Pinhole photography.

Pinhole photographs can be taken on a camera made specifically for that purpose, using film or photographic paper, or by modifying a plate camera, film camera or digital camera by replacing the lens with a pinhole.

Pinhole photographs have lower definition than a normal photograph but have a massive depth-of-field, so a fly's head near the pinhole and a tower on the distant horizon would both be in focus. But due to the tiny amount of light that gets through the pinhole the exposure time can be long.


Digital Pinhole photography.


Making a pinhole.

I wrapped some aluminium baking foil over a Fujifilm 16mm extension tube and secured it with an elastic band. I made a tiny hole in the centre of the foil with the pin. I took my old Fuji X-E1, fitted the extension tube, put the camera on a tripod and set the exposure to Auto. The image produce was awful.

pinhole photo 1


I already knew that photos taken by a pinhole camera have a soft resolution but my image was very foggy. This I realised was due to flare caused by the reflection of light between the sensor and the aluminium foil because when the sun came out it was even worse. I also knew that the pinhole had to be perfectly circular for the best resolution, and that this could not be achieved with baking foil because the pin would produce a ragged hole. But I was pleased that I had managed to create the sort of photo that would have been marvelled at around two hundred years ago.


pinhole photo 2


I needed something more substantial than foil to create a pinhole in and I happened to have a strip of 0.25mm-thick phosphor bronze in my workshop. I raided my wife's sewing box and found the smallest needle. I laid the bronze strip on a piece of hard wood and tapped the sewing needle with a small hammer until the point just broke through the metal. I measured the diameter of the needle as far as the point where it had entered the hole using a vernier caliper. It was about 0.2mm. Because the point of the needle had raised a tiny 'volcano' shape where it had exited the strip, I removed it using very fine emery paper.

I drilled a 3mm hole in the centre of a spare Fujifilm body cap. I measured the distance from the inside of the cap to the camera sensor. It was about 23mm. Apparently a hole-to sensor distance of 23mm requires a hole of 0.175mm in diameter for optimum resolution. I decided that my approximately 0.2mm pinhole was close enough. There is some technical stuff about this below*.

home made pinhole


I checked the pinhole with a magnifying lens. It looked to be round and even. This is important as a ragged hole will produce diffraction effects. I trimmed the strip to a rough 15mm diameter disc and glued it to the inside of the body cap.

I tested it. There was still some flare so I cut a 36mm disc of black felt with a 3mm hole in the centre and glued it around the pinhole to prevent possible reflections from the shiny internal surface of the body cap. There was also some vignetting so I countersunk the front of the hole bit by bit until more countersinking made no real difference. A little vignetting remained.

pinhole 2

The result was an image that was much clearer than before and with no flare. It had a soft resolution, which was what I expected to see, and a massive depth-of-field.

Due to the longer exposure times needed for pinhole photography, a tripod or a solid surface is normally needed to steady the camera.

Photo: Exposure 2.1 seconds ISO 800.


I decided to try improving the quality of my pinhole photographs. My home-made pinhole was made from 0.25mm-thick phosphor-bronze strip which I found out was thicker than is normally used. I thinned down the pinhole disc that I made to less than 0.1mm and continued to thin the centre even more although I was unable to measure the thickness at the very centre. It did little to improve the resolution so I decided to buy a manufactured pinhole from Pinhole Solutions.

My new pinhole was an etched 0.1mm hole in a 0.05mm-thick metal disc, 10mm in diameter. I drilled a 3mm hole in another spare body cap and countersunk the hole to widen the outer end a little. I fixed the disc behind the hole in the body cap with a few tiny spots of glue at the edges. I cut a black felt disc with the 3mm hole in the centre to cover the inside of the body cap to prevent any reflections.

new pinhole shot

This new pinhole improved the contrast and the resolution even more. I didn't worry about not having the 0.1mm pinhole at the optimum distance from the sensor as I wanted the 23mm focal length (35mm equivalent on an APS-C camera). There is some technical stuff about this below**.

When I tested the pinhole-cap by comparing its field of view with that of my 16-80mm f4 lens and found that the focal length of the pinhole-cap was indeed about 23mm.

Photo: Fuji X-E3, Exposure 1.4 seconds ISO 200.

Some technical stuff.

* The optimum pinhole size can be worked out by taking the square root of the pinhole-to-sensor (or film) measurement and then multiplying it by 0.0366. So ideally my 23mm pinhole-to-sensor distance required a pinhole of 0.175mm.

** The optimum pinhole-to-sensor distance for a certain pinhole size can be calculated by dividing the pinhole diameter by 0.0366 and then squaring it. A 0.1mm pinhole apparently requires an optimum pinhole-to-sensor distance of 7.5mm for the best resolution.

I found out later, when I tried some different pinhole-to-sensor distances with my pinhole caps, that it didn't seem to affect the resolution of the image whatever the distance was, for short distances at least. It seems that it is more important that the pinhole is perfectly round and made in very thin metal.

pinhole portrait

I also tried my pinhole cap attached to a 16mm extension tube to increase the focal length to about 39mm, giving an equivalent focal length of about 58mm on an APS-C camera. This did increase the exposure times but made it a better focal length for portraits. The subject was pleased by the soft resolution and the lack of wrinkles!

It could never be a true portrait lens though, because it does not have a shallow depth of field to throw the background out of focus; the depth of field of a pinhole being almost infinite. But it works fine with a plain background. To be strictly correct it cannot even be called a lens because it doesn't contain a lens.

Photo: Fuji X-E3, 0.1mm pinhole in 23mm focal-length body-cap, plus 16mm extension tube. 2 seconds, ISO 12800, Fujifilm Acros film simulation, in my garage, one 60cm LED-tube ceiling light. Cropped square but not processed.

West Bay photo

Photo: West Bay, Dorset. Fuji X-E3, 0.1mm pinhole in 23mm focal-length body-cap. 1/5 second, ISO 200, Fujifilm Velvia film simulation.

This photo was taken on 30 April 2023 and submitted for World Pinhole Photography Day which was on that day.

On World Pinhole Photography Day, pinhole photographers from all over the world take photographs and submit them to the World Pinhole Photography Day website.

The last World Pinhole Day was on 30 April 2023. I decided to take part. My pinhole day.


X-E3 pinhole
Fujifilm X-E3 Pinhole camera and 16mm extension tube.

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