Using Pin holes
on a large format camera

If you want to get really SOFT results in your pictures, there are all sorts of approaches that you can use, such as the numerous soft-focus, diffuser, texture screens and fog filters, as well as using movement, rotation, zooming or changing focus (during the exposure), and vaseline on the lens (wherever and how much you want) -- either on the camera lens or on the enlarger lens (using a spare filter, I hope).

One favored approach that is often overlooked is the pin-hole camera or lens.  You can't really call it a camera because it isn't -- even though that is sometimes how it is advertised or sold.  But you can't call it a lens either, because no lens is involved and they are not made by any major manufacturers. They are merely tiny, "needle" or "pin" holes in paper, plastic or metal. They have great depth of field due to their tiny apertures, but the edges of the image are always fuzzy. The further away from the center of the image, the softer the image becomes.  Similarly, there will be light fall-off and that too will increase the further away from the center of the image.

Different people describe the results differently -- such as romantic, soft-focus, ethereal, classic, old-timey, dreamy, misty, funny, mesmerizing, fuzzy, foggy, psychedelic, historical, hysterical, other-worldly, pictorial, out-of-focus, dizzying, mind-boggling, etc.  Some people love them and can't get enough;  others hate them with a passion. I'll leave that part up to you.

Here are three websites where you can see some of the amazing results obtainable if you turn your large format camera into a pinhole camera:

And here is an old Pinhole discussion FORUM with lots of helpful info:

The best pinholes are laser-made pinholes in small, very thin metal sheets because these have very clean edges -- but these are also the most expensive. They come in a variety of "focal lengths", just like real lenses. And they normally don't come in easy-to-use, common mounts, attachments or adapters. They are just pinholes in some sort of material. I'll let you figure out how to attach them to your camera. And if you want to use filters -- and you can -- you will need to figure out how to attach them, as well.  Here's how I did it.

My pinholes are:

Here is a table of the f-stop breakdown starting at f1 in full, half, and third f-stops -- up to f4000 or so.

So, on a sunny day, which normally calls for f16 (at the reciprocal of the film speed as the shutter speed), with a 300mm pinhole (about f500) you will need about 250 times as much light.  With ISO 125 speed film that's about an eight second exposure -- or about 30 seconds after reciprocity failure adjustment.  It, of course will be even longer with slower film, darker settings, filtration adjustment and/or compensation for close-up bellows extension.  So be prepared for long exposures -- a steady tripod, lots to eat and drink, a comfortable chair and a good, locking cable release.  And NEVER forget to adjust your exposure and development for reciprocity rule failure after extension and filtration is added!

As you can see, the apertures are tiny and they are not adjustable. Other companies make pinholes of other focal lengths -- or you can make them yourself, but you will have to figure out the f-stop and the focal length. Either way, you have to attach them to your camera -- somehow. I know of no photographic meter that reads to f455, so bring a calculator or piece of paper. With pinhole cameras the focusing is not fixed. These are just estimates to get the overall sharpest results. So, for example, with a 75mm pinhole, create 75mm of extension on your camera between the pinhole and the film. You will need a tape measure. This will, of course, give you the best possible picture at infinity, but with the incredible depth-of-field it should cover all distances well. You can focus closer, but you will need to adjust the time accordingly and focus on the ground glass carefully -- if you can! You can focus pinholes at any distance, but getting an usable image on the ground glass is not easy. In all cases you will need a very good ground glass cover. People will think you are a complete idiot, but you will get great results. My Toko's maximum bellows length is 360mm so I can't go any longer than that (without some modification) but I like the wider-angle pinhole shots anyway. It's just something to keep in mind when searching for pinholes. With most 4x5 cameras you will not have a problem -- other than attaching the pinholes to the shutter.

The focal lengths and f-stops listed above are for my particular pin-holes AT INFINITY.  They can be used at closer distances, of coarse, with or without changing the focus, but for the sharpest results when focusing closer, it is best to adjust for the change in the f-stop and an increase in the exposure time as a result.  The closer you want to focus, the more change will be needed, just as with a regular lens.  If you find yourself wanting to focus closer than infinity often, it would behoove you to made a graph for each pinhole indicating the subject distance and the f-stop.  From that you can calculate the exposure time given the ambient light.  Here is an example:

My pinholes are attached by using a Leica (39mm) thread, metal lens cap. First, a hole (about 1/4") is drilled in the center of the lens cap and then the pinhole is taped to the rear of the lens cap so that the pinhole is in the middle of the 1/4" hole. Then they are simply screwed into a standard 39mm enlarging lens lock ring that has been glued to a standard Copal #1 lensboard for my camera.

The Copal #1 shutter has been removed, of course. This makes using them pretty easy. Chances are, one of your large lens shutters is a Copal #1. With other shutters you will need a different adapter(s).

I also glued on a 77mm filter ring around the enlarging lens lock ring so that filters and lens shades can be used.

Here is a website to help you calculate the f-stop of your pin-hole(s) and the focal length(s) that will produce the optimal (i.e., sharpest) results.  Even though the font size and color scheme makes it nearly impossible to read, it is worth the effort:

And if you find that website too frustrating, here is a simpler, easier approach.

And here is a great place that sells pinholes, singly or in sets.  It's where I got my set -- for under $50!

Then there are variations on the simple pinhole that gives you even more flexibility in the soft-focus realm. Think of this as a variable area or zone that lies between the true soft-focus lenses (where you can vary the softness from high to low by both adjusting the f-stop and by inserting different disks into the lens) and simple, pin-hole lenses. It's too lengthy to explain it all here, so I'll give you two resources. The first is a website from SKINK, a German company which makes a wide variety of pin-hole and pin-hole derived "lenses".  Some of their products are designed for large format cameras, some are easily adaptered (see below), while others might require some home-made ingenuity.

Here is a very nice independent review of the Skink "system" with plenty of example shots.  To see more photos just do a GOOGLE seach for SKINK and select the IMAGES tab.

OK, we've come a long way, down several paths.  It can seem pretty confusing.  So here's a summary graph that might provide some comparative perspective on the different available approaches for obtaining soft images.  The SKINK options are not listed in this graph but it basically covers the entire area of the gragh from one end to the other:

Here is a great article from Petersen's Photography (1979) by David Brooks about the various ways to get soft-focus results.  It has examples for 35mm, medium format and large format:

But I'm not done yet. If you are a "do it yourself" type of guy or gal, you might be interested in some similar approaches that other shutterbugs have devised using with simple, cheap (lots of times FREE) stuff and gotten GREAT results!

Here's a page from the DO IT YOURSELF PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITE on how to build your own lenses -- from broken cameras, cheap cameras, old cameras, trashed cameras, etc.  There are several approches that you can use, some of which are outlined on this page, but their approaches are even cheaper and they have several pictures showing the results.  They don't use any large format cameras, but the techniques are the same and with details from this page you can figure out how to get it to work on your camera(s).

And I can't say goodnight before telling you about a great machine shop that either has or can make just about any adapter that you can't make, or prefer not to make, to finish your project.

Contact they by clicking on the above image or just go to

Here is what you need to know before you contact them:

1. The diameter and pitch of the lens or filter or whatever that you want to attach to the front of your adapter.  See the diagram below.

2. The diameter and pitch of the shutter or whatever that you want to attach to the back of the adapter.  See the diagram below.

There are several, common diameters and pitches.  Use this information as a starting point.  SK Grimes might have what you need in stock.  If not, they can probably make what you need.  For CUSTOM adapters, their fees are $65 for smaller-sized adapters, $85 for medium-sized adapters, and $65 for larger-sized adapters.

Here are some common male lens and filter threads to attach to the female side of the adapter:

Regular screw mount lenses:

Microscope lenses:

Enlarging lenses:

Smaller-sized filters and close-up lenses (usually under 45mm) -- ??mm X 0.50mm per thread

Medium-sized filters and close-up lenses (usually over 35mm to 86mm) -- ??mm X 0.75mm per thread

Larger-sized filters and close-up lenses (usually over 77mm) -- ??mm X 1.0mm per thread

Here are some common female shutter threads to attach to the male side of the adapter:

So you'll need to tell SK GRIMES what the front, female end of the adapter needs to be (probably from the male lens list above) and what the rear, male end of the adapter needs to be (probably from the female shutter list above).  If what you need is not listed above, you might find it on their website, or you can email them with details.  

Last, but not least, if you contact any of the websites on this page please tell them that you found out about them from the FUJINON LENSES PAGE.  Good luck!