Pinhole photography sort of fits into our remit here at BudgetProPhoto… it’s definitely low cost! I don’t know if or when I would ever use it for professional photography purposes, but I actually think there are things a pro photographer can learn by taking on the challenge.
The Pinhole Pro X, as a pinhole lens, is great. It’s sturdy and reliable. But pinhole photography has huge drawbacks, and this lens has huge drawbacks (see below for my thoughts on SENSOR DUST). It’s a good lens… but pinhole photography is a gimmick, as far as I’m concerned.
The Pinhole Pro X lens itself
I have the lens here in front of me. I’m holding it in my hand, and it feels well-made. It’s machined from aluminum and doesn’t feel cheap. Fortunately it is cheap. I backed the Kickstarter campaign and got my lens for about $70.
The reason they can afford to make the lens this cheap is that there’s really nothing to it. It is the most basic lens you’ll ever find. With the Pinhole Pro X they’ve gone a few steps further than the original Pinhole Pro and added a zoom mechanism. But in essence a pinhole lens is just an attachment for your camera with a tiny hole. It’s not a lens in any traditional description.
There is no glass, no focusing mechanism, no electronic components. There is no communication between this lens in your camera. It’s just a block of solid material with a small hole.
It comes with a back cap and a front cap. And of course this version zooms, so there is a ring which turns. It’s just a threaded mechanism which moves the pinhole further away from the sensor.
So, it’s a very basic lens, but for all that it feels well made.
It’s not full frame
One important thing to note is that the Thingyfy Pinhole Pro X is not fully functional on a full frame 35mm camera.
I purchased the Sony E-mount version, for use with my Sony A7R2. The lens claims to be 18-36mm on a full frame camera. But at 18mm on the A7R2 you can see the edges of the lens. It gives a full, crisp (well, as crisp as a pinhole lens gets) vignette around the image. You have to zoom in to about 24mm before you get a full frame image.
I’ve gone back to the original Kickstarter campaign and it doesn’t mention this anywhere. In fact it claims to give full functionality on a full frame camera. They even give adjusted focal lengths for APS-C sensors, which definitely gives the impression that the originally stated focal lengths will function on a 35mm sensor.
Fortunately the Pinhole Pro X is a zoom lens, so you can zoom in until you get a full frame picture. If it wasn’t a zoom lens then it would be completely worthless and I’d be sending it back.
I am not a pinhole photography aficionado. So I’m not going to compare this pinhole lens with other pinhole lenses, and extol its virtues over others in its class. I’ve never owned a pinhole lens before, this is my first one. This review is from the point of view of someone trying out pinhole photography for the first time.
Pinhole photography is one of those weird throwback activities, like owning a classic car. It is where photography started. It’s the starting point that we have progressed a long way away from.
If we continue that classic car metaphor we start to see the weirdness of pinhole photography. It’s basically like someone re-making a Model T Ford. But instead of putting a modern engine in a Model T replica body, what they’ve done is the oppsite. They’ve given it a modern body, but made sure it has all the problems and drawbacks of a Model T. It’s like building a car that has a Bugatti Veyron body, but goes as slowly and uncomfortably as a Model T.
Why would you do that? Well, now, I really don’t know the answer. It would certainly be a little odd.
What’s bad about pinhole photography
In very brief, pinhole photography is about having a tiny, tiny aperture, and no glass.
As we all know, the wider the aperture, the shorter the depth of field. And we also know that at the highest f stop of any lens, you start to get fuzziness, the result of diffraction through the small hole.
Take those two factors to infinity and you have the results of a pinhole lens. Infinite depth of field, so everything is in focus. And infinite fuzziness, so nothing is in focus.
However, having said all that, the poor quality of the images is actually so bad that it can’t possibly be mistaken for a mistake! It’s definitely a look.
In a world where we strive for visual perfection, pin-sharp photographs and higher and higher resolution… these images are just awful.
My biggest gripe about pinhole photography is that, by its nature, it requires an extraordinary amount of light. Thingyfy, the manufacturers of the Pinhole Pro X, suggest that the aperture equivalent is approximately f150.
Work this out on your fingers and you’ll realize that this lens needs a lot of light. And I mean A LOT. So much light, in fact, that the requisite amount of light doesn’t really exist in real life. Even on a sunny day, with a fairly low shutter speed, you still can’t get your ISO down to 100 if you want to register an image.
I tried using the pinhole pro X with a flash mounted on the camera. Even with the flash at full power, inches from the subject, I was still having to up the ISO to get a properly exposed image.
Pinhole fanatics amongst you will say that sharpness is not the aim of pinhole photography. And therefore upping the ISO isn’t a concern. My complaint is that you can never get a true reflection of what the pinhole lens is creating, because you’re always adding noise to the image by upping the ISO.
But then, that’s pinhole photography!
What’s good about pinhole photography
I only have one thing to say about the results of pinhole photography – it is a unique look. It’s kinda cool. It’s kinda fun. I don’t usually go in for that sort of thing, but occasionally, why not.
However, I have several good things to say about the process of pinhole photography. From a more holistic point of view. Picking up where I left off in the bad points about pinhole photography, some of them can actually be seen as good points.
In a world where we strive for visual perfection, pin-sharp photographs and higher and higher resolution… working with a pinhole lens is refreshing and eye-opening.
The fact that I can’t get that ISO down to 100 means that I am forced to stop worrying about noise. I haven’t stopped worrying about noise since I started work as a professional photographer 20 years ago.
A blind person’s hearing
I kind of see pinhole photography as a way to sharpen your other photographic senses. If you take away the need for focusing, and remove the goal of a sharp image… What are you left with?
Just as they say a blind person’s hearing is more acute than someone without a visual impairment, so removing sharpness as a factor in your photography can focus (pardon the pun) your mind on other elements.
If you are not spending your time striving for a lower and lower ISO, and you’re not spending your time contemplating sharpness and depth of field. You’re left to concentrate on the other things that make a photo good.
What are we left with? Pretty much just composition. And lighting to a certain extent, although we already covered that it doesn’t matter where the light is coming from, you will be mostly concentrating on finding enough of it. But lighting and composition are the only things you can mess with. And when your hands are tied in that way, you start to see your images a little differently.
First pass image selection
My standard process for doing a first pass on images after a photo shoot is to remove shots which are out of focus, poorly lit, or where the subject’s eyes or pose are not what I set out to achieve.
With pinhole photography, all the images are equally out of focus. And they’re mostly poorly lit. So, what do I now judge images on in my first pass?
The first pass came down almost entirely to composition and content. Even images which are massively under-exposed are back in contention. So long as, with a quick tinker with the exposure slider, they are recoverable, I’ll consider them.
The camera is piling in so much noise and grain right from the start, that the process of adding 2 to 4 stops of exposure in post suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
Long exposure photography
One thing I did quite enjoy was being forced to use long exposures to get enough light into the camera. I combined exposures of a second or more, whilst taking images of my family, to get some interesting effect.
I took it a step further and added in a flash, achieving interesting results. And also learning a fair bit about how my flash works with a long exposure.
I may sound like an idiot here… but I didn’t fully appreciate how the length of exposure when using a flash, makes no difference at all. The flash power is only linked to ISO and aperture which, thinking about it, probably makes sense.
You set your aperture and ISO to work side-by-side with your flash power, and that gives you the bulk of your exposure. The remaining time left on the exposure, with your f150 aperture, then just gives you interesting ghosting and freaky trails.
Another good learning experience for me, and some fun images from it too! For some more learning experiences for aspiring pro photographers check out these articles:
Pinhole photography – good training
For all its drawbacks, I have found using the Pinhole Pro X a fantastic learning experience. I can’t see myself ever using this lens for any commercial work, or in a professional capacity. But it has been fun to use taking photographs of my family. And that unique pinhole look does mean that I might consider some of the black-and-white images for displaying around my home.
Using the lens has been an enjoyable test of my photographic judgement. It has been a less enjoyable test of my photographic hardware.
Which takes me on to the worst thing about this lens, and probably all pinhole lenses.
As you’ll see from the photos, and from the descriptions, the Pinhole Pro X has no glass elements at all.
This, at first, seems like a wonderfully simple set up, and it’s quite reassuring to know that it’s not essential to have 22 aspherical, machine-milled elements in any attachment you add to your camera.
However, what those horribly expensive glass elements do, apart from bending light into a sharp, recognisable image… is add a layer of protection between your sensor and the outside world.
Dust. It clogs up your sensor. It makes its way into your camera and may never find its way out again.
Take a look at the image below…
This is the work I had to do in Lightroom on this photograph of my daughter to remove all the dust from the sensor. Now, bear in mind this was perhaps only the third or fourth image I captured using the Pinhole Pro X. So it hadn’t had much time to draw in all the dust in my household and funnel it directly onto my sensor.
You see, the Pinhole Pro X is basically just that – a funnel. And that funnel leads to your cameras sensor. It funnels light. But it also funnels dust. And it would seem that the amount of dust it funnels is inversely proportional to the amount of light it funnels. You get almost no light, but an absolute boatload of dust. Believe me.
This is a bit of a weird one. Essentially, because of the minuscule size of the aperture, whenever you allow the Sun to come into vision you get quite extraordinary refraction through the pinhole iris. Take a look at the image below.
Weird isn’t it?
Now, I’ve read elsewhere that some people quite like this, but I find that pretty surprising. Once again, it is quite unique. But it’s also a pile of shit. There is no image here as far as I’m concerned. All there is is a slightly freaky refraction of light which you could have achieved simply by never, ever, ever cleaning your lens. Or perhaps by spraying oil on your lens. Or photographing into the sun during a thunderstorm.
Essentially what I’m saying is that this “unique” look can be achieved by screwing up in a number of ways.
That, for me, is where I lose my connection with pinhole photography fans. Achieving a look is one thing, but if that look is considered by all other photographers to be the look of a mistake, then I’m a bit confused as to why you try so hard to achieve it.
So there we have it, those are my thoughts on the Thingyfy Pinhole Pro X. In brief, my findings were…
- It’s a good lens, well made.
- It’s kinda fun.
- The unique look is interesting.
- I don’t understand how people can get so excited about pinhole photography.
- I will never use this in a professional capacity.
- I really don’t want all this dust on my sensor.
- But for a lens it’s super cheap, so you can’t really get it too wrong.
Go grab one if you want one! Let us know how you get on!
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