Pin Hole photography?

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Stuck in the 1930's
Have any of you experimented with pin hole photography? I took a friends 2.8 portrait lens and took it apart o I could add a Pinhole. It was made from a spiral of thin brass wire that hugs the outside edge of the lens area. the center points at the center as identified by closing the iris all the way. normally that would give you a 3/5" diameter hole. I made a 1/4" circle of shim stock brass, and put a thin notch on one side to attach it to the wire. With some fiddling, I got the bras to be centered, and it blocks the light around the iris when closed in all the way. Opening the iris allows you to aim your camera. Finally you use the smallest twist drill you can find, and drill a teeny hole in the center of the brass circle. I used a 00-110 for mine. The smaller the hole the sharper the photos are, and the more minutes you will need to expose the film... The best is that the pin hole has infinite depth of field. The worst is the amount of light required for even 1000 speed fuji film, which can be minutes.


Railroad Photographer
I've done a lot of pinhole photography many years ago. Got the idea from an article in RMC, where the author did something like you did. I took a different route, using a Vivitar 28mm lens that was totally manual and that I was no longer using. I made the pinhole in a strip of shim brass with a small drill, then sanded down around the hole to make it even thinner. Blackened it with a felt pen. The rear element of the lens was easily removed, and I used CA to glue the strip just before the lens' aperture blades. It worked the same as yours does, view and compose with the lens wide open, close it down so light only passes through the pinhole aperture.

I was using Canon film cameras at the time (AE-1, AE-1P, later A-1's), shooting both black and white and color slides. I found that doubling the exposure given by the camera seemed to work out about right most of the time.

A friend who used Pentax film cameras made a pinhole in a disk of thin sheet brass and taped it to the rear element of one of his lenses, it worked good for him too. It did not work on my Canon lenses. The problem with this method is he needed to view the scene through the pinhole, and the image was quite dim. He'd place a dark towel over his head to keep the light out.

I had a lot of success with my pinhole lens, having many of my photos printed in the model press in the mid-late 1980's, including several cover photos. One pinhole shot won me first place in Model Railroader's annual photo contest, March 1989. When I took similar scenes with the pinhole lens and with a regular Canon lens, the Canon shot was always sharper, but looking at the pinhole photos they seemed OK on their own. I later used Canon 24mm and 28mm wide angle lenses for my close up photos.

When I switched to Canon digital SLRs about 10 years ago, I could not get the same results with the pinhole lens. Canon cameras had (and most consumer grade ones still do) sensors that were smaller than a 35mm frame. So only about 60% of the light from the center of the lens is recorded by the sensor. This made the pinhole shots way less sharp than I achieved on film.

My partial solution was to use an extreme wide angle lens for my similar close up shots. I use a Tamron 11-18mm lens at 11mm, shooting at f/22. I can't get in as close as I could with the pinhole lens, but I just crop out the foreground and they're pretty good. I duplicated my contest winning photo from MR digitally, and it is pretty close.

Hope you have as much fun as I did using my pinhole aperture equipped lens!

Here's one of my pinhole photos, taken on my HO scale shelf layout 18" by 6':

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Well-Known Member
Back in the days of film photography, I made the same pinhole attachment for a Minolta SRT-101 35mm camera. I was doing quite a bit of black & white photography with great depth of field for magazine articles I wrote (mostly NOT model railroading, but some). Now everything's gone digital and until I can find a reason to justify the cost of a 35mm SLR digital, I pretty much out of capability. :(


Railroad Photographer
That's the pinhole described in the RMC article, thought it was beyond my capabilities so I went the simpler route. I wasn't going to be using the manual pre-set lens for anything else, so it worked out for me.

Pinhole lens.jpg

This is from an article I had on pinhole photography in TRP - The Railfan Photographer many years ago.
Ben King used to do a lot of pinhole work if I'm not mistaken. MR published many of his photos.
Ben King was a very close friend of mine. He made me a pinhole lens from a 40mm enlarging lens. He also made me a mount that would place the camera perspective at about a 6' level above the ground. It used a first surface mirror mounted in a cardstock and balsa wood frame, with a machined ring to hold the lens in perfect alignment. The lens had a removable front element, and Ben made an insert on his lathe with a pinhole that he measured out at f 92.6. The back of the lens was a Pentax mount that I supplied, and it was used on my Pentax Super Program that I had at the time. I used Kodachrome slides back then and when viewed, you had to turn the slide around as the picture was reversed by the mirror.

I took many pics with this setup, won several contest awards, including best of show at an NMRA division 3 contest. I also had several shots published in Walther's catalogs for several years. I was too cheap to pay for the catalog, so I sent them pictures, and they sent me $10 and a new catalog. :)

The photo above by Bob Boudreau has an uncanny resemblance to Ben King's layout. Ben got to the point where he couldn't do maintenance on his rr anymore, so I would climb under and help him out when he had issues. Ben was undoubtably the smartest man I ever knew, and I still miss him very much.


Railroad Photographer
I recall Ben made an entire camera for his pinhole captures, even had plans in MR on how to make it. Kind of far out for the average model railroader!
Yes I remember that camera. I believe it was a sheet film camera with a back similar to a Graflex, only about a 1.5" cube. He also made a 360° camera that I still have some plans for. It worked off of a 9V battery with external gears that dragged the film past a slit for exposure. I took a picture with it one Sunday morning for Ben. He was standing on the corner in front of the 2nd National Bank in downtown Greenville, while I stood under the stoplight in the middle of the intersection with the camera on a tripod.

He made a lot of articles for several magazines, but he would have me spell check them for him. He always used to say "How the hell can you look up a word in the dictionary, if you don't know how to spell it". He was a truly gifted person in spite of his handicap. I started doing darkroom work, and took my results over to Ben for him to critique. He made me a much better photographer and darkroom technician that I could have done by myself. In case anyone wonders what happened to his Timber City and Northwestern RR., his son has it stored in his garage, in non-operating condition, which is a shame.
I made a pinhole camera starting with a Brownie common box camera. I rigged a shutter release cable for it. The pinhole was made in a 0.003-inch thick piece of brass shim-stock . It has to be as thin as possible and I had to burnish any imperfections around the perimeter of the hole while looking at it under a microscope.

I made a picture with the camera on the rail and you could see the polished grain in the steel shiny surface and tiny surface cracks. A tunnel portal about 200-feet away was in perfect focus and on the other side of the short tunnel you could make out the curve of the track and the embankment. I think the exposure time was around a minute on that one.

The only 'give away' was one wiggling blade of grass that looked funny -- in the foreground. I never used it outdoors unless it was a dead calm day. Otherwise the leaves in the trees always looked very odd from slight motion over a long exposure time.

I made a few photos of my models on a layout but the results were not as good as the outdoor photos. Also you had to guess where the picture was framed on close-ups since it was a cheap box camera.
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Active Member
I never met Mr. King, but really admired his work. I remember seeing his photos in the 70's thinking about what a great layout he had, and wanting to see more. As I recall, MR ran an article about him, and his railroad, after he passed. I remember after reading the article thinking 'see, it doesn't have to be a huge railroad, to be well done.' My impression was that he was a real craftsman, probably put a lot of thought into every decision he made. if I'm not mistaken, the railroad he built, took most of his life, and wasn't as large as a 4x8 sheet of plywood. He must have had incredible patience, is all I can imagine.
When I get the time, I'll find some pictures that Ben gave me of his layout that have never been published. Also some other pics and if I have time, some stories about Ben. He was an extremely talented man that would except nothing but perfection in anything he did. He wrote several stories in the MR and RMC with detailed drawings and building techniques through the years. It always upset him when someone would write in to the magazine and complain about the complexity of his projects. He would call them "those damn rookies". ;)
"complexity of his projects"

Absolutely! Even beginners need to know what the "ideal" is and maybe learn a little at a time to be "there" themselves some day. I know the things that inspired me were in MR and RMC when I was a teen had that effect on me and my aspirations - eventually at any rate. One of the finest examples was a guy's layout that had Illinois Terminal electric freight motors -- in O-scale I think. In some photos they were parked in front of a long brick building and it all looked beautiful.
As I mentioned above, here is the 360° picture I took of Ben King in front of the bank leaning against the trash can about 1/3 of the way in from the left, one Sunday morning. img337.jpg


Well-Known Member
My partial solution was to use an extreme wide angle lens for my similar close up shots. I use a Tamron 11-18mm lens at 11mm, shooting at f/22. I can't get in as close as I could with the pinhole lens, but I just crop out the foreground and they're pretty good. I duplicated my contest winning photo from MR digitally, and it is pretty close.

Hope you have as much fun as I did using my pinhole aperture equipped lens!

Here's one of my pinhole photos, taken on my HO scale shelf layout 18" by 6':

Hi Bob,

I never did fool around with any pin hole adapters, I've just usually stayed with the lenses as they were, similar to what you said you've done too.

The shot above is very nice. I'm very interested in the little tin lizzy behind the Station? and in front of the Heisler.
Is it motorized by chance?

Talk with you again,

David Smith


Well-Known Member
Thanks Bob,
I always thought a small early style inspection car like that would be cute if it ran. Correction, they are still cute even though they don't operate.

Talk with you later,

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