My Pinhole work has been fun of late. I’ve built and been using The Ceramic, the Mint Tin that preceded it, and a Coffee Can – two if you count the one my daughter made. 

My restriction is that I have no darkroom. This means I don’t have the ability to take more than one frame per day per camera. (Four, if you have four separate pinhole cameras). So, I decided I wanted a pinhole camera that takes film. 

Pretty easy, there are loads available to buy – just look on the internet. Except I didn’t want to buy one. 

So I decided I’d start by converting an existing camera. 

The search

I set about searching for a camera with some very specific requirements:

  • Medium format
  • Folding
  • 6×9 (preferably)
  • A dodgy lens (cheap to buy!)

On top of all this having a viable shutter would be a bonus but wasn’t critical.

Sounds easy? It was. Apart from the format requirement, I found exactly what I was looking for: the Agifold, a 6×6 bellows camera built by the Agiflex Company of Croydon, London in the mid-1940’s. The front element was missing, hence it’s price tag of £3.00, but the shutter seemed good and the film transport mechanism was still sound. I bought it – and a Voigtlander Bessa 6×9 that was just too cute to leave behind – and made for home.

A DuaFlex II managed to come on board as well. Three cameras is quite a nice little haul for a Sunday morning. 

My daughter was cradling the Bessa protectively in her arms and warning me that I wasn’t going to harm it – she’d already laid claim to the DuaFlex – and although a 6×9 Pinhole has been my goal, I was happy to concentrate on the Agifold. 

So the conversion started. 

The build

I stripped the leatherette and cleaned the adhesive residue off the body with nail polish remover. I’m still not sure what colour I’m going to paint it. 

Next, to remove the remaining two lens elements.

The rear element unscrewed with the help of a pair of pliers. I couldn’t find a way of removing the middle element cleanly so, using a cable release, I held the shutter open in Bulb mode and with a sharp tap from a hammer and screwdriver, I shattered it.

I quite enjoyed that bit. 

The result was an element with a screwdriver shaped hole in it and jagged pointy edges. At this stage, I should have tried taking a photo with the ruined element but was so excited by the act of destroying it that that idea didn’t even occur to me. 

To release the rest of the glass I used the saw from a multi-tool, gently rasping down until it fell away. Observing the splinters it appeared to have been glued in originally. 

I made a thorough job of blowing out the camera interior and bellows to get rid of any remaining glass splinters and that was it. No lens, but a still working shutter. The aperture was still functional too but is inconsequential to my needs. (Unless anyone reading this knows better? Please hit me up in the comments if you do!)

Making pinholes

There isn’t any shortage of info on how to make your own pinholes on the internet, and because of that, I won’t be divulging my methods here. But once I’d poked a hole in a fizzy pop can (with a needle) and cut it to size, a lump of Bluetac was used to secure it in place temporarily, whilst I proceeded with my beta testing. The rim of the lens barrel had a perfect ledge to secure it to.

Oh, and one other thing I did for this resurrected beauty. I knotted a strap for it using Paracord. A fluorescent orange and yellow strap. Nice and bright, for subtlety reasons.

Lessons learned

In total, the pinhole conversion was very easy. I had a major concern that when smashing out the lens the shutter would be damaged – the initial blow shook the B setting off and the shutter did close on the both the screwdriver and the saw blade as I worked – but it retained its integrity, and to my relief works fine to this day.

I can’t think of an easier project than this conversion. I worried all the way up to starting it. I went over the steps in my head repeatedly. In the end the hardest part was actually starting it. Once I had grasped the metal I realised I had nothing to worry about. My biggest concern – keeping the shutter intact – would not have been an issue if it had failed as I would have carried on and used Gaffer tape in its place. Just like I do with the Ceramic Pinhole.

If I were to do this to another similar camera I would change nothing. I’d just barge in and go for it. Another camera of a different type? I’d just mull it over for a day to two then attack it from a different perspective. I don’t doubt that I could do it. I could do this to any camera.

Importantly, so could you, Reader. Take my advice and find an old heap and get your screwdriver and hammer out.

Beta Testing

My next step is actually using the thing. I have calculated the exposure values I need with the help of online calculators: 100mm focal length with a pinhole of (roughly) 0.25mm = f/400. My first steps are to go out quietly and just shoot the things around me. Get to grips with handling the camera and see what results my first couple of rolls garner. As I use it I will develop a feel for how I need to handle it, and fingers crossed start to get reasonable results.

My tripod is on standby, my film is packed, alongside my cable release, and I am keen to field test my creation. Keep your eyes peeled for a Beta Test article in the future…

~ Toby

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About the author

Avatar - Toby Van de Velde

After 13 years as a local news staff photographer, with a healthy little freelance business on the side, I have now launched into the world of the full-time freelancer. This blog will document the highs and lows of my photographic way of life as I talk about...

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  1. @TobyVPhoto Very fun article! And I’m so glad that I was steered towards the Agfa Isolette, no lens smashing required…

  2. Nicely done! If one of the others still has a lens you could try removing the entire lens and bellows assembly. I did this with a 6×9 and covered over the hole in the body with a bit of plywood and a pinhole. It gave me a focal length of about 21mm. I stuck the lens and bellows on a body cap and used it as a cheap lensbaby. A twofer. 🙂