“Santa Barbara Pinhole Camera – how it works…”

Martyn asked “Chris, could you give me….a proper run-down on how this goes, please?” Well here it goes with some very ‘quick & dirty’ photos I just took to illustrate the process. During my last move I ‘misplaced’ my 4×5 inch film holders, so we will just have to imagine them, and also be aware that they are absolutely NOT needed to make paper negatives, or even film negatives, with this camera. A Polaroid back can also be used, although I have not done that. As far as I know, the Santa Barbara cameras are no longer made, but there are similar ones on the market, and one can also make ones own. Or, of course, use a 4×5 or 8×10 or whatever view camera.

The first thing I did with my camera was remove the dowel plug/shutter and replaced it with my own ‘shutter’ made out of 4 ply black mat board. It has gotten pretty beat up over the years, but still works. Now, if one were to adapt a view camera to do pinhole work one would have to use some kind of ‘body cap’ instead of the lens, and in front of the shutter. I am not familiar enough with view cameras to suggest how to to that, but I am confident that it can be done. I have made perfectly good pinholes using black foil and a thin sowing needle to make the hole. Now the pinhole on the commercial pinhole cameras is smaller than that and drilled with precision instruments into thin metal. I believe one can buy those separately.
On my camera the back [ a piece of plywood that is painted black on the inside] is held in place by two dowels of different size that are simple wedged against the back.If one were to use a film holder, it would go in front of the back, and the dowels would push the whole thing shut and light tight. If one were to use a view camera, that would already be taken care of. A view of the camera interior with the back removed:
This is an exposed and processed 4×5 inch paper negative that has been exposed in a film holder:
For a funkier pinhole look I use 5×10 inch paper negatives cut from an 8×10 inch piece of enlarging paper. Here are a couple of photos showing the paper in the camera. Usually I expose those paper negatives shortly after inserting them into the camera, and there is no need to fasten the enlarging paper in place. the tension of the curved paper does that job pretty well.

Now, just don’t forget to put the back on and of course, close the shutter. I think the same thing would work with a view camera, the paper would just extend into the bellows.
And voilà, here is the exposed and processed paper negative.

About christian harkness

Photographer and printmaker; living and working in north Florida.
This entry was posted in art, black & white, film photography, photography, pinhole and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “Santa Barbara Pinhole Camera – how it works…”

  1. Dave says:

    How long is an exposure onto a paper negative? Is it loaded in a darkroom?

  2. Hey Dave, if you use negative holders they are of course loaded in the darkroom, but then can be used in daylight. If you are using single sheets they need to be loaded in the darkroom.
    My old notes on exposure are thus:
    Ilford Multigrade IV:
    1 minutes – full sun
    2 minutes – sun
    Forte Polywarmtone:
    3 minutes – sun
    In other words, the best way to arrive at the correct exposure is to lick your fingertip and stick it up in the air & then estimate! :)

    Seriously you do need to run some tests and the exposure varies from paper to paper. If you have an exposure meter with EV setting then you can start interpolating from there.

  3. Thanks very much for this, Chris. It’s both useful and inspiring.

  4. Sure Martyn, anytime & I am glad you found it useful!

  5. Dennis Dempsey says:

    Hi Chris, I purchased the very same Santa Barbara pinhole camera pictured here! I am brand new to pinhole photography and want to expose B&W negative film. I have an exposure meter and was wondering if you could tell me the f-stop of the pinhole camera or any suggestions as to how to arrive at the correct exposure. Any tips would be much appreciated! Thanks, Dennis

    • Hi Dennis, great to hear from you. Unfortunately it has been ages since I have done any film exposure. If I recall properly, I used Kodak Tri-X in 4×5 film-holders, and I think my exposure in full sun was between 30 and 60 seconds. Also, I do not know the f-stop of the pinhole – goes to show you how scientific I am about the whole process. So, good luck and let me know how things work out!
      Best wishes – christian

  6. Love this! How long is that front to back…trying to figure out how to make something similar and if it will fit in my backpack….

    • Hi Becky, thanks you so very much for your generous and enthusiastic comments – I really appreciate them.

      The camera is just short of 9 inches long and five inches wide – probably not something you want to backpack???While you probably would have a bit of a hard time making it yourself, I would highly recommend you take a look at the zeroimage pinhole cameras. They use film, and are about the seize of a compact 35mm camera.

      Best wishes – christian


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