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Holga Microclicks

I’ve been wanting to try microclicks for a long time and I finally got around to doing it earlier this year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this technique, microclicks is a way of making an overlapping panoramic shot in a Holga or Diana. You aim the camera at your subject, take a picture and instead of winding to the next frame you just wind it 3 or 4 clicks and take another shot. Make sure you turn about 20 degrees every few shots and eventually you’ll have a dreamy panoramic picture that spans the width of 2 to 3 frames of medium format film or, if you choose, you can make the entire roll into one large panoramic photo.

For this roll I used my Holga with Ilford’s Super XP2, iso 400 and a yellow filter. If you’re doing this in sunny situations, a filter will be necessary to counteract any overexposure. As you can see in this first shot, taken at the Philly Art Museum, the yellow filter didn’t really help. I was trying to take a shot of the outside of the building from the Rocky Steps.

Oh well. Here are a couple more photos from that day.

Long exposure of a window in the museum’s cafe


 I did make some successful microclicks when I took my Holga and yellow filter to the beach.

I’m very happy with these results! I got these by aiming, clicking, advancing the film 4 clicks and turning slightly after each advancement of the film. Next time, I’ll only advance the film 2 or 3 clicks and make a slight turn every 3 or 4 shots. It’s a really fun technique.

Here are two non-microclick pictures from our beach day. The yellow filter really makes for wonderful contrast in these pictures. I’m going to have to start using it more often.


How to Dress Up a Brownie for the Holidays

Purchasing vintage cameras requires a certain leap of faith and sometimes instead of landing on your feet, your fall flat on your ass. Take my Brownie Junior Six-20. I spotted it in an antiques shop and thought it was a bit overpriced at eight bucks, but I got it anyways (turns out that’s about list price but I digress).

After figuring out how to get the damn thing open I shot a roll of film (which I haven’t developed yet). When I tried to get the camera open to retrieve the film, it was jammed. The back just would NOT come off. Disgusted, I set it on a shelf until this afternoon. I decided to pry it open using two small screwdrivers and discovered that the full take up reel had problems fitting (even though I used 620 film and spools). That, coupled with the monumental effort it took just to open and close the camera rendered it inefficient to use as a picture-taking camera. It’s destiny was to forever sit on some decorative shelves until, I had a lightbulb moment.

I’ve had the idea of making a light out of a camera since I saw one a few months ago. I knew it would be pretty simple and it truly is. Here’s how I did it. You need a camera in which the aperture can remain open and a light source. In this case it’s my old piece-of-crap Brownie and a little reading light that I got from the dollar store.

To keep the Brownie’s aperture open you simply need to pull out the little lever on the side (look below the red crayon) then push the exposure lever down.

Then, position the light so that it aims directly through the open lens. You may need to stuff some paper or other soft filler behind the light so that it doesn’t move out of place.

That’s it!

It’s not very bright as you can see, but it’s much more interesting looking than your standard silver and black model flashlight.

I’m really glad I was able to give a new life to this old beauty. It may have fallen pretty flat as a camera but it lights up my nights as a light and my kids are having a blast with it. Plus, I think it might look quite nice dressed up in some festive decor and placed on my mantlepiece or even on my Christmas tree!

How Does a Vintage Photo Booth Work?

The boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach is home to not one but TWO vintage old-school photo booths. In an arcade very close to Playland you’ll find them side-by-side near the change machine. One is for black and white and the other is for color pictures and I’m happy to say they get lots of use, especially in the summer.

A couple of weeks ago, while walking by the arcade I noticed the color machine was out of service and the guts of it were completely exposed. I only had my iPhone with me and got some not-so-great pictures of the inside.

Pretty cool, huh? I started thinking about how the old school photo booth actually works and after searching the Internet I found a very detailed description at the website for Classic Photo Booth, a company that rents digital and classic photo booths for parties and weddings. When the front panel of the machine is removed you will see a little mini darkroom (if you’ve ever used an old photo booth you probably already knew that to be the case as your pictures usually come out still damp and reeking of darkroom chemicals). This is a really nice picture from the Classic Photo Booth page:

The film sits near the top of the machine on a large roll. After capturing your crazy expressions, the film travels down the Spider and is developed.  I assume it is in here that the image is printed onto the paper because once it leaves the Spider your photo travels through a series of dunk tanks (nine to be exact).

First, your photo hits the green tanks, which contain developer. After a quick rinse in water (the white tanks) it travels to the red tank, which holds bleach. Another quick rinse with water and then it’s on to the yellow tanks for a dip in fixer. Finally, in the last white tank labeled ‘9’ you’ll find toner. That’s the final stop before the picture hits your hot little hands. In the Classic Photo Booth picture, you’ll notice a white hair dryer on the lower left part of the picture, near the green tank, which dries the paper for ten seconds before it pops out. I’m not sure if that’s part of all photo booths, but judging from the amount of time it takes for my pictures to dry completely, I don’t think it’s a part of my local photo booth’s inner workings.

It’s amazing that someone came up with this contraption at all and even MORE amazing that they don’t fall apart with more regularity. This is the first time I can remember seeing either of the two photo booths in my area out of service.  I really hope the next time someone throws a great, big party for a monumental birthday (like mine, coming up next year on 12-12-12) there will be a classic photo booth there to capture all the memories!

Macro Photography, Diopters and Math

I think I’m living in the movie Groundhog Day everytime I look out the window today. The raging snowstorm outside is reminding me WAAAAY too much of February’s Snowpocalypse. While the forecast is calling for only 12 inches of snow (ha!) I’ve decided to get productive today and research a subject I’ve wanted to know a little more about: Close-Up Diopters.

The world of macro photography is one of my favorites to visit. I personally like to get as close to I can to make my subject look alien. I have a couple of diopters, a +4 and a +10 (which is the diopter of choice). How do they assign a number to a diopter and what does it mean? I found a great page on Michigan Tech’s website, of all places, that easily explains some of the mathematical concepts I’m about to present so if you want even more in-depth information check it out (http://www.cs.mtu.edu/~shene/DigiCam/User-Guide/A95/Close-Up/Close-Up-Lenses.html).

“Most close-up lenses are marked with a +d number in diopter unit, the power of the lens. The diopter (or power) of a lens is defined as 1000/f, where f is the focal length of the lens measured in mm. Thus, a lens of 50mm has a diopter of +20 = 1000/50, and a +4 diopter close-up lens has a focal length of 250mm = 1000/4. A close-up lens with larger diopter value has higher magnification.”

In the Holga, the native lens is f=60mm which means it’s focal length is 60mm (NOT to be confused with the MINIMUM focal length, which is something entirely different). The diopter of this lens = 1000/60 or 16.6 or, if you round-up, +17.

I often get asked how I use my diopters, especially in focus-free cameras. It is a tricky business, for sure and requires a bit of trial and error. The most important thing you need to know is how close you need to get to the subject, but how the hell do you figure that out? First off, you need the minimum focal distance which will tell you how close to your subject you can stand and still take a shot that is in focus. In a Holga, that would be 2.95 feet/89.95 cm. So the closest you can get to your subject with an unmodified Holga is about 3 feet. By the way, I found this out by looking it up on the web. Most cameras have this number listed in the Specs part of the camera’s manual.

My favorite tool, the +10 diopter, has a power that would equal 1000 divided by 10, or 100mm. This means your working focal distance or the distance between your lens and subject is 10 cm (100mm) or, for those of us who aren’t using the metric system, 3.937 inches.

This all means that when you use a +10 diopter on a Holga, you should be 10cm/3.97 inches from your subject in order to get it in focus. You’ll have to learn where your diopter’s sweet spot is and that will occur through trial and error. The stronger your diopter (the larger the “+number”) the smaller the area of focus and the greater the amount of bokeh you will get in your shots. At least, that’s the experience I’ve had with my plastic diopters.

Here’s a little chart that sums it up quite nicely. I can’t take credit for this. I got it from a Flickr group about 3 years ago. The person who posted it has been deleted but still, thank you to holga_pics for doing the calculations.

Don’t forget to set your Holga to infinity (the mountain symbol) when using a diopter:

Diopter Power              Working Focal Distance

+1                                      100 cm or  3′ 3″ (39.37″)

+2                                        50 cm   or  1′ 6 ” (19.5″)

+3                                     33.3 cm or  1′ 11″ (13″)

+4                                        25 cm or 9.84″

+5                                       20 cm or 7.87″

+10                                     10cm  0r 3.97″

I know what you’re (or at least, what those of you who are into geekery, like myself) are thinking. What formula is used to calculate these numbers? This statement from http://home.sprintmail.com/~awiner/diopters.html sums up the formula quite nicely.

“…the diopter power implies the focus distance. Take 100 cm and divide by the diopter. That’s the focus distance with the diopter. So, a +5 diopter wants to focus within 20 cm. A +2 diopter wants to focus within 50 cm. So, higher power diopter implies more magnification – if you can get that close.”

You’re really just dividing 100 into the diopter power number (+2, +3, etc). That’s it! Who knew it was that simple? Certainly not this math phobic girl.

For consistent results and quicker shooting in the field, make yourself a ruler or marker that will help you position yourself the correct distance from your subject. I use some old cardboard and carry it with me whenever I do macro work.

I hope this little exercise has been useful. If you’re still reading this, I think you get a medal.


Thanks for staying with me on my mathematical journey because knowing these concepts will allow you to use any diopter on any lens and get decent results.

Happy Macro-ing!

Zenit E Film Rewind

I’ve broken one camera and countless rolls of film trying to figure out how to rewind my 35mm in my Zenit E.

Tonight, I finally figured out how to do it without destroying anything.

I thought I’d share my accomplishment and post it in a YouTube video. That laughter in the background? My oldest daughter, Phoebe.

Macro Lubitel

So, I’m really excited because my macro Lubitel experiment seemed to work really well!

I was thinking the other day that there’s got to be an easier way than just guessing the distance, like you do with macro Holga. I thought, if I set the focus to infinity and then put the diopter up to the viewing lens I should be able to move in & out on my subject until I find a spot that is in focus. After finding the spot of focus comes the tricky part: moving the camera a few inches up to get the picture-taking lens on the subject while simultaneously holding the diopter up to that same lens.

I loaded up my freshly-calibrated Lubitel (more on the calibration in another post) with slide film and headed to the playground with Elias. Then it was off to the Rehoboth Block Party on September 23 with some Rollei 100 film. I developed those last night and much to my surprise, macro Lubitel took hold! This is a shot of a bottle that my friends Amy and Barbara make and sell. They etch the glass then insert a string of holiday lights inside. They’re beautiful.

I’ve found that there is very little room for error when using the +10 diopter. I’ll do some experimenting with my +3 diopter and see if there’s a little more play in the focusing spot, which would come in handy when taking pictures in an unpredictable environment, like outside at this street party. By the way, I had quite a few people ask me about my Lubitel. It’s so fun to explain to people that it is indeed a real camera and takes wonderful pictures.

Thrift Store Panoramic Pinhole

I’ve gotten lots of inquiries about my pinhole camera, so here’s the story. I really wanted to make one and first checked out the Corbis website for their DIY pinhole instructions. While beautiful looking, I soon discovered that the published dimensions are not big enough. Apparently you have to enlarge the diagrams in Photoshop in order to get them large enough to hold a canister of 35mm film. A pinhole cam was already going to be a lot of work so I quickly abandoned that idea.

Next I decided to do a random search of pinhole cams on Google and was amazed at what I found. People will make pinholes out of anything! How cool! I saw cams made from Legos, matchboxes, shoeboxes, round metal tins and even one made from a 110 film canister. The coolest (and most do-able) was a gallon paint can pinhole, sold on Freestyle (there’s also a quart-sized version). I figured I could make it myself for about $5. Then I thought about film and developing sheet negatives and decided I didn’t want to invest in the developing equipment when I might not be using this camera more than a few times.

I really wanted to make a pinhole but was intimidated by a) making a container light-proof with yards of black electrical tape and b) figuring out how to advance the film easily. Enter the thrift store pinhole cam. In short, you take a junker camera with fixed focus, preferably no flash, remove the lens and pop a pinhole in it’s place. Genius! You don’t have to light-proof anything! I soon found out it was much harder than I anticipated. Rather than re-invent the wheel go to silverbased.org for fantastic directions that even I could follow. In theory, you have a camera in which your lens cover is the shutter and the fim advance still works by clicking the shutter button (which has been rendered obsolete except for triggering the film advance) and advancing the film. Their link is very detailed and has pictures for each step of the operation (and it is an operation in every sense of the word). There’s even a great section on how to fashion the proper pinhole and how to figure out it’s diameter, a crucial element in ensuring proper exposure.

Here are a few handy tips to keep in mind when fashioning your thrift store cam. When you go to purchase your camera be sure to get one with a lens cover that can function as your shutter. While not crucial it makes life a lot easier and you won’t have to worry as much about light leaking in. In my case, I couldn’t get the lens cover back in working order once I went to reassemble everything so I use a piece of black velcro for my shutter and it works really well with no noticeable light leakage. Also when choosing your camera make sure the lens isn’t sunk way into the body. If you can get a camera with a lens that’s almost flush with the body you won’t have to worry about the sides of your camera sneaking into the picture. Since pinholes tend to be wide-angle lenses, this is something important to consider. As silverbased.org suggests, make sure it’s the variety of camera that is made in China as these types are all put together very similarly. It’ll make following their directions a lot easier. One more thing when purchasing the camera, take a good look inside and make sure it’s one you can easily dismantle: Check that the screws in back of the inside of the camera are easily accessible and also check that you can remove the film rewind knob with a simple twist of the screwdriver. I purchased two cams the day I went and one of them did not have a screw to hold in the film rewinder–it was fused into place–so I ended up with a camera I couldn’t vandalize. It was also virtually impossible to remove the back of that same camera once I got inside the film compartment as there were screws on only one side of the back.

Now that you have your pinhole cam make sure you have a few other tools, namely a screwdriver kit that contains an array of small-diameters such as 1.4mm, 2mm, 2.4mm, etc. (sometimes known as jeweler’s screwdrivers), soda can, metal cutters (for the thin metal wall of the soda can), gloves if you’re clumsy like I am so you don’t slice your hands while working with the metal, sewing needle, exacto knife, fine-grained sandpaper and a good bonding agent, such as model glue or a hot glue gun. It doesn’t hurt to have the black electrical tape handy, either. These are your tools.

While dismantling your camera, unless you’re super-mechanically inclined, it might not be a bad idea to take shots with a digital camera so that you can recall exactly where everything goes once you need to reassemble. When I removed the back of my camera some parts fell out and I had no idea where they went upon reassembly. I also ended up with about 3 ‘extra parts’. I even had my very mechanical husband take a look and he couldn’t figure out where those parts went, either. This is how I ended up with a velcro shutter.

Now, why and how did I make a panoramic pinhole you may ask? Simple. I bought a panoramic thrift store cam to gut because it fit all the above criteria. Imagine my shock when I developed the film and it was panoramic! I posted this question on the toycamera.com forum and found that there is probably some kind of mask internally that causes the pinhole effect. It was a plesant little surprise. Another question I get is how do you get your pinhole pictures so sharply focused? First you have to make a precise and clean pinhole. Follow silverbased.org’s instructions closely when fashioning your pinhole. When it is a very clean hole (no ragged edges, no dust, uniformly round) the light doesn’t have a chance to bend around the extraneous particles, therefore you get a very clean image. Another tip? Get really close to your subjects. Your pinhole could be your new macro camera! By far the best shots I’ve gotten with my pinhole were the ones in which I was a few inches from my subject.

I’ve only shot one roll of film through it so far but I’m having a great time with my thrift store pinhole. Next I think I’ll tackle a completely homemade model. If you have any questions, comments or tips, drop me a line!

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