120 Modular Camera
DIY & Pinhole Cameras

Developing A Modular Pinhole Camera – By Nils Aksnes

July 14, 2021

I started making pinhole cameras for the same reason I imagine many people do – because I could! They are deceptively simple objects – after all it’s just a box with a hole in it, right! Regardless, they are capable of producing beautifully complex images.

In my early experiments I used what I could find around me – matchboxes, bits of ducting and even felted sheep’s wool. Alongside this, and armed with my trusty Ondu 135, I was learning how to produce the kind of images I wanted using pinhole cameras. I began to understand that I wanted more flexibility to shape my camera to my ideas.

After a brief diversion into creating an underwater pinhole camera (that’s another story) I set to work designing a camera which could change and adapt to new ideas.

I wanted to make a modular camera so that different shutters, lenses, film planes, bodies etc could be interchanged within a common system. 3D printing at home enabled me to quickly develop and iterate my ideas on how to do this. I built and used several prototype modular cameras during 2019/20. Each iteration refined the connection system which is central to the design. The aim of this connection was to keep things simple. The bayonet connection between the lens/shutter (the “front”) module and film guide (the “middle”) module also holds the two parts of the body together. Modules can be easily swapped out between shoots and different combinations of modules can be experimented with.

So far I have prototyped both 35mm and 120 versions of the modular camera, a variety of different shutter and film plane designs, and a body extension for the 120 allowing it to take panoramic shots. The wishlist of modules I’d like to develop grows each week!

Lens module snapping onto the body with magnets

The first 3D printed prototype clicked together with magnets in October 2019.

Modular camera disassembled

Autumn 2020: Prototype 35mm camera with a bamboo body and 3D printed modules

Image made using one of the prototype cameras

Testing the camera prototype in September 2020

Environmental Impact

All creators should be considering the environmental impact of the things we create. From podcasts to products there are opportunities to reduce the burden on the planet. With the modular camera design I have ensured that no dissimilar materials are permanently joined. This means that the camera can be completely disassembled to the constituent materials. This matters because it makes possible the reuse and recycling of the raw materials. The majority of parts in the latest prototypes are 3D printed from recycled PETG plastic.

35mm Modular Pinhole Camera

120 Modular Camera

Progressing the project

In January 2021 I applied to the Analogue Wonderland film photography community fund and was delighted to be one of the projects selected from Round 1. The funding has enabled me to produce four prototypes of the cameras for testing; two 35mm versions and two 120. The prototypes have ‘normal’ film guides as well as curved film plane and panorama modules, and a quad lens/shutter which takes four separate images over the film area.

120 modular pinhole camera with panorama module

Modular Pinhole Cameras

Prototypes supported by the Analogue Wonderland film photography community fund

The pinhole lens and shutter are combined in one module. Magnets are used to hold the shutter closed and ‘spring’ it open. The film guides support the film along the film plane and also masks the area to be exposed. The ‘normal’ 35mm film guide can be rotated to expose either 24×36 or 35×36 (full height) images. The ‘normal’ 120 film guide enables either flat or curved film plane 6×6 images.

Modular Pinhole Camera Disassembly

I will shortly be inviting interested photographers to test and experiment with the cameras and provide feedback. I’m also interested to hear from any photographers who’d like to see different modules developed.

Massive thanks to all who contributed to the film photography community fund over at Analogue Wonderland. To keep in touch with the project you can follow me on Instagram @nils_aksnes, Twitter @nilsbymouth or check out this page. I’d love to hear from you if you are interested in testing the cameras or have suggestions for modules that you’d like to see.

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  • Reply
    Dale Willetts
    July 14, 2021 at 10:58 am

    That looks awesome. Well done on getting selected by AW and good luck in going forward. It looks to me like you may be onto a winner.

    • Reply
      Nils Aksnes
      July 14, 2021 at 11:06 am

      Thanks very much!

    • Reply
      Dustin Neikirk
      July 17, 2021 at 10:43 pm

      I love your environmental approach to this project and your design sense seems very playful. I’d love to be a tester if you need anyone else.

      • Reply
        Nils Aksnes
        July 19, 2021 at 1:51 pm

        Thanks Dustin! Minimising the environmental impact is really important to me. I had a huge response to the call for testers so I’ve closed it now. I have a mailing list for the cameras which is linked to in the article if you want to follow the project.

  • Reply
    July 14, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    What a wonderful, elegant design. Can’t wait to see it in the flesh – very happy to do testing if you need any more voluteers

  • Reply
    July 14, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    If you move beyond the prototype stage and begin selling these cameras, what kind of pricing should we expect to see?

    • Reply
      Nils Aksnes
      July 14, 2021 at 3:03 pm

      Hi Lee, this is tbc whilst I am prototyping and iterating the design but I would be aiming for similar to other available pinhole cameras

  • Reply
    July 14, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    These look wonderful! What an exciting project! I’d be thrilled to test one if you need another volunteer. Good luck with this! I’ve signed up on your website to hear more.

  • Reply
    Bill Brown
    July 14, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    Nils, this looks quite interesting. I appreciate someone who can not just conceptualize but also fabricate. I have a good friend who I consider a master pinhole camera photographer and his work fascinates me. I have shot with various formats and cameras over my 50+ years of film devotion and I would like to have the opportunity to beta test one of the curved film plane panorama modules. I have shot with a Noblex 6 Pro 150U and I love the panoramic format in 120 size. I would much enjoy the chance to help your ideas become a success for you. Good Luck moving forward.

  • Reply
    Kevin Ortner
    July 14, 2021 at 4:27 pm

    I love the recognition for the environmental impact! Congrats, great work, and awesome colour choices!

    • Reply
      Nils Aksnes
      July 14, 2021 at 4:50 pm

      Thank you Kevin! I enjoyed reading your 36 frames tilt/shift article. I’ve been thinking about experimenting with a tilt/shift module for these cameras.

      • Reply
        Kevin Ortner
        July 14, 2021 at 10:31 pm

        That would be pretty cool! I don’t know that shift would be all that useful (maybe it could be?) but tilt would be great on a pinhole. Since the quality is often lo-fi anyway, some of the different focal perspectives might add some intrigue. Might be easiest to adjust the film plane itself rather than the lens, but I’m not an engineer!

  • Reply
    Andrea Bevacqua
    July 14, 2021 at 4:36 pm

    When you think out of the box, beautiful things happen. Congrats, it sounds to be a beutiful and exciting project!

  • Reply
    July 18, 2021 at 11:47 am

    Wow. This looks amazing, Nils. I love the lo-fi aspect, the cool colours add a touch of class. So excited to see how this progresses. And thanks to Analogue Wonderland. Cheers, Rock

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