PINHE4D - a 35 mm Pinhole Camera

by schlem, published

PINHE4D - a 35 mm Pinhole Camera by schlem Aug 22, 2013

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"Who would believe that so small a space could contain the image of all the universe?" -Leonardo Da Vinci

Designed for 35mm film, and super hackable, the PINHE4D (P4) puts the pure power of the pinhole in the palm of your hand! A secret known to the ancients, and found in the eye of the chambered nautilus: a tiny aperture can render the visible world!

Photos taken by the P4:

I have created a 3D Printed Cameras group on Flickr
The mission is to share and promote open source cameras and related parts, created with CAD applications and 3D printing. Please join and post content!

I've designed and built a few pinhole cameras - it's immense fun, but it can be difficult to duplicate what others have done successfully. Cut-out paper pinhole cameras have been "2D" printed in magazines (see LINKS), but 3D printing offers a substantial improvement over flimsy paperboard construction. I hope you make, use, and hack this camera for your own artistic endeavors.

Goals for this project include:

  • fuctional pinhole camera and proof of concept
  • simple design / easy assembly
  • promoting development of 3D printed cameras
  • a hackable open souce photography platform
  • a library of (parametric) parts for homemade cameras
  • a useful and peaceful application for 3D printing technology
  • fun -- Shoot film, not bullets!

Thanks to aubenc for the knurled surface library!

I look forward to seeing how you evolve and iterate the PINHE4D. I plan to add an Arduino-controlled servo to the shutter for accurate exposure timing and a lens board for using optical lenses.

Mostly prototyped in Tinkercad with some OpenSCAD spice: printed in black ABS on a Printrbot Plus at 0.25mm, 2 perimeters, 40% infill (tripod mounts at 70% infill) I found that two perimeters gave me consistent infill, ergo better strength, but 3 perimeters generated interior voids in some walls that might bend and crack. Cracks = light leaks = bad.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons - Attribution - Non-Commercial license. This license applies only to the files and documents available for download from the Thing Files section of this Thing.
All other related content (photographs, videos, and verbiage such as contained in "Description" or "Instructions" ) are excluded from this license. with all rights reserved, unless specifically available for download This notice constitutes a clarification, not a change, to licensing for this design.


If you haven't explored pinhole photography, I hope this camera catalyzes your interest. Like learning a different language hones your native tongue, pinhole cameras make you a better photographer. A proper tutorial is beyond the scope of this forum, but look to the links at the bottom of this section, and watch for an Instructable soon. Assembly should be obvious from the pictures, and visit my Flickr link for more.

A word about materials: I tried, really, I tried, to make this in colored plastic, but anything but black ABS is too translucent and will ruin your film. Thicker walls could fix this, but the camera would be unnecessarily heavy and material-costly. Besides, black is a time-honored design choice in photographic equipment.

Bill of Materials

--- printed, BLACK ABS ---

  • Body plate (camera front and back)
  • Shutter plate (extension, pinhole plate, pinhole clamp, shutter plate, shutter blade)
  • Knobs plate (two knobs, rewind shaft, rewind bushings, winding shaft, 2 x winding reel)
  • Viewfinder (optional)
    Every part can be printed without support.

--- non-printed ---

  • Pinhole (see discussion and links, below)
  • Adhesive-backed BLACK velvet (http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?page=9852)
  • Large and small rubber bands or spring
  • Soft foam block
  • 1/4-inch nut for tripod mount
  • 4 3mm bolts, 15mm (34, 50mm versions, 8mm for 22.5 mm version)
  • 4 3mm nuts
  • Loctite or similar for shutter bolt

Additionally, you may want the following for finishing and assembling printed parts:

  • ABS glue of choice
  • Super glue
  • Black Sharpie (or similar) to blacken backside of pinhole
  • Sandpaper
  • X-Acto knife
  • Misc. files
  • Acetone
  • Clamp

Before constructing a pinhole camera, a few decisions must be made: film size, frame format, pinhole size, and "focal length". The film (35mm) and frame size (24 x 36mm) decisions have been made here, but you'll still need a pinhole situated some distance from your film. Despite copious opinions on making the perfect pinhole, neither variable is really super-critical, but you'll do well to not stray too far from the recommendations.

A pinhole doesn't focus or refract light like a conventional glass lens element; everything in a pinhole photograph will appear focused. Any given pinhole diameter has an optimal distance from the film, a so-called "focal distance". Generally, larger pinholes and shorter focal distances make for faster exposures. Smaller pinholes give greater detail, and longer focal distances effectively magnify the image in the frame. There are three extension sizes for the PINHE4D, 22.5mm, 34mm, and 50mm, sized for 0.20, 0.25, and 0.30 mm pinholes respectively. You can easily geek out to your heart's content if you want (See links for more info). If you build the 22.5mm version, you will need shorter, 8mm bolts to fasten the pinhole/shutter

I used a very thin tapestry needle to make my pinhole, following the instructions in the article from withoutlenses.com. I estimate that my pinhole is approximately 0.25mm in diameter. From the pinhole diameter and the focal distance (34mm), my PINHE4D has an F-stop of 140 or f/140. The Pinhole Designer application will generate an exposure time chart based on your camera specifications and film choice.

A few technical notes about the PINHE4D:

  • Tolerances and fit are very tight. Expect to trim and shape mating surfaces with blades and and other sharp tools for a snug light-tight fit.
  • Any warping of interior mating surfaces will make your camera leak light and fog your film.
  • Lightly scuff any shiny surfaces inside the camera with sandpaper (spools, shafts, etc.) to minimize reflected light.
  • The camera back snaps fairly firmly onto the front, but rubber bands and self-adhesive velvet are cheap light-proofing.
  • The surfaces of the camera body that the film touches should be covered with the self-adhesive velvet.
  • The shutter should move smoothly, yet be firmly held against the pinhole clamp plate by the shutter plate. A dab of Loctite on the bolt will keep your shutter from gradually loosening.
  • Glue and clamp the extension on the body front for maximum light-tightness (do you see a theme here?).
  • I used a styrene cement to attach the extension to the body, and super glue for securing the film tensioning foam in the body, and tacking the pinhole on the pinhole plate.
  • The shutter assembly is designed to come apart for easy pinhole experimentation and replacement.
  • There are three slightly differently-sized bushings for the rewind knob shaft, choose the one closest to the size of the hole in the camera body. I had good luck sanding the bushing to a snug fit.
  • The film should be tight enough in the loaded camera that you need to manually turn BOTH knobs to advance or rewind the film. A block of soft foam creates enough friction against the spool to maintain the rotational position of the winding knob. I used air conditioner gap-filling foam, cut to fit.
  • The winding knob (right side from behind camera) turns counter-clockwise to advance the film. The rewind knob (left side from behind camera) turns clockwise to rewind the film into the cartridge. See the arrows on top of the knobs.
  • One rotation of the winding knob corresponds to a nominal one-frame advancement. There is an index mark on the top of the knob for that purpose. The winding spool has a diameter of 12mm which has a circumference of almost 38mm -which is the standard advancement distance for 35mm film cameras. As more film winds on the spool, the effective diameter increases, and the margins between your photos will increase unless you calculate a decreasing rotation of the winding knob. My initial roll of 36 exposures yielded 31 shots before I ran out of film.
  • Alternately, (If you maintain even tension on the film) half way through the roll of film, index your advancement based on the rewind knob's rotational position - it will decrease in diameter for the remainder of the roll. More information on accurate indexing:
  • when transporting a loaded PINHE4D, a piece of tape across the winding knob holds your film in position.

Some photographic notes:

  • Use a tripod or otherwise immobilize your pinhole camera. Exposures of many seconds are not uncommon, and you don't want your image blurred (unless you do).
  • The tripod mounting point (you DO use a tripod for your pinhole photography, right?) might interfere with the lower rubber band hooks. You may need to use some kind of spacer to elevate the PINHE4D 1/2 inch.
  • The shutter is designed to be held shut with rubber bands. You can snap the shutter open while it is securely mounted on a tripod, or you can remove the rubber bands and manually open and close the shutter for long exposures or self portraits.
  • The viewfinder is proportioned to the 34mm extension's angles of view. Line up the inside edges to visualize the outer margins of your photographic composition. Adding some white tape or paint to the inside edges of the box portion creates good contrast, making it easier to see when the sight lines line up.
  • I use a light meter to obtain an exposure value (EV) for a given composition. I use that EV to calculate a shutter speed for an aperture of f/22. Using the chart generated for my camera (f/140) by Pinhole Designer, I adjust the exposure to an appropriate interval. If there are wide tonal values in the shot, I may bracket the exposure with faster and slower shots to hedge my bet.

--- LINKS ---
More pictures;

An encyclopedic article with cross references:

A self-described comprehensive pinhole tutorial:

The basics from Kodak - a quick and dirty primer.

Make your own pinhole:

Pinhole Designer - an excellent pinhole design and exposure calulator. The reciprocity failure function is gold. Sadly, Windows only, but worth it.

Mr. Pinhole - More calculators and more links.

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day:

A paper pinhole camera, 2D printed in a Czechoslovakian magazine, in the 1970's: http://www.pinhole.cz/en/pinholecameras/dirkon_01.html

Books, books, books; Knowledge is power:

A discussion of accurately indexing film in homebuild (120) cameras:

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Dec 2, 2015 - Modified Dec 2, 2015

I can't find 120 mm roll film in Turkey local market and i decided to make it.

How can i find a light meter for it, that can be calculate f/140, most of it calculate f/22 maximum, i need for android, so thanks!! :)

The usual process for metering for very small apertures, like a pinhole, is to meter for f/22 and then convert that reading to a smaller f/number. The windows app, PinholeDesigner ( http://www.pinhole.cz/en/pinholedesigner/ ) generates a nice chart for converting metered exposures for your pinhole camera. It also calculates reciprocity failure adjustments for common films. PinholeDesigner will run under WINE on Linux also.

Sadly, I do not know of a good Android pinhole light meter. If I did, I would happily use it. The PinholeAssist guy has no interest in adapting to the Android platform, I am told.

Good luck with the camera. It is ugly, but it can make great photos. I have a new 35mm design in the works, but it's not quite ready to be released into the wild.
Take good care.

I was considering your terapin or P6*6 when I noticed this new item: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:531244
Now for contact printing 120 film is much better than 35mm, but I do have a 35mm film scanner (not the greatest, but will make good webpage images). So now I'm comparing this camera to the one in the above link. Question, can I print the pinhead 35mm in PLA or is ABS required?
Also are you planning any more design on this one such as using screws rather than rubber bands to lock the unit closed?

3D Printed Pinhole 35 mm
by cirion

I have been printing my latest cameras in PLA, which has some definite advantages, BUT !!! not all black PLA is opaque enough for camera use. Thin parts may seep enough light through the PLA to fog your film. I've been having good luck with Shaxon PLA, available at Fry's electronics and Amazon (and it's less expensive, generally). The PINHE4D was my first pinhole design and it's overdue for an upgrade. It's powerful ugly, but I hope you appreciate that it makes good photos. 120 is my preferred film medium, for a variety of reasons, but 35mm is so easy for anyone to get processed at the local drug store. Cartridge film is also easier for newbies to use. And it's relatively cheap. So, yes, I have been thinking a lot about updating this and I would be using thumbscrews for closure. Rubber bands are fine for experimenting, but I want my cameras to be durable. Thanks for the interest!

Thanks so much for this - I had a blast working on this for a week. I hope the pictures turn out, but if anything it got me entirely obsessed with pinhole cameras which is a new endeavor for me. Thanks!

I promise you will get something. The biggest challenge to consistent and reliable pinhole photography is understanding the reciprocity failure characteristics of your chosen film. Sorry about the absence of styling - the PINHE4D is an ugly thing, but I like the photos it makes. I want to rework the design to be a little more attractive - 35mm film is so nice to work with.Also - I would be very interested in any issues/confusion you experienced in making this camera.

I made some AI files for a laser cutter for the pinholes. Would you be interested in adding them?

I also have access to a laser cutter and could probably make cuts around .2-.3 mm if i tried, what material would you cut out of? I believe a pinhole is best made out of some sort of reflective material too reduce stray light but you cannot cut any reflective materials...

Nov 19, 2014 - Modified Nov 19, 2014
schlem - in reply to loganj13

The only requirements for the pinhole stock are opacity and a fine thickness, like 1/1000 of an inch. Generally metal stock is used and the inside < edit - "back side" > is usually painted black to minimize reflections. Making a pinhole with a calibrated pin is actually very easy:

Sorry for the confusion, by reflective I meant metal such as thin sheet or tinfoil, however neither of these can be laser cut because some of the laser would reflect off the surface and damage the machine, however I still may use the laser cutter to make a pinhole template of sorts that is large enough to just let some of the end of the needle go through. Since I an using a needle, and have made a crude pinhole camera before, I think I can get the hole to be round enough..

Could you paint/color the stock black before turning on the fricking laser beam? Or will the freshly ablated surface allow for the reflections you mentioned?

The Epilog Laser Cutter I use is a 75W so I dont think it will have enough power to cut through even thin metal while working at a rapid enough pace to cut through the metal almost instantaneously after burning away the coating of dark paint or coloring, which is a necessity to keep any reflected laser beams away... Well I think I'm just going to stick to the good old needle since it's worked well for me in the past. I can't wait to finish this project,(hopefully tomorrow or thursday) so I can try to use it for assignments for my sophmore film photography class!

Excellent! Do post pictures of and by your camera! I have a Flickr group for that very purpose:

How about you create a thing and I will link to them. How fine a pinhole can you make with a laser cutter? I want to figure out how to use capacitive discharge (High volt spark) to make pinholes, but many projects! I get pretty good results with a calibrated needle awl too.

I want to make this, but there are extra parts in the list of files and I'm not sure which are the ones to print!

Sorry for the confusion. There is a list of parts to print in the instructions.

Decide which "focal length" you wish and print that extension plate. The redundant parts are available in case you need to print an individual part without a whole plate of extra parts. Or if you wanted to remix some aspect of the camera design.

  • Body plate (camera front and back)
  • Shutter plate (extension, pinhole plate, pinhole clamp, shutter plate, shutter blade)
  • Knobs plate (two knobs, rewind shaft, rewind bushings, winding shaft, 2 x winding reel)
  • Viewfinder (optional)

I recommend the body plate with the round rafts at the corners, and the 50mm extension.
Hope that helps!