This idea goes back several months, but in typical Tom fasion, its execution only came through in the last few days before it was needed.
I love my large format cameras... LOVE them. I love the concept, I love the process, and I love the negatives I get to play with in the darkroom afterwards. Unfortunately, having only monstrous monorail cameras in my collection, I don't love the thought of lugging furniture-sized camera cases through airport security. "What I need," I thought, "...is a smaller, more manageable large format camera... like an Ebony... (not gonna happen) or a pinhole!" That was the idea... I needed a 4x5 pinhole camera that could fit in my backpack alongside my other daily camera gear without sacrificing comfort or functionality in my regular kit.
My starting point was that I have at least a couple of dozen 4x5 film holders that already do their job perfectly well. The next logical step would be to slap one of these on the back of something with a hole... say a cigar box or the like.
So I headed off to the dollar store to look for a box... Sadly, nobody in the dollar-store box industry seemed to have taken my particular needs into account and everything in the box aisle was either too large or too small to accomodate a 4x5 film holder.
My project languished for a couple of months, while I looked for boxes, tried some measurements, and pursued other photographic endeavours. Eventually I bought a couple of boxes that were almost big enough for 5x7, but could be hacked to take 4x5 holders. Then, while I mulled over the competing design specs from different websites, I put things on hold again, and typically, hating to see good boxes go to waste, I filled them with junk. (well, photo gear, etc.)
By the time I got around to measuring, cutting and gluing, it was a scant three days before I was to board a US Air jet to Phoenix for some much-needed rest and relaxation. This gave me precious little time to make important errors like placing guide rails on the wrong side of the film slot, (dumb) neglecting to place something deep in the receiving slot to prevent the film holder from opening when I remove the darkslide, (careless) and affixing the tripod sockets so that the film holders load from the left instead of the right where they really should be (THIS I attribute to the same issues that contributed to my 6 1/2 year high school career). Two of these errors were easily and quickly solved, while the other, (the left-handed camera design) remains in my notebook for further consideration. After all, I'm no dummy... I didn't buy two boxes for nothing.
The construction of the camera, not including film holders, cost $2.68. (I'm not counting the cost for two brushes of varnish or a 6"x2" strip of felt from a craft drawer) Focal length is 40mm, and with a pinhole of .3mm, the aperture measures f-133. At 40mm focal length, the angle of view is extremetly wide, (approximately 127°) and I am not entirely sure how well it will cover 4x5. The basic Zero Image 4x5 starts at 25mm, as improbable as that sounds, so I think I should be ok. The camera employs a wooden flap-style shutter, and the pinhole is set in a slot so that if need be, I can swap it out for another pinhole or zone-plate at a moment's notice.
They say when all is said and done, more is usually said than done. I'm heading out to shoot some 4x5 in the 90° Arizona sun.
After a disappointing first set of negatives, I determined that the wood on the front of my camera was simply too flimsy and literally bled light in the bright desert sun. The images are on the film, but depending on the brightness of the scene, there is considerable fogging of the negatives. A few minutes work with a sheet of black mat board seems to have taken care of that, and a bit of black packing foam beefed up the film-slot light trap. My first negatives with this arrangement seem to be working out fine.
The saga continues... having made my camera nice and light-tight, I started getting some nice-looking negative... exposure and contrast appeared to be what I would expect of normal 4x5 negatives... but what are those shadows??? vague elongated shapes were insinuating themselves from the sides or the top of several frames... My lovely pinhole, at 127° has such a wide field of view that my fingers were finding their way into the pictures even though I tried to keep them very tight to the camera when I closed the shutter. So I liberated a spring, a couple of screws and some fishing line from a repair kit and now I can operate the shutter from well behind the angle of view.
HP5+ 42 min