Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Polaroid Instant Camera...Let's Make!

I have bags of camera parts just sitting and waiting to be used. Most will remain parts, lonely and apart from useful photographic tools. Some, though, join together and make a new man...Filmy Camerason.
What the heck am I going on about? No idea. Actually, I was just bored and made a very simple camera. And I am going to share it with all of you to show that you can also make a simple camera! Wheee! And to make it even more special, we are making a Polaroid camera. Wheee again!
Okay, anyway, all you need are some spare parts. Not just any spare parts, of course. You can't make a camera from a dried up marker and banana peels. Well, actually you probably could, but I'm not doing that. What I have is a broken Polaroid back (though it still works fine), and a Diana lens that I cut off a camera some time ago. And a cardboard box and tape. Plus some rulers type things and something to cut stuff with, scissors and Exacto to be exact. If you want a "working camera", it is important that your lens has a shutter and some way to fire the shutter. If not, you will just have an open lens and no way to control exposure.

The basic idea here is to make a camera body from the cardboard box, tape it to the Polaroid back, and tape the lens on the front. Simple!
First we need to figure out the focal length of our camera. the Diana lens has to be a certain distance from our film plane to be in focus. Easiest way to do this is the measure that distance on a Diana camera.

We then measure and cut out the sides of our camera. The height should be the same as what we measured on our original Diana.

The lengths should be measured using the slots in the Polaroid back.

For those who are not math geniuses, you will need four pieces, one for each side. Tape these together and you have the beginning of your camera body. Use black electrical tape because you want your camera to be light proof.

The next step is to make the front of your camera body. Because cardboard is so thick, you want the front to inset into your camera body or you will be adding an extra 1/8 of an inch or so to your focal length, which might screw with your camera's focus. The easiest way to do this is to set your walls onto a piece of cardboard and mark the interior dimensions, then just cut it out!

Before we tape the body together, we need to cut out a hole in the front for the lens. It won't be centered on the cardboard, because the body actually extends farther on one side sue to the shape of the Polaroid back (as seen above). So Just do a bit of measuring, or just guess bases on setting the lens where you think it should be if you feel lucky. The hole should be smaller than the diameter of the lens barrel, but larger than the aperture.

After this, we can tape out lens to the cardboard. I found that taping underneath was plenty to hold the lens and seal it from light.

Now we just need to tape it all together. Pay special attention to corners, and I taped the box to the Polaroid back on the inside. Check for light leaks with a flashlight in a dark room. They will show up as points of light. You need to be sure to seal all leaks before putting film in your camera.

So there you are! An ugly, but usable camera! No viewfinder, but just aim in the general direction that you want to shoot. Let's take it out for a spin...

Yikes! That kind of sucks! Looks like S. H. I. T. Hmmm...that doesn't seem to have the same effect as spelling it out loud. But I knew they would turn out like this. The Diana shoots a 4x4cm photo on a negative, which is pretty darn small. It wasn't designed to cover the area of a Polaroid. This is the same thing that happens with those Holgaroid backs. If you cropped the image down to its presentable size, you might get something like this.

So, okay, I don't really like the results. What else can I do with this? How do I get a full frame on my homemade camera? Simple answer? Pinhole. I've done this before. And before. And again. But this is even a more basic pinhole camera that anyone can make. So we take that lens off, grab some aluminum foil and tape it over the hole in our camera.

Grab a pin and poke a hole in the foil...hence the name "pinhole".

It's really not as big as this macro shot makes it look. It is about the diameter of a needle. And, yes, it's all ragged. The pinhole size and how clean the edges are has a direct effect on your image...how sharp it is, how long to expose, etc. As well, the focal length (how far your pinhole is away from the film surface) effects the image as well. The closer you are to the film plane, the wider the image, or the "more you see". The wider pinholes tend to have a tunnel effect with things stretching out towards the edges of the shot. If you make a pinhole and skip the lens part, you can just pick a random height for your cardboard body.
So my pinhole is big, ragged, and close to the film. Who cares? It's still cool because I made it, and yours will be as well. But not as cool as mine.
Anyway, for a shutter, I just use a piece of black tape and fold over the end. You just need to peel back to expose the hole and then recover.

For Polaroid film in full sun with an average needle pinhole, you will probably need to expose for no more than one second. Basically peel back and then cover...not quickly but don't take your time. You can adjust depending on results. Inside your exposures can be as long as 10-30 minutes. And you rarely get it right on your first or second shot. It's certainly an easy way to waste a $10+ pack of Polaroid film! So let's see how mine does...dog shot!

Your image is also dependent on motion. If your subject is moving, it will show in that short exposure time, which is quite long compared to a mechanical shutter exposure. Also think about your hands. It is difficult to hold the camera, and then peel and replace your tape shutter without any kind of camera shake, even trying to brace it on a table or the ground. I've used a tripod in the past with decent results. There are ways, but this is just a screw-around pinhole camera for fun, so let's not take it too seriously.
Pinholes are also good for self portraits! You can try lots of things, like hiding it in the grass, aiming towards the sun or whatnot. And you can get as close to your pinhole as you want! The closer, the better, as long as you have light on your subject (my face). Shot with Fuji FP-100C and expired Type 108.

I'm not a huge pinhole fan, but they can be fun at times. Good project if you have kids. If you don't have a Polaroid back, you can make a pinhole camera out of just about anything. Take the lens off of any film camera and put some foil on the front, poke a hole in it and you have a pinhole camera. If the camera has "B" setting, you can actually use that as your exposure method. If not, just rip out the shutter and use tape! I also used to make pinhole cameras from large boxes and put photo paper inside and exposed them outside for 30 minutes or so. Lots of options, and there are plenty of pinhole resources out there, most more serious than my silly camera. Some involve lots of math...which doesn't sound like much fun. Anyway, enjoy making stuff!
Until I think of something else to write about!


  1. Really great post! I have a Polaroid back. Hmmmm? Thanks for sharing :)

  2. yes, very cool! Thanks for posting. Was the polaroid back off of a polaroid camera, or a back that was made to put onto the back of a camera (if that makes sense)? I've got lots of old polaroids I turned into pinhole cameras, but I used the body of the polaroid & just took off the lens & added a pinhole.

  3. Clever! My brain refuses to believe that pinhole photography is even possible, let alone Polaroids, but this is very convincing.

  4. Geez I love your blog, I need to try pin-hole with polaroid! It is something I have always wanted to do, I just haven't had the budget and hold every polaroid so precious in that respect! Thanks for the great posts! Zoë x

  5. you're a mad scientist and without you doing what you do the world would be the same which isn't bad but it's better when you're in it and making it different

  6. Anonymous11:18 AM

    Have you found out if making the inside of your camera black (instead of just leaving it natural cardboard) has any affect on the colors produced by the polaroid film? Or affect on image quality?

  7. no but i haven't tried. not sure if reflection is really an issue with the exposure time. 669 and id-uv seems to always be blue with pinholes...

  8. for a instant camera..what is the basic component to build it