 5 years ago.

WL: How long does one camera take to make?
JK: Making the actual camera is short in time but long on getting all the materials & supplies stocked and ready to roll. Packaging is crucial and that takes a lot of extra effort. Boxes undergo a wicked amount of stress during the shipping process!

WL: How many folks work with you?
JK: Mostly I work solo, but will get one or two people to help with a large order (for example, 150 – 200 cameras). It is important to get the cameras out to customers quickly!

WL: What does your workspace look like?
JK: The workshop is that of a typical cottage industry.

WL: Which camera did you start with?
JK: The first MERLIN was made from a gallon paintcan and it had a complete darkroom inside: paper, chemistry, safelight & processing container. It was scaled back to just the camera due to the cost of making all the components by hand.

WL: How long before you expanded to make other sizes?
JK: The quart size, just right for the hands of children, was added within a year. I’m currently working on a combination pinhole camera & camera obscura.

WL: What’s the oddest camera you have ever made?
JK: Are there any odd cameras? One customer expressed a fear of photographing people and I made her a special camera labeled "Merlin Custom Paints". This was used in outdoor cafes and helped her to overcome those fears. Another interesting camera had multiple pinholes and a removable lens. The shutter was a strip of paper with a window cut-out, which could be pulled across an aperture at different rates, depending on the brightness of the scene. It also had a simple screen, which could be used to preview an image or to study image formation, as in classical physics experiments. My cameras tend to feature a flexible design so photographers can use their imaginations and manipulate the way light is captured to form an image.

WL: Where can our readers get a Merlin?
JK: Cameras are available through distributors and directly from me. Ordering information is available on the website www.paintcancamera.com

WL: Do you drill your pinholes yourself or have them made?
JK: Each camera is hand made and the pinholes are precision drilled.

WL: What about zoneplates and seives – are those available or are you thinking about adding them?
JK: They are not currently available but they are interesting.

WL: Have you seen growth in the amount of orders since digital has become so pervasive or are you seeing a decline?
JK: Orders have dropped. The digital age took over faster than anyone imagined it would.

WL: It seems to me that there are more people making cameras than ever and there are more "commercial" ventures. What are your thoughts on this?
JK: This is true, of course, but the cost of starting up an "alternative camera" business is high and their photo-market share is actually pretty small. It also takes a lot of work! My approach has been to tackle the relatively complex process of teaching & learning photographic art & science with a simple, inexpensive solution while other companies address the less complicated task of taking a photograph, but use more complicated cameras.

WL: Where do most of your orders come from – who’s doing the most pinhole photography out there, in your opinion?
JK: Most of my customers have been involved in education programs, and it has been a pleasure to work with and help many teachers & students around the globe. Mostly this is online, but sometimes I get to visit the class, where the activity and personal interaction is great fun for everyone, and very educational, too!

…………………

Boothe Park #2
Boothe Park #2 by Bruce Berrien
Pinhole Blender Mini-120, multiple exposures

 
Looking Up At Trees #26
Looking Up At Trees #26 by Bruce Berrien
Pinhole Blender Mini-120, multiple exposures

 
60 Chestnuts, Flying Cloud
60 Chestnuts, Flying Cloud
by Heather Champ
Pinhole Blender mini-35, Three 2 minute and 30 second exposures

 
Buddha, Japanese Garden
Buddha, Japanese Tea Garden
by Heather Champ
Pinhole Blender mini-35, 5 second exposure

 

The Pinhole Blender

One of the most interesting and creative cameras (in my opinion) available is the Pinhole Blender. Round cans with multiple pinholes, these cameras blend multiple exposures onto one strip of film creating amazing and beautiful images. I first met Chris Peregoy at the f295 symposium last year when he was trying out his new, smaller mini-cameras.

Without Lenses: Where are you located?
Chris Peregoy: Baltimore, Maryland, USA

WL: How long have you been making pinhole cameras?
CP: I’ve been making the Pinhole Blender, since 2002 but I’ve been making pinhole cameras for about 15 years

WL: What prompted you to start making cameras?
CP: My first Pinhole Blenders were made as Christmas presents in 2000. My friends thought it was such a good idea and that I should start an online business to sell them.

WL: How long does one camera take to make?
CP: To make one camera it would take over 24 hours to assemble it and allow the paint to harden. I can cut that down by working on many at once.

WL: How many folks work with you?
CP: One, its just me. Sometimes for a large order I’ll hire one of my students to help with assembly.

WL: What does your workspace look like?
CP: My workshop is in my basement. I finish the assembly, attach lenses and box up in my studio on the second floor of my house.

WL: Which camera did you start with?
CP: The Original Pinhole Blender 120, the three-hole 120 camera was my first. This is the one based upon my Christmas present.

WL: How long before you expanded to make other sizes?
CP: About six months after I started selling cameras I was asked if I would make a 35mm version. I started selling them about six months after that.

WL: What’s the oddest camera you have ever made?
CP: I made one for a camera swap called the Seven Day Camera. It was a 4 inch tube about 20 inches long with 7 pinholes along the length. The entire roll of film wrapped around the center core in an upwards spiral. A control knob allowed the user to rotate the center core http://taco.thoma.be/gallery/The-Seven-Day-Pinhole-Camera-of-Chris-Peregoy Another odd camera that’s received a lot of attention is my coconut camera. This is basically half a coconut with a hinged back, It uses photo paper or single sheets of film cut to fit in the coconut. I used a cork for the shutter and attached a lanyard to the user could wear the camera around their neck. http://www.f295.org/wordpress/?page_id=71

WL: How did you start selling the cameras?
CP: I started by announcing my camera in the Pinhole-Discussion mailing list http://spitbite.org/pinhole-discussion/list.html

WL: Where can our readers get a pinhole blender?
CP: Pinhole Blenders are sold in the US and through out the world from my website
http://www.pinholeblender.com And are sold through distributors in Japan, England, Germany and Switzerland.

WL: Do you drill your pinholes yourself or have them made?
CP: I use single slot aperture grids. These are precision pinholes that were originally produced for Electron Microscopy.

Chris Peregoy in his workshop
Chris Peregoy in his workshop making Pinhole Blenders
7 Day Camera
7 Day Camera, by Chris Peregoy
 

WL: What about zone plates and sieves – are those available or are you thinking about adding them?
CP: My mini Blender series are supplied with both a pinhole and a zone plate. I make my zone plates myself with a high resolution film recorder onto Technical pan film developed to a high D-max.

WL: Have you seen growth in the amount of orders since digital has become so pervasive or are you seeing a decline?
CP: Orders were pretty slow for the first two years but picked up quickly when I started selling in Japan. Now with distributors across Europe I’m seeing an overall increase everywhere. I think users are drawn to the DIY aspects of pinhole image making. Perhaps they have made a simple box camera but now want to move on to film. I think blogs have played a big part in the recent increase as well. People see interesting work on flickr or f295 and they want to get in on the fun.

WL: Where do most of your orders come from – who’s doing the most pinhole photography out there, in your opinion?
CP: I first thought my cameras would appeal most to students. I now think that most are going to advanced camera users and professional photographers that want a release from their digital cameras.