Retro America with a Zero Image 2000 Pinhole Camera

One small segment of suburban and small town architecture has always appealed to me, and that’s sidewalk ice cream shops or dairy bars. I’m not even sure what they’re called, since they’re mostly referred to as proper nouns.

To me, they represent the lowest common denominator in pop-retro culture, and I mean that in a good way. The tackier and older the structure, the better it looks.

In my mind, there were a few approaches to take, and both were based on medium format film.

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The approach was to use 120 black and white film with a pinhole camera. Since it’s still winter and these places for the must part are shut down until spring, the black and white approach seems more appealing.

These establishments have been around in one form or another since the early 1800s. They’re a summer mainstay in almost every town or suburb in the United States.

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There is something very lonely about these places in winter when they’re shut down for the season. I wanted to capture that.

I took these shots with my Zero Image 2000 Deluxe Pinhole camera. It’s built to last, make of teak and brass.

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To find the correct exposure time, there’s a convenient dial on the back. Use a hand-held light meter

I used Ilford FP4 at ISO 125 and developed it using Iflosol 3 for four and a half minutes. The exposures on the pinhole were about 4-5 seconds. If you have a spot meter, that can be an advantage. Or, you can use spot-metering mode on a DSLR to determine exposure. Use your light meter or DSLR’s meter in the usual fashion by setting the ISO, then the shutter speed. Take a reading.

Look at the rear dial on the pinhole camera. Line up your shutter speed with the aperture value (f-stop is on the rotating dial, exposure on the outer fixed dial). Find 138, which is the fixed focal length of the pinhole camera, and the corresponding exposure time is on the outer dial. For this shoot, the exposure time was four seconds.

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I’ve used Tri-X with the pinhole before, but the exposure time is so short on a sunny day that it’s impossible to get a correct manual exposure. The film is overexposed a tad, and if you push the film during processing, the results are ok but really grainy. Shooting film rated at ISO 125 is a good starting point for pinhole photography, since you can control exposure much more accurately.

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I like the way pinhole images look. The Zero Image 2000 Deluxe Pinhole is becoming one of my favorite medium format film cameras.


Using Neutral Density Filters

Shooting Winter scenes isn’t as easy as it looks, especially on a bright, contrasty day. Exposure usually maxes out at around 1/1000 at f/22. Since the exposures are so short a lot of shadow detail gets lost. One way to combat this is using neutral density, or ND filters.

ND filters block light from entering a lens. This makes longer exposures possible in bright, high contrast lighting situations. ND filters come in different graduations, such as 0.3, 0.6 and so on. Each one reduces the light entering a lens by twice the amount.

This is a point of confusion with ND filters, since there are many designations for them. For example, a clear filter, such as a UV zero, reduces light by zero stops. An ND 0.3 filter lets 1/2 of the light pass, so it reduces the light by one stop. An ND 0.6 filter lets 1/4 of the light to pass, so it reduces the light by two stops. This decimal representation is called an Optical Density Number.

ND filters also have “ND 1” numbers. A 0.3 ND filter is ND 101, a 0.6 filter is ND102, and so on.

If you look at the markings on the outside of an ND filter, the designation is almost always given by its optical density number, or ODN. I use this as a guide to correlate the ODN to the number of reduced f-stops.

I made a small ND filter table available as a downloadable PDF. The table is small enough to print out and take with you on shoots. I printed it, cut it out, laminated it and keep it in my camera bag.


I was shooting on a cold, clear day this February at a park with a lot of snow on the ground. I shot with my Mamiya 645E using Tri-X at IS0 400. I developed the negatives in Ilfosol 3. Normal exposures tended around 1/1000 shutter speed at f/16 or f/22. Shooting at this speed washes out the highlights and shadow detail, which winds up muddying a black and white negative. Here’ s an example:


To get more shadow detail I used a 0.6, 0.9 and 2.1 on this shoot.

Here’s a shot using the 0.6 filter. Much better tonal separation and shadow detail.

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Here’s a shot with the 0.9 filter. The 0.9 seemed to work well on this shoot, brining out more subtle shadow detail.

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Here’s a shot with the 1.2 filter, taking the exposure down 4 stops.


ND filters help on bright days. It takes the exposure down allowing you to capture more shadow detail. I find them especially useful when capturing Winter scenes.