Last Updated on 08/13/2022 by Mark Beckenbach
The Ukraine-based Jollylook was prepared to start assembly on its second camera, a vintage-inspired camera that used Instax film and simple automated settings. And then, on February 24th, Russia invaded, and the country was thrown into chaos. Now, more than six months later, a DIY camera is helping the start-up re-build in a new location. The Jollylook Pinhole is a DIY instant camera with vintage-inspired bellows and a built-in exposure calculator.
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Now fully funded on Kickstarter, the Jollylook Pinhole, which uses some of the same parts as the Jollylook Auto, is funding the company’s restart in Slovakia. The camera is inspired by Jollylook supporters, 73 percent of whom asked for a camera that they could build themselves. The DIY kit teaches photographers how a film camera works by providing the pieces and instructions to create one.
Jollylook Pinhole DIY Camera Key Features
The Jollylook Pinhole may ship in pieces, but the fully manual camera has several features.
- The camera uses 65 parts, which Jollylook estimates takes 1.5 to three hours to assemble.
- While the company’s first camera was cardboard, the Pinhole is made from biodegradable natural wood fiber. It comes in black or natural (which could be painted or colored with markers).
- The camera is a foldable bellows-style camera, which can be zoomed from 50mm to 110mm by adjusting the position of the bellows.
- The back of the camera has a built-in exposure calculator based on lighting conditions.
- The camera uses a Fresnel lens viewfinder.
- The film spits out using a manual crank; there are no batteries or electronics.
- Made for Fujifilm Instax Mini, the pinhole camera is available for pledges beginning at $69.
Rebuilding with a Build-It-Yourself Camera
The Jollylook Pinhole is perhaps a metaphor for the company itself, which has had to tear apart everything and move more than 500 kilometers away to Zvolen, Slovakia. The Kickstarter funds will both help the company finish shipments from their previous campaign for the Jollylook Auto as well as funding production of the Jollylook Pinhole. Because the Pinhole has the same body as the Auto, the company already has all the necessary pieces, needing only the plywood available locally.
“Everything changed on Feb. 24. On this day, our peaceful life ended and was suddenly replaced by explosions, sirens, and bomb shelters,” said founder Evgeniy Ivanov. “In March, when the Russian army invaded Irpin (where our office used to be) and Bucha (where we had our laser cutting machines), we still did not know the state of everything in our office, but it was already clear that it would not be possible to continue working in Bucha and Irpin soon.”
Ivanov explained that the office had survived after de-occupation of the area in April. A humanitarian aid driver bringing supplies from Slovakia to Irpin helped the company move their equipment on his return trips. While much of the Jollylook team is now in Slovakia, others remain in Ukraine, while others are staying in Poland and other parts of Europe.
More than six months after the invasion, the company has a new location already set up with a laser cutting machine. Funds from the already successful campaign will help fund additional machines for speeding up the manufacturing of both the Auto and Pinhole cameras.
Moving forward, Ivanov says that the company is applying everything they’ve learned from the last five years to the new campaign. “Over the past 5 years, we’ve always constantly updated our backers with the manufacturing process and all the victories and all the obstacles we went through,” Ivanov said. “We only decided to launch the Jollylook DIY instant camera kit campaign after a survey among our backers, and only after 73% of our backers voted in a survey and supported this decision.”
The process of building a camera should help photographers better understand what’s going on inside a film camera in order to make an image. Jollylook isn’t the first company to create a DIY kit, but the vintage bellows look and the simplicity of the instant film is alluring. Instax instant film offers balance — offering a bit of DIY without a darkroom, not to mention the ability to see a shot shortly after exposure.
I was glad to see the Jollylook Pinhole reach full funding on Kickstarter, as the campaign offers much-needed hope to the Ukraine-based company. The Pinhole also seems to offer a few features that most DIY kits don’t, like Instax compatibility and full manual controls yet an exposure calculator to guide the way. The company’s first camera was cardboard and fairly delicate, so the move to biodegradable wood is also nice to see.
As with any Kickstarter, there’s risk involved. That risk is somewhat less with a fully-funded campaign. But, backing something on Kickstarter isn’t the same as ordering something off of Amazon and receiving it in two days. The company is still working to ship out rewards to backers from their last campaign, and their first campaign took more than a year for backers to receive their cameras. The first camera took a lot of patience, and a pinhole will require even more. Kickstarters certainly aren’t for everyone or even for a majority. But, if photographers are going to take a risk with a crowdfunding project, why not support a small Ukrainian company rather than pad the profits of a major company?