Every once in a while, there comes along some camera gear that really humbles you. It really grounds you and makes you question everything you do in digital photography. In a good way. Bringing you back to the earliest decades of photography, with its craft and its mind-throttling slow process, is the Jollylook Pinhole Instant Film Camera, which comes as a Mini DIY Kit. It uses Instax film, but the process is anything but instant. And that’s definitely a good thing, as you’ll come to read.
Table of Contents
The Big Picture
It’s like combining two extreme ends of the spectrum – instant film with pinhole photography. The former is supposed to be immediately gratifying. Being able to see the photograph you just snapped coming to life on print in just a few seconds, is something I grew up with. A lot of Gen Z photographers are only just getting to understand what this thrill really feels like. But you’re also stretching your patience and your exposure calculation skills to the limits when you photograph anything with a Jollylook Pinhole Camera. In a good way, it really makes you question your whole digital photography process. It especially makes you rethink the number of frames you fire away today in the pursuit of just one good picture.
Admit to it or not, we all tend to “spray and pray” with our digital cameras and smartphones. With the Jollylook pinhole camera, there’s definitely a lot of praying. Praying that the exposure you so painstakingly calculated (or guesstimated) turns out right. Otherwise, that’s one frame that’s just gone to waste. And the more frustrating thing? You don’t really know what exposure to put in after that last wasted shot.
If you’re an experienced pinhole photographer, you’ve already silently smiled after reading this far. If you’ve only shot 35mm film before, you’d gain a whole new level of appreciation for pinhole and wet plate photographers after using the Jollylook Pinhole camera. I know I did after my first pack of Instax film with the Jollylook came out with almost all shots heavily underexposed. By the time I began shooting the 2nd pack, I had a better idea of what exposure range I should try out, to get a fairly well-exposed image. And that’s when the smiles began making their way back to me. With each shot, I began pacing myself better and getting more excited. Building this camera and taking photos with it taught me to slow down and enjoy the process more. And that’s something I can also apply to my life as a lesson.
I’m giving the Jollylook Pinhole Instant Film Camera Mini DIY Kit four out of five stars. It’s a great idea to gift to your favorite photographer friend too.
- Lots of fun to build. Super fun to use
- Also comes in an already-assembled version if you’re a killjoy.
- Good quality wood and leather used for the parts
- Spare parts like screws are provided with the kit.
- Can be folded down for transport.
- Compatible with readily available Fujifilm Instax packs. You should use at least 2 of these in order to really understand how to photograph with this camera.
- Unless you’re exceptionally good at doing exposure calculations in your head, you’re probably going to need a good light meter to nail the exposure. No, the light meter phone apps can’t help with this camera.
- The exposure meter at the back isn’t really useful for indoor photos. Nor are the exposure guidelines on their website. I often had to shoot more than 25-minute exposures indoors, despite having a room that was decently lit by sunlight.
- The focal distance latch for the bellows often doesn’t lock well enough to prevent the bellows from moving. This is going to make your images slightly out of focus. But don’t overthink that at first; concentrate on getting the exposures right.
- This isn’t a run-and-gun type of camera. It’s probably unlike any camera you’ve ever used. Yes, it uses Instax film, but don’t expect instant results.
We received the stained brown version of the Jollylook DIY Pinhole Instant Film Camera Kit for Self Assembly, which we got to keep. This was tested with Fujifilm Instax Mini Instant Film that we purchased, and the camera was always kept steady with the 3 Legged Thing Corey 2.0 Tripod.
The kit comes packed in a relatively small box.
When you open it up, you find 7 neatly packed sections, an instruction booklet, and a small jute bag for storage. The printed guide is helpful, but if you prefer to just watch a video, their YouTube channel has a detailed one you can follow along with the build process.
You’re definitely going to enjoy the assembly process, but don’t expect it to be a walk in the park. For starters, you’ll need a Philips screwdriver and a blade, which aren’t supplied with the kit. I’m guessing these were excluded to make it easier to ship across. I would also suggest keeping a small rubber mallet at hand to knock in the edges more firmly. You’ll also need to set aside at least 2 hours if you plan on going at this without a break. Otherwise, assuming you don’t mess things up, it should take about 2 and a half hours. Side note, you probably will, but it’s easy to fix things if you don’t use brute force to pull apart panels and screws. The quality of the wood used is very good; there were no splinters at all.
Check out the images below to get a feel of the process and the intermediate results.
Trust me, this non-assembled kit is the better choice among the two available options you have. At least you can proudly say you’ve built your own camera.
It’s not much bigger than a Yashica Mat TLR when folded down, but it extends to about twice the width when you open it up. When opened up, the front cover acts as the focal distance scale for you to extend the bellows out. The rear opens up when you need to pop in a new pack of Instax film and mustn’t be opened otherwise. You’ll need a bit of effort to open and close these sides, as the latches can be a bit finicky.
The lever on the right is used for bringing out each exposure of Instax film, and it’s smooth to operate. I did have issues with some exposures having blotches on the top left of the exposure. According to Jollylook’s support team, this could happen if the winding happens too fast, and they recommended giving it 6 to 7 seconds to eject the film from the pack. They also said that a newer Jollylook camera edition was being released to fix this issue.
Some things during the build process won’t look right, such as these curved pieces of wood which are supposed to sit flush against one another. Once you screw them together, they will look fine. Don’t tighten any screws too much, or you risk damaging the wood.
These cutouts on the bellows weren’t exactly lining up with the Instax film holder. But once I added the wooden base plate, it looked okay. Don’t worry too much about these little imperfections. Just follow the steps carefully. Very carefully. You might be tempted to do a step that logically seems like the next step in a sequence, but often, it will need you to do something else before continuing. So follow the video or the booklet really well. Otherwise, like I did, you’ll find yourself having to unscrew and re-screw some parts.
The tripod mount holder wasn’t going into the base of the camera quite right, so my camera sits slightly askew when mounted to the tripod.
Go easy on the bellows. I can’t tell if it’s made of real leather or not. Because the edges are held to the camera by some sort of sticky tape, they could come off if a lot of pressure is applied.
Overall, the Jollylook camera could give you years of use if you store it right and don’t expose it to much moisture.
Ease Of Use
The Jollylook Pinhole camera can easily be held in your hands. It’s lightweight and not too imposing in terms of size. But you can’t use it without a tripod simply because of the duration of each exposure that will be required. It’ll take a few tries, especially when used indoors, to get an approximate idea of what exposure you’ll need. And that means you’ll get more than a handful of unusable frames in the process. I had 8 dark frames come out of my first Instax pack before I could start to see something appearing in a frame.
I contacted Jollylook’s support team, who said it definitely looked like the film needed more exposing. While I was on chat with them, we went from a 12-second exposure (which I got from the exposure meter on the back of the camera) to 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 70 seconds, 2 minutes 30 seconds, and even 7 minutes. It finally took a 20-minute exposure to get an image that was exposed well enough for part of the frame to be recognizable. This really stumped me because it was the middle of the afternoon, and I had a lot of sunlight streaming in directly from a whole section of the hall that was lit by floor-to-ceiling windows. According to Jollylook’s exposure guide, this shouldn’t have taken more than anywhere between 1 to 6 minutes, depending on the focal length of the bellows.
Be Prepared To Take Many Shots
At ISO 800 (the ISO value of Instax Mini film) and f16, on my full frame Nikon Z6 using a 50mm lens, the camera’s inbuilt meter was metering at about 1 second. But I had to meter between f132 (50mm) and f289 (110mm). Remember, this is a pinhole camera with an aperture that’s literally the size of a pinhead. It didn’t matter which pinhole lightmeter app I used; they all gave an exposure value much less than what I needed to get the picture right. Trial and error seemed like the only way to go, at least indoors. The bellows effectively give you a 50mm to 110mm focal range.
After about 15 shots, I think I was able to calculate the exposures pretty well for the lighting inside my home. After that, each shot I tried to take, I took up as a challenge to try and nail the lighting. It didn’t matter what I focused on. It wasn’t anymore about only finding a beautiful frame. My focus shifted to making every frame beautiful, and I began wondering why I wasn’t approaching my daily photography this way.
Outdoors, I would say that the exposure meter on the back of the camera can provide a reasonably accurate estimate. But be prepared to take more than one shot of a scene you want to capture, as it probably will end up overexposed or underexposed the first time. The Jollylook camera can be unforgiving in this department but don’t blame them. That’s just how pinhole photography is.
What You See Isn’t Always What You Get
That fresnel lens which acts as your viewfinder, is only to be taken as a rough guideline. Expect more or less than what you see in there to find its way to the print. What you see in there remains the same, but what actually gets framed depends on what focal distance the bellows are set to. Hold your breath and use steady hands while opening and closing the magnetic shutter.
It’s going to be soft. It’s going to be out of focus. And it will be impossible to shoot a scene with a lot of contrasting highlights and shadows. Consider yourself as Leonardo da Vinci taking his time to produce a slow masterpiece. Don’t try to rush the frame. You definitely don’t want to be like Jesse Ventura from The Predator, using a GE M134 Minigun. If you go with that approach, the only thing you’ll be gunning down with the Jollylook Pinhole camera is your confidence.
The below prints were taken after much trial and error. I’ve scribbled down the approximate exposure time on each of them. They were all taken at various times of the day.
Who Should Buy The Jollylook Pinhole Camera Mini DIY Kit?
This makes a great gift set for any budding photographer, young or old. It really gets you to appreciate the older methods of photography, which was an arduous task for the most part. I’m not sure experienced and professional photographers would find themselves using this much. They would probably invest their money in vintage film cameras and film stock. But amateurs would find this camera exciting and fun. There’s much to learn about the process, but it doesn’t take a toll on your brain cells. It’s a solid conversation starter. So many passersby inquisitively stopped to see what I was up to with it and showed a lot of respect for this system and process.
You personally gain a great deal of appreciation for analog and pinhole photography. It’s also great that Instax film isn’t too expensive these days, so the learning process won’t burn too big a hole in your wallet. Don’t take it too seriously, and you’ll end up getting the best results out of it.
Taken from the Jollylook DIY Kit page:
The Jollylook Pinhole DIY Kit includes the following:
1) Parts – 65 pcs.
2) Bellow – 1 pcs.
3) Fresnel lens – 1 pcs.
4) Pinhole – 1 pcs.
5) Manual Development unit with metal crank – 1 pcs. (80x120x30 mm)
6) Felt light shield with magnet – 1 pcs.
7) Screws 6mm – 48 pcs.
8) Elastic bands for locks – 7 pcs.
9) Wooden locks – 5 pcs.
10) Tripod nut 1/4″ – 1 pcs.
11) Wax – 1 pcs.
12) Sandpaper – 1 Pcs.
13) Spare parts – 5 pcs.
14) Instructions manual – 1 pcs.
Weight: 635 g.
The assembled Pinhole camera technical specifications:
Dimensions folded: 150х100х80 мм
Dimensions unfolded (working) position: 150х100х215 мм
Viewfinder: Fresnel lens
Made of: Easily recyclable, biodegradable natural wood fiber material.
Paint: Natural oils and waxes, renewable raw materials of plant origin.
Pinhole diameter: 0,38 mm
Focal length: from 50 mm up to 110 mm.
Focus: Pinhole, everything in front of the camera is equally focused.
Film: Fujifilm Instax mini
Photo size: 62 x 46 mm
Film development: manual mechanism
Power Supply: not needed, fully mechanical
Weight: 410 g.