5 frames with...

5 Frames with an Ilford Obscura and Direct Positive Paper – By Ellsworth Bell

August 22, 2019

These aren’t just five frames, these are the first five frames I shot with Ilford’s Obscura pinhole camera, on Harman Direct Positive paper. Thus, I’m more than qualified to tell you all about it…

Long story short, it’s really fun. The camera itself is well built, for the ~$100 price tag. You wouldn’t want to toss it in a bag with some big text books, but at the same time it feels sturdy whenever you use it. Framing isn’t too bad either, just use a level and remember the focal length is a full frame equivalent of “pretty dang wide”, about 24mm.

I’m a graduate student, and all these pictures are of the university’s campus, thanks to their the proximity to the darkroom. It’s been a nice evening activity, leaving the office and heading out to shoot a sheet or two. I’ve found the paper more forgiving than expected, a bit more latitude than slide film even? For the curious, a few more notes on metering and developing can be found on my website.

If you’re on the fence about picking one of these up, go for it! Next steps for me are shooting some film, I have a pack of Portra 160 and the Delta 100 that came with the camera staring at me right now.

Thanks for reading, reach out or drop a comment if you like! My stuff lives at: www.ellsworthbell.com.

All the best,


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  • Reply
    August 22, 2019 at 11:48 am

    Love these. Might have to give pinhole a try…

    • Reply
      August 22, 2019 at 2:04 pm


      I’d definitely recommend giving it a go, it’s more fun than I expected.

  • Reply
    August 22, 2019 at 5:14 pm


  • Reply
    August 22, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    Nice pics of the University of Waterloo, I just finished my PhD there last year and developed/printed in their darkroom for some short time. Great results here with the pinhole. How expensive is the positive paper ? how is it developed ? did you use any developer/printing that favors warm tones ?… sorry for all these questions

    • Reply
      August 22, 2019 at 8:47 pm

      Right on! I started my masters here in January, all these photos were processed in UW’s darkroom.

      The paper is ~$2 (CAD) per 4×5 sheet, these 10 sheets were included with the camera. They do make an 8×10 version that might be a bit cheaper if you cut it up yourself.

      It’s developed like any black and white paper, from what I read using fresh developer is important, a few more details are here: https://ellsworthbell.com/2019/05/28/pinhole/.

      I haven’t gotten too fancy with printing in general, just been using Ilford Multigrade, the paper is pretty neutral, definitely not cool.

      Congrats on the PhD, by the way!

      • Reply
        James Evidon
        August 22, 2019 at 11:29 pm

        Wonderful. A step forward to the past. Aside from the novelty, IMO it is a pointless exercise in a technology that predates Jos. Stieglitz. The image quality may be remarkable for the level of technology used, but that is about it. Diffenet films with older and even recent analogue cameras? Now that is something I can follow given my own modest collection of 35mm and subminiature gems in addition to my up to date high level digitals.But produceg images that Julia Campbell put to shame over a century ago? Give me a break.

  • Reply
    Roger B.
    August 23, 2019 at 12:00 am

    Wow! I’ve shot pinhole using a modified lens cap on a Pentax K3, but this is an entirely new level. I think Ilford owes you a commission … will buy one in a few days. Thanks for the review!

    • Reply
      August 27, 2019 at 9:40 pm

      I’ve not used a digital camera with a pinhole ‘lens’, however, from what I’ve read on the world wide web, the results tend to be softer than film/paper.

      I’ll say it again, it’s a fun camera. If you do end up picking one up, enjoy it!

  • Reply
    George Appletred
    August 23, 2019 at 6:17 am

    A bit more latitude than slide film even?
    No, far more less

    • Reply
      August 27, 2019 at 9:36 pm

      That might have been a bit of hyperbole, sure. Perhaps “I was pleasantly surprised by the paper’s performance” would be more accurate.

  • Reply
    James W
    August 23, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    Mr Evidon, I wonder if you’re missing the point of the fun. I have made my own large format cameras, and shot paper negatives to test them. It’s a hugely enjoyable experience, from start to finish. Whether they would win any awards is a moot point, as I did not set out to win any awards. I set out to enjoy myself with a photographic process. I contact printed the paper negatives, and enjoyed the learning process, which was the point of the exercise.
    If it’s all about the destination, then the journey is a bore. But if it’s about the journey and the destination, then one can enjoy both?
    Mr Appletred, to improve the latitude, one can pre-flash the paper.

  • Reply
    James Evidon
    August 23, 2019 at 6:07 pm


  • Reply
    Steve Karsten
    August 26, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    Pointless exercise? Hardly. Amazing work and thanks for sharing! I agree with you on the journey and destination – best way to do anything, including photography.

    • Reply
      August 27, 2019 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks, and I agree, James’ point about balancing process destination is a great outlook.

  • Reply
    Dan Stevenson
    September 21, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    Nice job with these. I’ve used my Obscura quite a bit over the past few years with film and I have liked the results. I have always kind of held back on using paper because of all the pre-flash recommendations. Now, looking at your results from using the paper straight up, I think I’ll open a box and have a try. Thanks for your honesty regarding your process, the examples and the additional hints from your website. Enjoy.

    • Reply
      September 21, 2019 at 8:48 pm

      Glad you found it useful!

      Definitely give some direct positive paper a go, it’s one of those things that sounds more intimidating than it actually is.

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