How to Make a Pinhole Lens for Your Digital Camera

Vintage imagery has an intriguing beauty, an escape from modern, super-realistic photos to a time when things were softer. There are many ways to add a filter to your snapshots to make them look unique, but why not do it naturally? Here's a simple way to turn a camera body cap into an authentic pinhole lens!

A pinhole photograph and the lens used to make it.
A pinhole photograph and the lens used to make it. (Image: Rob Hache)

Things You'll Need

  • A camera body cap
  • A tea candle
  • Hot glue gun or contact cement
  • Drill
  • Scissors
  • Needle
  • Sandpaper (200-400 grit)
The things you'll need.
The things you'll need. (Image: Rob Hache)

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Step 1: Remove the Bottom of the Tea Candle

You'll need a piece of aluminum or brass that's just a bit thicker than kitchen aluminum foil. great place to find it is the bottom of a tea candle. Remove the wax cylinder and wick. Use scissors to cut out the aluminum.

Remove the bottom of the Tea Candle
Remove the bottom of the Tea Candle (Image: Rob Hache)

Step 2: Flatten the Aluminum

Rub your fingernail on the aluminum disc to flatten it.

Flatten the aluminum with the back of a fingernail
Flatten the aluminum with the back of a fingernail (Image: Rob Hache)

Step 3: Drill a Hole in the Aluminum

Place the disc on a piece of cardboard or wood and gently press the needle into the center of it, using a spinning motion. Flip the disc and gently sand the bump from the other side. Repeat the drilling from the sanded side, then flip sand the bump from the first side. Repeat as necessary. The goal is to make a smooth circular hole as small as possible. Use a magnifying glass to check your work.

Drill a hole in the aluminum
Drill a hole in the aluminum (Image: Rob Hache)

Tip

  • The smaller the pinhole, the sharper your images will be. The trade-off is that the exposure times will be longer.

Step 4: Drill a Hole in the Body Cap

Drilling a hole in the body cap
Drilling a hole in the body cap (Image: Rob Hache)

Use a 1/4 inch - 1/2 inch drill bit to make a hole in the center of the body cap.

Tip

  • Drilling hole in plastic is a bit different from drilling holes in wood. You can buy a special bit for plastics, but a a normal wood bit will do, just take it slowly .

Step 5: Glue the Lens into the Body Cap

Using either hot glue or contact cement, place the lens into the center of the inside of the body cap. Make sure that it's centered.

Using contact cement to glue the lens into the body cap
Using contact cement to glue the lens into the body cap (Image: Rob Hache)

Tip

  • If using contact cement, put the cement on the body cap and don't let it dry before putting the lens in place. This way you can shift it around a bit to make sure it's centered, then let it dry. Contact cement is amazing stuff but if you follow the traditional "apply to both surfaces and let dry before attaching" instructions, you'll only get one chance at alignment!

Step 6: Take Pictures!

Place the body cap on your digital camera and have a look! The extremely small aperture of the pinhole lens means you'll need to use a long exposure speed, very high ISO, or both. A tripod will help with the long exposure times and the graininess of high ISO fits with the vintage imagery.

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