Lloyd Bosworth : archaeologist | human | beard

How To Turn A DSLR Into A Pinhole Camera

pinhole-daffodilsDo you have a DSLR camera? Is it out of warranty? Do you think that it has always looked a bit ‘unbalanced’ with that lens poking out the front? Have you always wanted to take interesting, but out of focus photographs? Do you still have the dust cap for your camera body, a drill, some foil, electrical insulation tape, a sewing needle, patience and an hour or so to kill?

If you can answer yes to all these questions, then read on. We’re going to turn your prized DSLR into a pinhole camera!

First off, a disclaimer and your camera’s warranty. The instructions that follow require no direct modifications to your camera body, only to the dust cap that protects the mirror and sensor when you have no lens attached (you did say you still had that, right?). If you follow these instructions, everything will be fine with your camera. If you’re a clumsy fool, then who knows what could happen, but what does happen is your own responsibility, not mine. Your warranty may be invalidated by this modification. Like I said, we’re not modifying the camera, just the dust cap, but your warranty provider may not make that distinction.

What is a pinhole camera?

“A pinhole camera is a simple camera without a lens and with a single small aperture – effectively a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light from a scene passes through this single point and projects an inverted image on the opposite side of the box.”

~ Wikipedia

So, a pinhole camera is the simplest type of camera and functions in a similar way to the eye. An added bonus of not using a lens is that the resulting image has no lens distortion, either.

Step the First: Drilling!

Find the centre of the lens cap. I measured the diameter of the cap with verniers, and then used the radius to mark the centre as best I could. Use a small pilot drill bit (1-2mm) at first, before enlarging the hole with a 10mm bit.

Drilling the lens cap

Drilling the lens cap – start small, then enlarge

Step the Second: The foil and pinhole

Cut a piece of foil around 2cm square. Now, very carefully, use the sewing needle to pierce the foil in the centre. This is the pinhole bit of the pinhole camera and it needs to be very small. If the hole is too small or, usually, too large, the image will be really out of focus. You’ll return to this step several times until you get the hole the right size. I found that putting the foil on to a few sheets of paper or a piece of cardboard helped and also meant there weren’t lots of small holes in the tabletop.

Cut foil and a tiny pinhole

Cut foil and a tiny pinhole – this pinhole is way to big.

Step the Third: Putting it all together

Take a length of electrical tape and cut a hole half way along and in the centre. I used a paper hole punch for this, which was fiddly, but resulted in a very neat hole that was approx. 5mm in diameter. Perfect. Now, stick the foil to the tape with the hole as central as possible, then stick this to the lens cap, again, with the hole as central as possible. There needs to be a light-proof seal for this to work, so, if you need to use more electrical tape to achieve this, do so.

Lens cap with foil pinhole

Lens cap with foil pinhole

Step the Fourth: Take some pictures!

Because the pinhole camera has such a tiny aperture, exposure times are going to increase, so use a tripod. If your camera has a mirror lock-up function, use it, as this ensures that as little vibration gets through during the long exposures. Also, use a remote shutter release/remote control if you have one. The most important thing is to experiment until you get the results you like, and to have fun.

One thing you may notice is that you have a lot of dust on the camera sensor, which will show really clearly on your pinhole photos. Now would be a good time to give that sensor a good clean!

First pinhole camera photo

First pinhole camera photo

About the best photo so far and I don't think I could improve the pinhole size any further

About the best photo so far and I don’t think I could improve the pinhole size any further

A lovely bunch of daffodils - I like this one

A lovely bunch of daffodils – I like this one

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