Have you ever wondered how you might give a nostalgic, ethereal or dream look to your video or photography? You can with a pinhole lens. There are no special effects or in camera digital processing like sepia, solarize, black and white or menus to fuss with, just an old-fashioned, time-tested technique. Here is a modern rendition you can use with your video camera or DSLR with amazing results.
Interested in giving some video footage and still pictures a nostalgic look for an upcoming documentary, After the Sweat Dries, I purchased a pinhole lens from Lenox Laser. After viewing their website, the pinhole lens that I was interested in was a high contrast type. The pinhole lens itself looks like a DSLR lens cap with a round insert in the middle about the size of a nickel and containing the pinhole. The pinhole portion is metal with a tiny hole drilled by laser.
The idea of using a pinhole to gather light and project an image is not new. In the 5th century BC, a Mohist philosopher in ancient China, Mozi, mentioned the effect of an inverted image forming through a pinhole (Needham). The image of an inverted Chinese pagoda is mentioned in Duan Chengshi's (d. 863) book, Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang, written during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) (Needham, Science and Civilization in China: Physics and Physical Technology, Part 1 , Physics). In 1850, a Scottish scientist named of Sir David Brewster took the first photograph with a pinhole camera.
Using a pinhole lenses became more established in photography during the late 19th century. It was noted for the softlines it produced, as opposed to the sharp images that glass lenses did. Occasionally, the pinhole camera was abandoned, and it was not until the end of the 1960s that several artists began experimenting with it, reawakening interest in this simple photographic apparatus.
The main difference between using a pinhole lens and a lens with an adjustable aperture (f2-16) is that the pinhole lens has a preset aperture depending on the size lens you choose. For example a 10mm pinhole lens has an f-stop value of f67 and a 500mm pinhole lens would have an f-stop value of f500. So, most likely, with a DSLR or video camera, you would not be able to get a good exposure indoors. The formula for determining f-stop would be f = fl / d. f = aperture â € ¨fl = focal length (distance from pinhole to film) â € ¨ = pinhole diameter.
After my purchase of the 24mm pinhole lens from Lenox Laser, I went to Jamaica, Queens, to shoot some still images and video. The stills consist of a school and a fire alarm pull box. I did various tests between 2500 & 4000 ISO, with the best results achieved at 2500 ISO at a shutter speed 1/5 to 1/3 of a second. Results will vary depending on how sensitive the sensor in your DSLR or video camera is. I shot with a Panasonic GH2. This camera was the best choice to shoot both video and stills.
Unlike most DSLR's, the GH2 can shoot stills in 16×9 matching the screen size of High Definition video without any zooming in or cropping in post-production. The only exception is the new Canon 7D, which will shoot digital stills at 16.8MP: 5472 x 3072 @ 16: 9 as well as excellent video. Another advantage other than time and money saved in post-production, you can get proper 16×9 framing for your image in camera. Any Canon, Nikon or Sony mount video camera, such as the Red, Canon C100, C300, Black Magic Cinema Camera, Sony FS100 or FS700, will accept a pinhole lens.
The imagery from the pinhole lens looks like old 8mm film. If you examine the stills you can see some of the characteristics that give the image a nostalgic feel. The first characteristic is the soft rendering of the image. Because a pinhole lens does not have any glass elements of a modern lens, the image is not going to be razor-sharp. The second is the organic look to the image. There is a grainy texture that resembles film grain. Unlike adding digital noise at higher ISOs to an image while shooting with a glass lens, the grain texture looks as if the image was rendered with the traditional silver halide process of film. Lastly, the high contrast look, reminiscent of Kodak technical pan film 2415 and high contrast positive film II 5363/7363, gives a filmic representation in a digital form.
I was very pleased with the results the pinhole lens rendered. The lens gives stills images and video a film representation without any post-production processing and minimal effort, other than your own talent. The 8mm film look can give your work a visually compelling esthetic rarely seen in today's digital world. If you are an enthusiast or a professional looking for an organic, nostalgic feel to your photography or video, adding a few pinhole lenses to your kit could add something that differentiates your work from the rest.