If you are looking for a cheap and simple self build pinhole camera which you can experiment with and mod as well, then the 4M pinhole camera is a good place to start.
I first noticed this camera when I was Christmas shopping with my girlfriend and after a couple of not so subtle hints; lo and behold it ended up in my stocking on Christmas day. It only costs £10 and I’m sure you can find it cheaper online, but its price belies its versatility. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t like some of the serious pinhole cameras you can find, but as a fun little thing to chuck in your bag on a sunny day and play around with. I think it’s great.
The camera itself comes in kit form and is really aimed at the child’s science experiment market. When you get it out of the box the body is in three main parts, you also have the rewind and take up spools and the very simple shutter mechanism. It takes 15 minutes to put together (less if you don’t have a small toddler trying to eat the small parts whilst you’re doing it) and to begin with you will think that it will just fall apart, but once it’s assembled it starts to feel a little bit more solid.
This isn’t however an easy to use camera and the first time I tried to load some film in it I almost gave up. In the end I realized you need to wrap the film leader really tightly around the take-up spool so that it moulds to it and doesn’t slip, even then it is a bit of a battle to get it to take the film properly and requires a lot of patience.
Once it is all snapped together it is a case of operating the simple lever sprung shutter to let the light in. The instruction manual was a bit vague about exposure times and seemed to imply that 1 second would do for just about all lighting conditions, but having used my Diana F+ pinhole function a few times, I guessed this was probably misleading. Lots of my shots ended up over or under exposed but that’s all part of the learning curve. I also realized that I made the pinhole too big as my images are very very soft.
What really makes this camera great is the potential for lots of lomo style fun. It uses 35mm film rather than photographic paper as is common with some pinholes, so slide, black and white and colour negative film can all be used. You can also do multiple exposures by simply opening the shutter again, but what is most fun is making your own multi pinhole camera. I’ve wanted to do this ever since seeing the Diana Multi Pinhole Operator, but deciding that £45 was too much for my liking.
My first attempt was not very successful; again the pinholes were too big, so there was no definition between the overlapping images. My next attempt was better and I got a few shots was happy with, but it could still be improved.
First multi pinhole attempt:
The downsides to this camera are the utterly useless viewfinder (why even bother); the lack of tripod mount (perhaps too much to expect from a £10 toy); and the crappy spring on the shutter which means you’ve got to check that the shutter is closed properly after taking a shot.
Anyway, for £10 you can’t really go far wrong; whether you want to play with it yourself, or introduce a child to the joys of analogue photography, this little black box will is just the thing.