A New Pinhole Camera Is Bringing Unheard of Innovations

“The camera is about the size of an Olympus XA,” says James Guerin in an email to The Phoblographer. There isn’t usually a whole lot of uniqueness when it comes to pinhole cameras, but James has made something very special. His new camera shoots a pinhole photo on the front layer of the emulsion as well as a photo on the back. This means that you get both a standard photo and a redscale photo. We wanted to know more, and so James spilled the beans.

Phoblographer: You’ve been making pinhole cameras for years. Where did the idea of a double-sided camera come from?

James Guerin: I wanted to make a 35mm pinhole camera but I wanted something different. I try to incorporate something new or unseen before in all my designs. 

I was playing with a wide-angle design of around 12mm to 15mm focal distance…pretty wide for 35mm but if you want a detailed pinhole image on 35mm you have to go wide. I saw that because of the size of the canister and my 15mm focal distance that there was space in the camera to have a double ‘film box’ and that I could do a redscale side as well as a regular side. The film travels between 2 film gates. Redscale is achieved by shooting on the ‘wrong’ side of the film so having a double-sided camera easily makes this possible. The redscale effect is a filter effect caused by the anti-halation layer which is the last layer of the film (the first layer if shooting redscale). 

Usually, you have to buy redscale film or re-spool film onto a new canister back-to-front in the dark. The beauty of this camera is that you can choose whether to use redscale or normal color on a shot-by-shot basis and there is no re-spooling required. 

Another cool thing about this camera is that you can shoot double exposures mixing both regular color and redscale.

Phoblographer: This is a pretty unique camera. What sort of engineering difficulties were present in making a product like this?

James Guerin: It’s pretty small compared to my other cameras so it’s a little tricky to work with these small parts. The camera is about the size of an Olympus XA. The biggest problem I faced (a problem with all 35mm pinhole cameras) is the frame spacing problem. Pinhole cameras are simple devices and most of them require the photographer to guess the amount to wind on or to use a number of rotations of the winder. This is not very precise though as the diameter of the wind on the spool increases as it collects film and therefore increases the amount of film collected with each rotation. The result is a waste of film and/or overlapping frames. I decided if I was to make a 35mm pinhole camera that I would have a solution for frame spacing. Film is expensive enough these days.

I came up with a ‘clicker’ that sits inside the camera beside the film gate and a small tooth engages the film sprockets and as the film passes a loud click is produced. There have been clickers used by pinholers in the past but mine does it in a different way. It took me many attempts to get it to work and to achieve it in a simple yet reliable way. It’s definitely my favorite part of the camera. It’s a joy to wind on the film and to hear those loud clicks. 

There is a rotating switch on top of the camera that disengages the clicker so that the film can be rewound in the camera (this was also quite a challenge).

Phoblographer: How would this work with black and white film or slide film?

James Guerin: It works the same way with slide film. I don’t know about black and white film…I’ll have to try it and see. Maybe it would result in more contrast due to red filtering? That’s just a guess though.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the pinholes, please. I assume that there are little caps to prevent light from coming in and all, right?

James Guerin: Yes the pinholes are covered by a sliding magnetic shutter on each side. The pinhole themselves are 0.15mm laser drilled. They are really precise, thin, and perfectly round. You can see the quality in the images. I haven’t seen better than this in a 35mm pinhole and my scanner is a humble Epson V700. I’d like to see the results on a high-end scanner. For scanning I cut my film into strips of 4 and tape it onto the scanner glass upside down, scan, and then flip it in photoshop – it avoids Newton’s rings this way. Using the negative holders to scan would mean I’d lose the sprocket area.

I use 10 clicks on the camera to space the frames –  this gives me enough space for cutting and allows some space to tape the film to the scanner. 8 clicks would space the film without any gap at all for the ultra-frugal. 🙂

Phoblographer: You talked about Clickers and how you can know if your camera has advanced the film far enough. It seems like you’ve got a big obsession with Clickers, right? Ha!

James Guerin: Ha-ha yes, this past year the ”Clicker” has definitely been an obsession. I tried so many designs and the eureka moment came by accident as it often does.

Phoblographer: You’ve made cameras out of wood before. Why plastic with this one?

James Guerin: I use wood where I can but for a lot of my design the parts get small and thin and wood is just too brittle when you get down to 1mm thickness. 

For more, please head over to ReallySoSublte to pick up a pinhole camera for yourself.

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