Why I Built a 90mm 4×5 Film Pinhole Camera

All photos and blog post by Julian L. Used with permission.


I first got into photography with a Kodak Instamatic 126 when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I absolutely loved it, it was magical to me at that age. I actually recently bought the same camera off eBay to run some 35mm film through it. After a few years I graduated onto a Voigtlander Vitoret D and my dad found at a car boot sale. It was cheap because the shutter was jammed, but dad fixed it for me. I ‘helped’ with the repair (watched and tried not to get in the way, I must have been about 7 or 8 at the time). The shutter mechanism absolutely fascinated me. I remember dad explaining aperture and shutter speed to me, because the camera was unmetered. It took a little while to get used to it, but got there in the end. Anyway I had several other cameras, but I always remember these two. The Instamatic introduced me to photography and the Voigtlander taught me the importance of exposure.

After several 35mm SLR cameras, going to University and getting a job, buying a house, etc, I bought a Bronica ETR-S that came with a Polaroid back. It was around this time my house was burgled. I lost a lot of kit, my Canon EOS 10, Canon AV1, a couple of Praktica SLRs, almost all my lenses and my Bronica. I was heart broken at the loss of my Bronica, but I was insured. I bought into digital, as this was about 2000/2001 when I replaced my gear with a Canon EOS 10d. I was happy for a while, but something was missing. I didn’t know what it was at first, but then I was tidying up the loft and found a box with a load of old negatives and a few crappy prints I had made with my dad and it all came flooding back. The smell of fixer, the aesthetic, everything. I checked out lo-fi photography as I’d heard a lot of talk about something called a Holga and thought this would be a quick, cheap, and fun way back to analogue. I got one of the ‘new’ 120GNs off eBay direct from Hong Kong, 10 rolls of Shanghai GP3, a bottle of Rodinal and some Ilford Rapid Fixer. My old Paterson dev tank could take 120, so I was all set. Purely by luck I nailed the development on the first attempt (after a very long time since I had done any processing) and I was hooked again. I haven’t looked back since.

I bought another 6×4.5 and by chance it was another Bronica, an ETR-Si this time. I had gone to the shop to buy a Mamiya 645J, but saw the Bronica on the shelf and had to have it. I bought an SQ-A about a year later. A few years after that, an RB67. Each camera was getting bigger and heavier on each upgrade. Where do you go after an RB67? Large format of course! However, getting into pinhole photography happened because of my interest in instant photography. I still had the first pack of instant film in the Bronica’s Polaroid back when it was stolen – I had only used it twice. But it had made a lasting impression on me. It gave me the same sense of wonder and magic that brought me right back to my childhood. My first pinhole camera would combine instant photography and lo-fi. It was a custom instant pinhole camera I bought off eBay from a pinhole artist in Portugal. This was the first pinhole camera I had used since making a camera obscura out of a shoe box at school.

At this point I had an interest in large format, an interest in lo-fi, and an interest in pinhole cameras. I was looking for 4×5 cameras on eBay one day when I found an auction for an 8×10 pinhole camera. It was huge, made from wood and steel, very wide angle, and this time made in Greece. (Hot weather must be good for making pinhole cameras). I did some research on film holders and film, thinking that the whole idea was going to be way too expensive, but I found that Shangahi (the people who make GP3) also make sheet film – usually in 4×5 and occasionally in 8×10. Whilst nothing about 8×10 can be called ‘cheap’, this film was cheap compared to everything else. I bought a film holder, a box of 25 sheets of Shanghai 8×10 Pan 100 film, and the 8×10 pinhole camera.

I was pretty happy with the results at this stage, there was a good feeling of satisfaction. But there was still a problem. I was buying my cameras. I was developing the film myself, I was printing the photo myself. I needed to make my camera myself too.

So this brought me to designing and building a couple of 4×5 pinhole cameras. The instant pinhole and the 8×10 pinhole are both very wide, so I decided to make a very wide angle and one closer to a normal lens (but still on the wide angle end). So I decided on a 60mm and a 90mm camera. I use the awesome Mr Pinhole website to make sure my coverage was good and to find the pinhole diameter and effective aperture for each camera.

The 60mm camera uses a 0.3mm pinhole and has an effective aperture of f/200. The 90mm camera uses a 0.4mm pinhole and has an effective aperture of f/225. These I did buy, one from a guy in France and when I tried to buy the second he didn’t have the right size, I got from a guy in the Czech Republic. Both are laser drilled.

I’ve not had much experience with woodworking, but I am learning. These cameras have helped a lot. Since making them, I’ve made a couple of cases, one for holding two boxes of 4×5 film and the other for holding 10x 4×5 film holders.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.