Large format pinhole cameras: Review by David Tatnall

LMC pinhole cameras

Lensless Camera Manufacturing Company
Large format wooden pinhole cameras 4 x 5, 5 x 7, 8 x 10 and 11 x 14.
Price range: 82 – 458 USD.

4x5 50mm pinhole David TatnallPinhole photography is probably the simplest form of photography. Although it is a simple process to make your own camera the Lensless Camera Manufacturing Company in USA makes extremely good cameras for those who want to buy ‘off the shelf’.

I’ve made a number of pinhole cameras over the years but as I teach pinhole photography workshops I wanted a set of teaching cameras that were all identical and predicable.

As a result I bought six 4 x 5 LCMC cameras five years ago for teaching purposes. This review is based on those cameras.

4x5 75mm colour pinhole David TatnallThe construction of the cameras is very simple: wooden box, painted black inside, laser cut pinhole in brass shim with a plastic ‘shutter’, tripod mounts for vertical and horizontal. The film holders are held in place with two pieces of dowel and are kept light tight with heavy-duty dense rubber stripes, The camera can hold normal film holders and Polaroid holders (for when new type 55 comes on the market)

The construction of the cameras is very good, as is the consistency and accuracy of the pinholes. My six workshop cameras have never leaked light, even when I forgot to bring the dowel to fit the film holders and had to use pieces of driftwood. They are also quite tough, most of mine have been dropped once or twice, and only show dints. They still function well.

4x5 75mm pinhole Cape Paterson. David TatnallThe cameras are made in a number of difference film sizes: 4 x 5, 5 x 7, 8 x 10 and 11 x 14. They also come in a number of different ‘focal lengths’ from very wide angle – 50 mm in 4 x 5 for example, to ‘telephoto’ – 225 mm in 4 x 5.

My workshop set of 4 x 5 cameras are 50 mm, 75 mm and 150 mm. I also have a 125 mm 5 x 7 camera (wide angle).

Wide angle are generally the most popular camera types used in pinhole photography. But it’s worth checking the sample photographs on LCMC website to see what ‘focal length’ will suit you. A 50 mm 4 x 5 is very wide angle, and you may end up with photographs of your camera tripod legs, until you get the feel for it.

The pinhole size and ‘focal length’ have been worked out to produce the optimum image quality – the resulting images produced are very sharp (for a pinhole camera).

5x7 125 mm pinhole Cape Liptrap. David TatnallThe only modification I’ve made to my cameras has been to put ‘sight lines’ – thin pieces of black tape from the film edge location to the centre of the camera to help in composing the photograph.

I’d recommend these pinhole cameras to any one wanting to get involved with large format pinhole photography. You will of course need film holders and, if you don’t have access to a darkroom, a changing bag to load and unload them.

I also would recommend the use of a hand held light meter. Although the camera comes with a chart with exposure times and lighting conditions on it, I think the very best way to expose for pinhole photography is to use a hand held light meter – as you would for medium and large format lens cameras. A conversion chart is then used to convert the smallest aperture on the light meter to pinhole apertures. Conversion charts like The Black Cat Exposure Guide will also factor in film reciprocity.

5x7 125mm pinhole. Cape Liptrap. David TatnallThe cameras come with a piece of timber that fits over the back of the camera to keep dust and dirt out of the camera body. One of the biggest issues of pinhole photography is dust on negatives as there is no glass between the film and the subject. It’s always a good idea to keep the inside of the camera as clean as possible by keeping the fitted piece of wood in place when the camera is not in use.

David Tatnall. August 2013