Sunday, September 29, 2019

Pinhole “Polaroid” Instax Mini- the easiest way to shoot pinhole photography!

This post serves two purposes. First as a shameless plug for my product, and second as a how-to for the easiest to use pinhole camera ever! 

Pinhole photography is fantastic. It takes you back to the core elements of photography- light drawing at it’s most basic. No lens. Just a hole in a dark box. A shutter is as simple as a piece of tape or cardboard and shutter speed based on the photographer counting- one one thousand two one thousand…

The prior step and the next step are where things have the possibility of being a bit complicated. First, you need to load the negative or light-sensitive paper. You will need a completely dark room or a changing bag. After exposing the shot, you will need the changing bag again, and you will need to transfer it into a light-tight tank for processing. Adjusting for the type of film, you will have to take it through a cycle of the developer, stop, and fix. If you are shooting color, it can also be pretty challenging to develop the film. Upon finishing the development, you need to either scan it or develop prints from the negative in the darkroom.

Now imagine you can skip all that. All you have to remember is one one thousand, two one thousand part. This is where instant pinhole photography comes in. No darkroom, no changing bag, no chemicals.

I have made a shutter for the Instax Mini. It is attached with two screws without modification to the exterior of the camera body. The gate style shutter is just slid along with your fingertips. The pinhole can be used as I made it or swapped out for a pinhole of your choice.

If you choose not to use my shutter, making a shutter yourself is easy! Just cut out cardboard, thin wood, or plastic to cover the lens area and drill a hole or use a hole punch in the middle. Lay it aside for now.

Cut a nickel or quarter-sized piece of thin metal (you can use thin roof flashing or thick foil, but I used brass shim metal). Put the metal on softwood or thick cardboard as a backing and pierce the metal with a needle. This is a bit easier said than done. It is easier to handle and drive the needle through the metal if you take a wine cork and push the needle’s back into it all the way so a half-inch is sticking out. When you pierce the metal, just pierce with the tip. You need a tiny hole so it is best to err on the side of caution. Once you have pierced the metal, it is helpful but not necessary to sand the hole with 1200 or higher grit sandpaper. If you sand it, go back and forth and re-round the hole with the needle. The goal is to have the pierced area as thin as the metal around it.

Tape the metal to the backside of the cardboard with the pinhole in the center. Cover the back or front of your cardboard with black electrical tape or paint it black with acrylic paint. Take a piece of electric tape and lay it across the pinhole. When you peel up part of the tape exposing the hole the shutter is open. When you tape it back down the shutter is closed. This is the simplest pinhole shutter.

Here is where it can get scary, but don’t be scared. Now you need to gut your Instax camera. I will start with caution, and if you heed my warning everything will go fine. This tip applies to any and all cameras with built-in flashes! The Instax camera will have a large capacitor. This will dump lots of power all at once. It can zap and sting you bad, or even kill you if you have a weak heart or heart related conditions. There are three easy workarounds. The first one(the one I used for years!) is to avoid touching the leads and hope you get lucky. Obviously this workaround is not great. The second workaround is to short out the cap by bridging the two leads with an insulated screwdriver. This will dump all the energy instantly, but it will make an alarming pop and spark! The third is to make or buy a capacitor drainer. I bought one on eBay from someone who makes them. It takes a few minutes to drain, but it is the easiest of all routes. If this is the only camera you intend to build, I would go the insulated screwdriver route. It may spook you for a second, and that isn’t so bad!

Open the case by removing visible screws. You don’t need to remove the screws in the battery compartment, but you do need to take off the battery door. Gently pry the case apart, releasing tiny tabs all around. Disable and remove the capacitor. Now that you have removed the danger, just remove everything else! Start with the lens parts, then the circuit boards. Leave as much wire as possible coming from the shutter button, the battery, and the motor. Remove all other electronics. If you are using my shutter, Dremel down the black cone so there is clearance for the shutter. You will probably only have to remove 5mm or ¼ inch. If you are not using my shutter, you don’t have to Dremel anything.

You are ready for wiring. It is a simple circuit. It goes: battery to negative line(black) to switch(yellow)out of switch(yellow) to motor(green) out of motor(blue) to battery(red). I interrupted the negative side of the circuit with the switch, but you could do it on the positive side. If you get your wires to the motor backward, it will just run in reverse. This is just about the simplest circuit ever, and all you have to do is hold down the momentary switch for it to engage the motor. You can practice on old film re-loaded into a cartridge, but you will be comfortable with it within moments or seconds of use.

Now mount my shutter with two screws or tape your homemade shutter on. If you choose, you can silver out the flash window with a silver sharpie from the backside or you can leave it like it is. You can also take the original lens front ring and glue it on for looks, or dress it out any way you like! Reassemble the camera with the 7 tiny screws. Use electric tape, gorilla tape, or any black light-tight tape, and tape from the back of the shutter to the film opening edge, careful to allow full view to the film.

You are now done and ready to shoot. Load your batteries and film and get to shooting! I count off seconds, but you can use a watch hand or phone. My shutter can take 2 to 3 seconds in the shade, or less than a second in bright daylight. Keep in mind that Instax film is very sensitive(800 iso). In order to keep it simple and fun, write off your first pack of film to “dialing it in”. This is something that you can only do with instant film! With standard analog film you may use the whole first roll bracketing, and develop and print a contact sheet or scan the film before you know what you have. If you want to get more complex than the simple and fun experimental way, you can scan your pinhole and measure it using photo software like Photoshop, and then put it in a free program like pinhole designer. There you will get your f-stop and comparable time conversions for a standard light meter.

There are a ton of resources. This is just meant to be an introduction to get you started, but there are many more specific instructions than this out there. Also, both of these shutters can be added to any light-tight box to make a camera if Instax doesn’t float your boat! Happy shooting!
The white balance in these example shots is pretty bad. The images are not this blue!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Polaroid automatic to manual conversion part two- a quick fix for the DIY addict!

Three years ago I blogged about my conversion of an automatic pack-film camera to a fully manual setup(check out this blog entry for a more thorough how-to: ). It was my first attempt. I was pleased with the results, as it was a camera with personality. It looked like the Frankenstein it was-, a combination of several camera parts with junkyard appeal. In an effort to thin the herd, I sold this lovely little junker. The new owner sent me some great pictures that he shot with the camera. I was proud and glad that the camera gave another joy like it had me.
But I missed that camera. I could toss it in a bag with little regard for its safety( so different from the way I treat my 195). There was also a connection to the fact that I had put my own personal touch to it. I had modified it- tricked it out- like some rat rod car.
I kept busy with other conversions: Two 110 to pack film conversions ( a successful Polaroid Spectra to Acmel Forensics transplant operation later(, and I wanted to have another go at the automatic to manual conversion. I recently bought a small lot of pack film(very expired fp100c) and they threw in a poorly constructed junk conversion from a tired 100 body with bellows that looked like swiss cheese and a lovely 127mm Rodenstock-Ysarex lens.
Tinkering is an addiction, and I have been jonesing for this project. As an added motivation, I will not get to shoot with my 195 for three months. It is on display with a third of my collection in a show about collections in the Kennedy Museum of Art. So I took the lovely lens off of the junk conversion and dumped the rest into a parts bin.
This time, I set about with an aesthetic vision. I still wanted the steampunk rat rod look, but a bit more refined and unified than my first attempt. This one would be shiny metal and black, to go with the lovely lens I lucked into. In the three years since I blogged about my last manual conversion, I have cleaned, tested, enhanced, and sold a couple hundred cameras. This has given me a parts graveyard that would likely be the envy of any Polaroid geek.
I built this new camera on the foundation of a Polaroid 250 Automatic. I swapped out the bellows with a nice black one( for information on how to swap bellows see ) and added a full view Zeiss-Icon viewfinder. Most Zeiss-Icon viewfinders have a tiny viewing port, but there were some 250s that had a larger viewing port for people who wear glasses. I attached a Polaroid #128 timer to the back with permanent double-sided craft tape. You will note that I put it on the right-hand side as you look at the back. My first-timer was mounted on the left side and stuck out against my face when I used the viewfinder- live and learn! I added a cold shoe that I took off a flash bracket with a combination of screws and liquid weld. I gutted the front standard and mounted the 127 lens. In addition to being a very sharp lens that was originally from the Polaroid 110a roll film camera, this lens has the added benefit of the accessories designed for the 110a, like closeup diopters +1, 2, and 4, as well as a yellow filter, polarizer, and a hood!
But the most drastic change was the grip I built into the frame of the camera. Since I no longer needed batteries for my camera, I took off the battery door and the built-in plastic hand grip. A little dremeling later, and I mounted a handgrip from the flash bracket I salvaged. Then I made a custom cover for the whole package out of an automatic 450 cover. The 450 cover is designed for the Zeiss-Icon viewfinder and has the added benefit of a cutout for a cold shoe. I dremeled and folded it so the handgrip would still be accessible even when the cover is closed. I made the cover form fit the new lens by putting on the accessory yellow filter to protect the lens, and slowly coaxing the cover to the shape while getting the cover hot with a heat gun. This is scary, but if you take your time it will work very well. I chose the yellow filter knowing that if I hurt it I would not be too disappointed, but there was no damage to the filter and the camera itself wasn’t even warm. I let it sit for an hour fully clipped in place to make sure it would not return to its original shape.
I found a nice and simple Honeywell flash in black and chrome, and after a bit of cleaning the contacts with an eraser head, it fired up the capacitor quickly. It took me a lot longer to find the proprietary flash cable, though. Thank goodness for my camera salvage! I really wanted it to have the Polaroid #628 light meter, but I didn’t want to use the one from my 195 kit. I have a few broken 628s, so I set about fixing one. This was probably the most time-consuming part! I just took it apart a dozen times tweaking this and that until it was fixed. By the way, this method can work for all kinds of stuff ( The only caveat is that you have to watch out for high voltage capacitors, as they can release deadly energy.).
I am really pleased with the results. Not too polished, but quite the looker. It is also the most ergonomic pack film camera I own, and my new favorite...until my next fix!