How to make a pinhole camera

Normal 0 0 1 92 526 4 1 645 11.515 0 0 0 Recently I went right back to basics

Recently I went right back to basics and made my own pinhole camera. If you have all the right knowledge, photographic paper and chemicals you can make one out of any container you like: a shoebox or a Coke can for example. But instead I opted to build a Hole-on EX kit (£16.99,, which takes normal 35mm film and is recommended for ages 12 and up.

First let's see how it's supposed to look when it's finished:

Cool, no? Now let's see how I got on...

I install myself in the Stuff test lab and prepare to go to work.

It begins well, full of promise and excitement (partly because it looks like a 12-inch vinyl single).

This what you'll need (at least this is what they say you'll need):

White PVA glue, a ruler, a pen to help shape the curved parts, and a film. Coffee optional.

I guess you could call this the "unboxing". Can a camera really be made from that?

So here are all the components. It's like a flat Airfix kit.

And we're off! I begin by making a "square bit". Easy!

This is how most of the parts go: take a flat shape, then fold the tabs in and stick them with glue.

Thing is, you have to hold it in position for ages until the glue sets.

So I get the shape sorted roughly, then stick a weight on top while it all sets.

With confidence sky-high, I see what's next on the list.

It's the "side bits". Two more boxes. This is so easy. Use a remote to hold them together.

Now I've stuck the "square bit" to the "side bits". Looking good...

A while later I've got something that looks a bit like a camera. A bit.

Stuff's Deputy Art Editor Phill, who's been taking these pictures, gets bored and starts playing FIFA.

Now, following the instructions isn't as easy as you might think...

Perhaps this will clarify the situation... er, no. Hang on, it's upside down.

That explains a few things.

Time for some precision gluing on the prism section.

... which seems to have paid off. This looks quite impressive to me.

And I can even see through it. Just.

Would you look at that? Side bits, a middle bit and a prism. Nearly there, surely?

Not quite so pretty from the back at the moment.

Now for the film spool. This has a vital job to do, so it had better turn out right.


But look, it's in the camera and goes round when I turn it. Success!

Seem to have taken my eye off the ball regarding alignment...

A little corrective surgery is called for.

There we go, straight as an arrow.

Excuse me while I hold this part together for the next 15 minutes.

Onwards, and we reach the lens, made by layering loads of almost identical discs.

This bit works as the shutter (so says the instructions).

Pull it one way to open it, push it back to close it.

Mine went a bit wrong.

OK, given up on that ever really working properly, so I'll put the metal pinhole on now.

Now if there's one bit that definitely has to work, it's this. You can't have a pinhole camera with no pinhole.

I hold it aloft, squint, and hope that everything has lined up properly...

Hallelujah! That there is a bit of actual light coming through the pinhole and all of those other layers. Phew.

OK, now I've made the big bit of the lens too. which I stick underneath a ZX Spectrum to bond.

Look at all those empty bits. Must be nearly finished now.

And indeed we are, look!

Now to load the film... Not sure why I'm poking my finger in there.

Then thread the end into the bit I stuck together and then sliced apart later.

It's going on! It's winding!

It's there!

And there we have it. One pinhole camera.

Continuity geeks will have noticed I'm wearing a different top here. That's because it took a couple of days, and in that time I realised it was never going to work and that half of it had come unstuck, so I dismantled it and remade it with double-sided sticky tape. If I was to do it all again, I'd use double-sided tape from the start, not glue.


So did it work? Sort of. I managed to take four shots before the film parted company with the spool.

The shutter never worked because it got stuck in the open position, so I kept it in a bag, then took it out with my hand over the lens and left it to expose for a while, then put it back in the bag. Knowing I'd have to do that, I used it at night to minimise light leaks and over-exposure.

Here are the pictures that came out. They were all quite under-exposed. They were roughly 30-60 second exposures, and the film was 200 ISO (400 is recommended but I didn't have any to hand). If you have a go yourself, I'd suggest taking the whole camera and film to a local independent high-street photo lab. Explain carefully what you've got and make sure they only open it up in a bag or a darkroom. So long as you get to speak to the right person, most labs will be happy to help.

For more camera quirkiness, check out the April issue of Stuff, on sale 10 March.

And feel free to have a look at my Flickr stream for more experimental stuff like this.

And now it's your turn...