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.


Shooting with the Zero Image 2000 Deluxe Pinhole Camera

I bought a Zero Image 2000 Deluxe pinhole camera and it came last week. The first thing I did was load it with 120 Tri-X and went to Belle Isle in Detroit to shoot.

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Belle Isle is an island off of downtown Detroit and it’s a cultural gem. Two structures I wanted to shoot were the casino and the conservatory. The casino was never really a casino per se. It opened in 1908 and was used for events, dances, and meetings.

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The 2000 Deluxe is an easy camera to use. It’s made of teak and the mechanical parts are brass, so it’s unlikely it will ever wear out if I take care of it. The 2000 Deluxe is a good camera to hand down one day. It’s a little tricking loading the film but it’s something I’ll get use to over time. To use it, there’s an exposure dial on the back. Just set your light meter as you normally do and take a reading in incident or reflective mode. The 2000 Deluxe is set at f/138, so just look at the inner dial where 138 appears and read the corresponding exposure time to the mark on the outer dial. Put a little mark next to 138 to easily find it, since the print is very small and hard to read if your eyes aren’t perfect.

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The Zero Image 2000 Deluxe takes 120 film.

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The difference between the 2000 Deluxe and base 2000 model is the cable release mechanism and the bubble level on top of the camera.

I like using a cable release so I opted for the Deluxe version. On the baseline 2000 you just use your finger to open the shutter and close it. The transition is smooth, so it shouldn’t jar the camera sitting on a tripod if you buy the baseline model. I’ve only used the bubble level on one or two shots.

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Film wise, the day was very bright and clear for January when I went shooting. I normally use Ilford FP4 at ISO 125 for pinhole photography, but I already had a roll of Tri-X in the camera and didn’t want to waste it.

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One of the cool features of a pinhole camera is the nearly infinite depth of field. For pinhole composition, it’s always to have an object in the foreground to offset the background. With all objects relatively in focus, the effect looks good.


Belle Isle was owned and operated by the city of Detroit for many, many years. A few years ago the State of Michigan took it over and it’s been going through renovations right and left.

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Visiting Belle is like stepping back in time when Detroit was the mechanical Silicon Valley in the early 1900s. Tons of great photo opportunities here.

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Bottom line, do I like the Zero Image 2000 Deluxe pinhole camera? Yes I do, and I plan to . My other pinholes are Holgas, so this is a big, make it my main pinhole camera.

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For a video of Belle Isle and the Zero Image 2000 Deluxe pinhole camera and how to use it, check out the YouTube video here: Belle Isle Pinhole Shoot