One day back in 2011, I was walking along the shore at Rockaway Beach, New York, capturing scenes with a Fuji S3 Pro digital camera. I noticed an area of beach sand with about a 45 cm drop-off due to tidal erosion.
As a close-up capture, this picture reminded me of a desert landscape. All sense of scale was lost. I began thinking, “What could I add to a scene like this?” For some reason a toy camel came to mind. But how to be not so obvious that it is just a toy camel on beach sand? Well, why not use a pinhole camera – just the thing – I happened to have a Zero 2000 “atmosphere generator.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the format, this camera does not have a lens, simply a tiny pinhole which remains covered until you are ready to capture a scene. Uncover the pinhole for the required amount of time, re-cover the opening, and voila, a picture has been captured on the film – just as it was done way back at the dawn of photography. There are factors which will greatly determine picture quality – the precision of the pinhole and its accurate distance to the film plane, and having the camera secured when taking a picture. The first two are characteristics of the Zero 2000 – the last depends on me.
The Zero 2000 is nicely made with teak wood, uses 120 medium format film (6 x 6), and has an f-stop of f/138. There is no viewfinder, although included in the kit is a laminated cardboard square cut-out you can hold along-side the camera to get an idea of what is being captured. But after shooting a roll, you will know what you are capturing without this “accessory.” There is an exposure wheel on the back of the camera. If you take a light-meter reading and then match it on the wheel, you can see how long the pinhole must remain open by looking at the 138 notch. Again with practice you may not need to do this often. I use ASA 100 film and on a sunny day at the beach my exposure is 1 second.
What to expect? Not pin-sharp captures but pleasing enough depending on how secure you have kept the camera. I try to bring along or find a small piece of wood having a flat surface, wedge it into the sand and place my Zero 2000 on the wood. Then with one hand pressing down on top of the camera body, I slide out the pinhole cover with my other hand and quickly slide it back. Your captures will have the same degree of sharpness from infinity right up to the camera body. The pinhole returns a 25mm view so watch where you place your fingers. Familiar objects end up displayed differently – the sun, for instance, has exaggerated rays of light – almost like a cartoon. There is also some vignetting which adds to the “atmosphere generation.”
Loading the film into the Zero 2000 can be fiddly. You load the camera by removing the top and back plates. It takes some finger contortion to keep the film roll tightly wound while re-assembling the camera. There is a screw on the top plate that on my camera requires occasional tightening. A recent issue I’ve had using Kodak Ektar 100 is with the backing numbers faintly showing up on the negatives.
Well, on to some sample captures. I currently have 54 “chapters” posted on Flickr as each one is accompanied by a continuing storyline, “The Adventures of Clara D. Camel.”
I send out my film for processing and scan the negatives using an Epson Perfection 500 flatbed. Then I use Photoshop CS4 to correct for exposure (thank goodness for the latitude of film) and I might add some contrast. There is also some manual dust removal done.
There are several groups on Flickr dedicated to pinhole photography. You will find some amazing work out there to view and perhaps stimulate your GAS. You can view the album along with my other photos here. Hamish has also shared some images taken with a Zero 2000 here.
Hope you enjoyed the presentation and kind regards to all.