Ilford Obscura Pinhole Camera – review by David Tatnall

Obscura apart
The Obscura 4×5 pinhole camera is Ilford’s second pinhole camera in recent years. The first were the Titan 4×5 and 8×10 pinhole cameras. These were designed by Mike Walker of Walker Cameras. Although they are excellent cameras it was generally felt they were too expensive.

The Obscura is a much lower cost single shot 4×5 version. It is a very clever and simple design. It consists of two boxes (slightly larger than 100 x 120 mm) that slip one inside the other and are held in place by magnets.

Obscura 2In the darkroom or changing bag the two parts of the camera are opened and a sheet of 4×5 film or photographic paper is placed in the larger box. The slightly smaller box slides into the larger one holding the film or paper in place (and giving the photograph a border). The magnet, which is surprisingly strong, holds the two parts together.

The pinhole cover (or shutter) is also held open or closed with magnets, so the likelihood of accidental exposure is slim. There is a standard tripod screw thread under the camera.

The camera is very light: 300 grams, and small: 149 x 123 x 99 mm. Making it probably the smallest 4×5 camera on the market.

The camera comes extraordinarily packaged in a slip apart box, that includes the camera, instruction booklet, box of ten sheets 4×5 Delta 100 film, box of ten sheets 4×5 FB direct positive paper, box of ten sheets 4×5 MG RC paper and an empty three draw light-tight box (for putting exposed film and paper into), an exposure calculator and a set of stickers.

Obscura exposure guideThe exposure calculator is a cut out and assemble your self three-dial calculator printed on, to quote Ilford ‘fairly waterproof paper’. Other copies can be downloaded from Ilford’s web site if the original gets lost or damaged.

The sheet of stickers are mainly for show, but one sticker with sight lines is actually useful. These diagonal lines help you to compose the photograph by showing what will be included in your image. It’s only a guide, but until you get the hang of pinhole photography it’s very useful.

I tried the Obscura Camera out on a trip to the coast. I took the camera, box of Delta 100 film and the supplied light-tight three draw box, changing bag and my tripod. Loading the camera with film in a changing bag is easy. Inside the changing bag the camera is opened and the two parts put side by side. The film box is opened and one sheet with the film notches on the top right or bottom left (so the emulsion is facing up) is put into the larger box. The other box with the pinhole opening is then slid into the first and held together with the magnets. The film box is closed, the changing bag opened and the camera is ready to go.

I used the supplied exposure calculator to determine exposure. There is no reciprocity time increase information on the calculator, so that information needs to be downloaded from Ilford’s website before.

Once I made the exposure I put the camera and light-tight three-draw box in the changing bag. I opened the light-tight box, then the camera, placed the exposed film in the box, closed it, then opened the changing bag, took that box out and the box of unexposed film in and loaded the camera as before.

It takes around a minute to load the camera. But care should be taken to be sure the camera is dust free, before loading it with film or paper.

I found the camera easy to use. However you do get strange looks loading and unloading the camera in the changing bag. I found I got into a rhythm using the camera and the loading and unloading became easier and quicker each time.

Obscura 1I was pleased with the photographs I made during my test of the Obscura Pinhole Camera. Although not recommended, I left the camera in relatively bright light and there were no light leaks. I did find some of my negatives had dust on them, as I didn’t check for dust in the camera and possibly my changing bag was the source.

The Obscura Pinhole Camera is a very good camera for anyone wanting to start large format pinhole photography. Simple to use, does not require film holders, very small and light, and produces very good photographs.

Obscura Pinhole Camera
4×5 film or paper
87 mm ‘focal length’ (wide angle)

The test camera was supplied by Vanbar Pty Ltd. and Ilford

David Tatnall. July 2013

Obscura pinhole. Eagles Nest Obscura