Making Pinhole Cameras with a Laser Cutter

This is an old project from teaching at AS220’s Fab Lab Providence (now AS220 Industries). The premise was simple, to create a pinhole camera using the Epilog Minihelix laser cutter in the Fab Lab and shoot some pictures using equipment in the Paul Krot Community Darkroom. The cameras were made and used over two Saturdays in March 2010 with the fabrication class led by myself and the photography segment led by Miguel Rosario.

The cameras are unique for pinhole cameras in that they use reloadable film holders based on old large-format cameras. This enables them to be reloaded inside a black bag in the field. The film holders are sized for 4″x5″ film or photo paper. In the class, we used black and white photo paper.

The cameras largely follow Alan Kay’s concept of self-documenting software in that in cutting the files, the instructions are etched into the surfaces for easy assembly. There are also aiming guides etched into the top surface for lining up shots.


Download and cut your own! Pinhole Camera Class Files


Assembly instructions:

Materials: 1/8″ board, hot glue and glue gun, gaffer’s tape, scissors, utility knife.

Download files and laser cut them using your preference of materials. 1/8″ Foamcor, cardboard, plywood or MDF will all work.

Assemble the camera body by laying down base and attaching the front, sides and center divider. Attach the top cover. Hotglue all edges inside and out then seal over with gaffer’s tape or other light-proof material.

Take a small piece of copper, aluminum foil or copper cladding (3M EMI Shielding Tapes 1181) and place over the aperture on the inside front of camera. Tape it in place to guarantee a fit. Take a small needle or bobby pin and carefully poke a hole in the center of the foil.

Attach the back plate, glue and light-proof.

Attach the film holder cover with gaffer’s tape.

Make folding film holders from the two holder components and gaff.

Glue the two pieces of the lens cap together. Add the lens cap to the camera. It can be attached with hook-and-loop, tape or jammed into the aperture. Jamming it in place is not recommended for field cameras as it can damage the foil, but does work for practice assembly.

Insert film into holders, load camera and shoot to your heart’s content.

Orthographic promotional view of camera.
Miguel Rosario’s images, inverted to normal view.
Joshua Gigantino, negative images.
Cut file image, film holders.
Cut file image, camera body.
Laser-cut components in archival foamcor.
Student assembling camera.
Assembly.
Interior view showing gaffer’s tape seals.
Exterior front view.
Interior view without rear plate.
Student assembling a camera.
Student assembling a camera.
Film loading slot closeup.
Various cameras during development.

Overall this project was a real success. The workshop had only two students and two instructors but we all successfully built, shot and printed using these cameras. There is a lot of possibilities for combing these kinds of very old technology with digital fabrication.

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