DIY High Capacity Panoramic Pinhole Camera

It all started on a long plane flight in the beginning of 2006. I was doodling in my Moleskine notebook and musing about pinhole cameras when and idea struck me. What if I made a camera that was panoramic and high capacity at the same time. I had been shooting with my 6×9 medium format pinhole (120 film) for a few weeks and was happy with the images but wished I could get more than eight shots a roll and have a wider field of view. What I thought was if I moved the pinhole closer to the film plane and rotated to aspect 90 degrees I could get dozens of images on a single roll of film and still get a pretty good sized negative. Turns out I can get about 30 images on a roll and even a quickly made pinhole will produce a satisfactory sharpness.


My original notes that I drew in the trusty notebook.
I sketched some rough dimensioned drawings up to get the size right. I also calculated the angle of view I’d have if I used a focal length of 25mm.



I decided on using black foam core for this project because it’s cheap, very easy to work with, light proof, and relatively strong. It’s also easy to glue with common white glue. I was hoping to use super glue but that turns out to dissolve the foam quite easily.



This is about the only part that needs to be exact, and even that doesn’t need to be precise. This will hold the film away from the pinhole. Flatness is the biggest thing to worry about with this. I used bits of black gaffers tape to hold the edges while it was drying.



I used a zig-zag pattern when applying the glue. I’m not sure it matters all that much but the joints turned out ok.



Add an extra bead of glue on the insides to form what’s called a fillet. This adds additional strength to your bonds.



This part will hold the rolls of film. The white part at the bottom is a strip of 1/16 inch thick styrene plastic. The roll spindles are 3/16 inch tubes that were first super glued to the strip and then had foam core spacers pushed over them. The spacers were held in place with white glue. The plastic strip needs to flex quite a bit so you can load and unload the camera.



I’ve added the source roll top mount. I’m using a bolt that I found in my screw box. It’s too long so I added some other parts to act as spacers. I fixed this later. I’ve also added a block of foam core as a roll stop to keep the film in place.



Gluing the transport into place requires a nice flat fit to the camera body and lots of glue. A light leak here would not be the end of the world but it would certainly be annoying.



Everything in place and set to dry. You can see the Radio Shack knob on the take up shaft. The take up is made from a length of 3/16 inch tube stock that has a notch filed into it. A 1/16 inch tube soldered into the end of the shaft to form a ‘T’. This will lock into the take up reel and let you advance the film.



Camera back with pressure plate. The rear plate should be snug against he film. Not too tight or you will have a hard time moving the film and will scratch the emulsion. If the plate is too lose the film will curve away from the film frame, resulting in a distorted image (well, more that what your normally going to get). It will also let the film unroll in the camera and you will be having a tough time taking up the slack when you advance to the next frame.



Testing the fit of the film.



I cut a hole in the back of the camera to let me see the frame numbers. I made it a bit too long so I filled it in with more foam core and fashioned a light tight plug for it. Strong light may fog the film if this is left open. I also added some red gel to it. The gel will also let the film move easily across the plate. Tape was used to secure the gel.



The pinhole is a sheet of .005 inch brass shim stock with a .3 mm hole in it. I centered it and taped it in place with more gaffers. (Ah, one thing I forgot and was pointed out to me over on the f295 forms. I should have painted the brass on the inside flat black to reduce reflections. This will reduce some of the fogging on the film that has been noticed. Ok kids, everyone remember to do that. Everything should be flat black on the inside.)



This is the replacement bolt I used. It’s the correct size.



I taped a hunk of steel from a computer case (its the security tab) outside the pinhole. With this I can simply use a magnet to cover the hole. I use a bit to tape to keep the magnet secured while the camera is not is use.



The back of the camera.



This is a typical result from the camera. When you go to advance the film you have to make a mental note where the top of the frame is and move it just that much and a little more. I overlapped the frame on this one a little, oops. I’m sure that the more I shoot with this the better I’ll get.

I think that this is a viable format for a pinhole camera.  I was able to get 26 images on my first roll of film, this is comparable to what I get on my Horizon 202 35mm camera. With a better grip on just how far to turn the advance I should be able to get 30 or more frames. The distortion of the image is minimal and the field of view is at least 80 degrees. It’s a fun camera to use, I’ll make the revision more compact. Maybe housed in a tube or a prism.

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16 thoughts on “DIY High Capacity Panoramic Pinhole Camera”

  1. Your next project: stereopinhole?
    One box, two holes, two images on the film…
    How about it?
    [Quite a do able project. I’ve seen it done before and the results are quite good. With the success of the foam core as the main building material it will be a snap. -John]

  2. Very Cool!!!…

    We used to use Black Gatorfoam on all kinds of client stuff at the Graphics house I used to work at in L.A…

    Pretty handy stuff…

  3. Super cool!
    I’m gonna have to start using this stuff, and do some cloning…

  4. Very nice. Very nice indeed! One way to deal with the frame counter would be to borrow an idea from the vintage Koroll 24S camera (and probably others like it) This uses 6×3 frames on 120 to get 24 exposures. The camera has two red windows. First you wind til the frame number apears in the 1st window, then wind on til it appears in the 2nd.

  5. … yeah, thinking about it, you could use two red windows along the centre of the film for 24 exposures of 6×3, or use the “16 exposure” numbers at the edge for 32 6×2.25 exposures

  6. cool idea. how do you deal with the film when after it’s been exposed? do you only open the camera in the darkroom?

  7. The exposed film is spooled up on the take up reel just like a normal 120 format camera. Once the film is finished I just keep turning the take up knob and when I feel it slip off the first reel I just open the camera and then take out the film. That’s it.

  8. Brilliant! And expertly written instructions/ directions. My boy, I see a future in technical writing for you, should you ever decide to succumb to that muse.

    Keep on inventin’, dude!!

  9. Hey, great idea. I am going to try using this as a removable back for a polaroid conversion. This way, each film back will be able to have a different sized mask already built in!!!


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