Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dírkon Photography

Well that explains the name of the PDF file. Say what?

Read on.

We're talking pinhole photography today, something I've never tried. How interesting is this, eh? To hear me drone about things I haven't done? But that's really the nice part of life. Think about things you haven't done, about how you might finally take a whack at them. Hey, not bad. It's always nice to have one more thing to try.

Me, I've done a lot of things in photography since 1972 but have never shot through a pinhole. Yet.

I did reach other dreams. Several years back I finally had enough money to move into medium format and bought a Pentax 67, three lenses, some filters, a closeup lens, and a set of extension tubes. This was a joy, a real joy, something I'd been wanting for two decades.

For any 35mm photographer who never tried a larger format, this is worth it. Was worth it. Before digital. Before film imploded. Before medium format disappeared. Too bad.

The Pentax was big. Cameras are proportional to the cube of the lens. A 50mm lens is "normal" for a 35mm camera system, that's 90mm for a 6x7 system. The 90mm lens has a focal length that is 40mm longer, so the camera has to be deeper front to back, but the film is also larger (almost five times the area), and that accounts for the other two dimensions. Depth, height, width. Bigger, bigger, bigger.

You really have to hold one of these cameras to realize the difference. I've never held a Mamiya RB67, but it's the size of a small bread box. If you see one you'll want to touch it but you'll be a little wary too. These are strange machines.

The Pentax was a little smaller than the Mamiya RB67/RZ67, partly because of its design, like an oversized 35mm camera, but it was still huge. I think the body alone weighed around three pounds. The lenses were scaled up the same way. Huge in lovely elegant and perfect ways. Whenever I switched back to one of my 35mm cameras I could hardly believe their tiny size. Like toys from a cereal box.

OK, I've done that and it was fun, and I was lucky enough to sell off the equipment before the bottom fell out of medium format. The Pentax is gone now I think, at least in this country, though new lenses are still available.

One other dream I sort of fulfilled was view cameras. I bought a Calumet Cadet 4x5 when it came along (the $400 price was right). It wasn't small, it wasn't light, it wasn't elegant, and it wasn't too easy to work with but it was cheap and good enough. Later I bought a couple more lenses and a Toho Shimo to go with them. I used the Calumet a half dozen times and the Toho just once. But I did use them. I lived the dream. Not too bad.

Some day I may get back to the view camera thing. Maybe with a different camera. If I live long enough. The idea of 4x10 panoramics has always appealed. Ten by 20 would be even better, but I doubt that film is in my future. I have nostalgia for large sheets of film that I have never handled and am managing to control it. But. With a well exposed sheet of 4x5 film and proper scanning a person can do a fine panoramic from a 2x5 slice of it. For anyone who still wants to muck with film. And that should be big enough. Maybe I'll sell the Calumet and let the Toho hang around for a while yet.

You know me though. I've just been figured out.

I am the sort of person (a guy) who gets dazzled by technical details, by possibilities, and finds a way into a new wonderland and then eventually loses interest (also a typical guy this way). Guys like the big shiny scary stuff with lots of tail fins. Guys like to show that they can master things, make them jump and arf and roll over on cue. Then they put them into the closet until next weekend, and then it's five years later and the dream never comes back and that thing is still in the closet.

I've pretty well done that with all the cameras I've tried, and the main thing in the end has been to lose interest, with a few good memories left over.

Digital. What has been kind of surprising is not how handy digital cameras are but how much I've done with a pocket digital. That's really become my main camera. Because I can carry it anywhere, and it fits into either a day hike or a two week backpacking trip. Just dandy. No fuss. No film holders. No film.

Some cameras using bigger sensors, interchangeable lenses and carefully placed tripods make "better" images. If you go somewhere with something in mind and set up and fuss and fudge, and do everything right, meter six times, refocus a bunch, you'll get a great image, technically speaking.

If you can't do that, if you're only hiking along with one of those small simple and nearly weightless lumps in your pocket and manage to pull it out and do everything right you'll get an image, and quicker too, even if it is partly by accident. Sometimes you get a great image. Or an OK image. Or worse. But the image you get is always better than the one you don't get, and this is where the pocket digital camera gives me a real goosing. I hadn't quite expected that from digital, and it's been fun. I'm a guy in this respect too. I may worship all the dials and gages and tail fins but I normally take the easy way out at crunch time.

But that one final retro itch has not been scratched yet.

Retro may be the answer. Now that we have 800,000 TV channels to ignore, enough video games to wear every finger down to a nub, and every kind of glitter and flash in each direction twenty-four seven, with branding to and beyond the horizon, now than the terms "human being" and "citizen" have been replaced with "consumer", it's a fine old pleasure to sit down in someone's back yard with a mug of coffee and just talk for a spell. Things like that. Watch the garden grow. Nap.

In photography retro is reverting to the pinhole.

And this is the only major branch of photography that I haven't tried. My dírka never developed, but maybe I found it after all. A few months back. One of those web sites you trip over and file away for later reference.

This one is a choice little place called Pinhole.CZ. CZ as in Czech Republic, owned by David Balihar. He says that once he got into pinhole cameras (dírkové komory in Czech), he sold off his SLR and now dwells almost exclusively among the pinholes. See his gallery for why.

The gallery isn't too big as these things go but it shows the kind of images that pinhole cameras are known for, and Balihar does it well. He has a good eye. You'll see strong vignetting among soft images, some unfamiliar subjects, and familiar subjects made new.

The real treat of Pinhole.CZ is that it also is fulfilling the photographic dream of its owner. "I remembered my own experiments with the pinhole camera conducted in my youth and my unsuccessful attempt to construct the legendary Dirkon Czechoslovak pinhole camera." Ah, the legendary Dirkon Czechoslovak pinhole camera. (The name from dírka -- Czech for pinhole -- plus Nikon.)

But he came back to it. I don't know how he managed to find plans for a paper camera published in a Czechoslovak magazine in 1979, but he did, and has a PDF file available for download. And some sample images from it.

This camera (made of cut and folded paper) takes a standard 35mm cassette and even has a winder. It looks like a real 35mm camera. The images look good. They look clean somehow. Well proportioned. They aren't great even for a pinhole camera, but there is a reason for that. The problem with the images is the "lens" -- the plans call for a hole in the paper side of the camera.

Real pinhole cameras need a true pinhole precisely drilled through metal foil, but you get the idea. He wanted to remain true to the original plans. The camera works, and you can make your own, if you have a dream you haven't fulfilled yet.


David Balihar business site.
Dirkon camera plans (dirkon_en.pdf 414 kB).
Dirkon, the paper camera.
Pinhole.CZ gallery.


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