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.


Holga Pinhole, One January Morning in Royal Oak

I went shooting on the edge of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan on a recent January morning. The temperature has been hovering in the low teens since early December and we finally got a small break in the weather- it went into the high thirties, so it was a good morning to go out and shoot.

I loaded the Holga Pinhole with Ilford FP4 (ISO 125) and headed out to Royal Oak, Michigan, where I grew up. Royal Oak offers some decent photographic opportunities, and I shoot there a lot. Today, I first shot at the train stop then took a couple shots downtown, on Washington near Fourth Street

Holga Pinhole cameras, like all Holgas, are quirky. Here’s mine:

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There are exposure guidelines printed on the back of the camera, but they are just that- crude guidelines. for “Fine Weather” the exposure it 1.5 to 3 seconds, for “Overcast” 4-6 seconds, and for “Morning or Dusk” the exposure is 7 seconds on up. I’ve found in general, around 3 seconds or so works for most situations,except for at night. Anything above four or five seconds, you will need a cable release.

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I use a Manfrotto Backpacker Classic tripod when I go shooting with a pinhole, or most other cameras for that matter. It’s light, but not too light and can easily hold a Holga or other small pinhole camera steady, such as a Zero Image 2000. I have yet to use it with my Mamiya 645E, which is a large, fairly heavy medium format camera. I plan to, and will post a review.

As a side note, I have a Zero Image 2000 Deluxe pinhole camera coming soon and will post a review. I’m really looking forward to getting this camera. It’s on its way from Hong Kong as of this writing.

As far as film goes, I use a slower ISO, typically in the 100-125 range whenever I use a pinhole camera. On bright days using a film like Tri-X at ISO 400 the pinhole may only need to be exposed for less than a second, and it’s almost impossible to manage manually. A slower ISO film gives you more time and control when making exposures.

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The first thing I did at the train stop was to throw my Holga cable release in the garbage. It pops apart at the shutter release without fail, no matter what I use to fix it- tape, glue, spit, you name it. It failed on the first exposure, so enough was enough.

Holgas leak light like crazy, and mine is no exception, as shown in the shot below on the lower left. Sometimes it helps an image, sometimes it doesn’t.

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Again, if you’re careful, for a three second or so exposure you don’t really need a cable release if you steady the camera on your tripod when taking your shot.

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Back home I had a terrible time getting the film on the developing reel, which rarely happens. I tried and tried with my plastic reel then gave up and went to my stainless reel and tank. I accidentally exposed the roll to light for an instant, but that was enough to destroy some of the outer exposures. I’ve since ordered an Omega Universal reel, so I’ll see how that works out and post a review.

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It wasn’t the greatest shooting day, but I did manage to get a few decent shots. The benefit is that I got out and shot with the Holga Pinhole. I’m still learning my Holga’s quirky characteristics, since no two Holgas are alike. I’m starting to really value the Holga, since the pinhole version is no longer made and the price is heading upward quickly. If you find one reasonably priced, grab it. Holga Pinholes are becoming far and few between.