A few months ago, Lomography made available a whole range of pinhole cameras made out of premium wood. Interested in knowing how good they are, I brought the medium format one on my last trip to Germany.
ONDU is a Slovenian brand of handcrafted, wooden pinhole cameras. The idea was to make a durable masterpiece that will last forever. So they are not only beautiful but also easy to use. I’d been reading about these cameras everywhere so I wanted to try shooting with them myself, and a trip to Germany was the perfect opportunity to do it.
The 6x6 camera was, for me, the perfect way to start. As it was my first time trying them, I didn’t want to use much film. I brought one roll each of color negative and black and white Kodak 120 film (100 ISO) with me. As with all cameras, using the ONDU has a learning curve but at the same time is really easy to use (to be honest, it was so easy that expecting the worst only ruined some of my photos). I wanted to try this camera in the wild first, as pinhole cameras need to be still while shooting. I chose an empty and quiet place: Teufelsberg, a hill in the forest of Berlin and artificial mountain made after the Second World War with ruins of buildings and houses. From there, the view was outstanding – it was the perfect place to try this beauty.
The film loading process was super easy. The back door is held together by very strong magnets so it’s easy to open and close. It comes with an empty spool ready for loading. You load the film just how you would with the Diana. Actually, doing it was so easy that I managed to load the camera on the subway on my way to the forest, while the people around looked at me funnily.
There was something peculiar about this place. On top of the hill was an old abandoned Listening Station built by the American NSA (National Security Agency) to spy on the communist governments during the Cold War. The place is now empty and full of graffiti, and for €7 you can climb to the top and shoot the best natural panoramas of the forest and its surroundings.
As I started shooting from the top of this old building, I also counted the seconds. The ONDU cameras come with an easy-to-follow guide that lets you know how many seconds, minutes, or hours the film should be exposed. Setting the aperture is completely manual, so you will need to lift the wooden cover (which is also held by a magnet) in front of the pinhole to expose the film.
My first mistake with the camera was thinking that it needed a lot of light and longer exposure time. That turned out to be false – this camera can give you good shots in around 2 or 3 seconds, is so fast, and its pinhole is so wide (115º) that my hand was repeatedly captured by the camera while operating the aperture.
I had the same trouble shooting while moving the camera. Because I thought this camera was not fast enough, I didn’t pay much attention to its position while opening the aperture. So after opening the aperture, I held it still. But it was a wrong move – the camera captured the movement too fast and most of my first pictures came out blurry. Another mistake you can make after shooting is that if you don’t secure the cover to the magnet, it can open while the camera is inside your bag and give your photos some light leaks.
Lesson No 1: Operate the aperture from the side of the lens. This way, your hand will not be in the middle of the shot.
Lesson No 2: Hold the camera still the whole time, even when you are operating the aperture.
Lesson No 3: The aperture system can be tricky due to the magnet holding it, so always be sure to secure it before putting it away.
Back in the city, I tried some double exposures and indoor shots. Again, the camera delivered very well. Exposing the photos for around 2 to 5 minutes allowed me to capture some nice city lights as well as what I think is my best pinhole picture ever: The Siegessaule, or Victory Column, my last picture of this role and was somehow perfect. Pinholes are made to shoot long exposures photographs, and there is not doubt that this camera delivers the best even in bad lighting conditions (also, there is less space for error). Unloading film from the camera was easy, too.
I took my second film (black and white) with me to Nuremberg, where I stayed for a couple of days only. The result was as good as the color ones, maybe even better, as the day was kind of gray and I needed more time to expose it.
Shooting at night may be more satisfying but you need to expose the film for a longer period of time, about 20 to 30 minutes. The best results may be achieved after 30 minutes.
Bottom line: The quality of the ONDU pinhole camera is superb. Loading film is easy, the camera is pocket-sized and is the perfect pinhole camera for a quick trip. However, the aperture system can be tricky sometimes, but once you get around this, this camera will be your best pinhole asset.
None of these photos were retouched after scanned.