For sometime now I have wanted to indulge my creative curiosity in the world of pinhole photography. I like the impressionistic, ethereal appearance which is often enhanced by the long exposure times necessary. Photography without a lens; just the smallest of apertures in front of a film or digital sensor in a light sealed box.
There are several manufacturers of pinhole cameras, one of which is Zero Image who make a wide variety of cameras for a large range of film sizes. Whilst very tempting this would have taken me down the path of analogue photography. I’m sure this approach would appeal to the purist, but the prospect of working with film was a step too far for me, well for now anyway.
At the other end of the scale there are software presets which try to mimic the look of a pinhole photograph. This might satisfy a photographic ‘heathen’ but I have never liked the results they offer.
I was really searching for something I could use with my existing camera set up. After a little online research I came across a German company called Skink Pinhole who make pancake pinhole systems for different camera mounts including the Leica M Mount.
The Pro Kit comes with the pancake adapter and three interchangeable metal discs – zone sieve (top), zone plate (middle) and pinhole (bottom). Each one is laser cut and gives a 24mm focal length, or in other words a moderate but not extreme wide angle field of view. The apertures are f71, f46 and f110 respectively. It is well constructed from aluminum and the inner ring which secures one of the pinhole plates is easy to remove but care needs to be taken not to drop a plate in the process. They are only 2cm in diameter so could easily be lost out in the field. It has a 43mm filter thread which will be useful in certain situations when a graduated filter or ND filter is required to extend exposure times.
More information about the product can be found on the manufacturers website. I bought mine through Ebay.
Yesterday I went out for the first time excited to see how this new piece of kit performed. All three pinhole plates are designed to render a slightly different effect but on this occasion I decided to use just the one plate, the zone sieve. It will be interesting to compare how each plate performs in the future.
I used the pancake adapter on my Leica SL which has an L to M mount adapter. By virtue of its mirror-less design the camera allowed my to compose the image with live view and meter the exposure time. With an aperture of f71 everything is in focus, well soft focus to be precise. Even in bright conditions I was using a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds at ISO 100. A tripod was therefore essential. Long exposures with a pinhole camera are part of the appeal although this particular subject was static.
Although live view works well on the Leica SL it does not have a tilting screen. Having found a composition I liked, the camera was set low to the ground. As a consequence it was difficult to see the rear screen to accurately check the composition and only a contortionist would have been able to look through the viewfinder. Fortunately the camera can be controlled remotely via an App on my iPhone, which meant I could more easily fine tune the composition and release the shutter. Having taken an image I could also review the result on my phone.
I waited for the light to be right. Although the church was well lit, I had to be patient for the sun to move round so that the fallen cross in the foreground was also bathed in sunlight. Picture taken I returned home to process and make the image. The principal change was managing global contrast with some local adjustments including dodging and burning. No different in fact to working in a film darkroom.
One of the disadvantages of everything being in focus is that the smallest dust spot on the sensor is there for all to see, so a fair bit of time was spent healing these marks. Finally I added a split tone which I like to do to most of my monochrome images.
I very much enjoyed my first outing with a pinhole; a new creative tool which I think I will grow to like even more in the months ahead.