About: Paul Illsley

DIY Digital Pinhole Camera

DSLR with a DIY pinhole lens cap attached.

Camera body cap with a 1/4 inch hole drilled in the center.

Aluminum foil with the the dull side blackened (with Sharpie marker) and needle.

Camera body cap the pinhole taped over the 1/4 inch hole.

Image of a test chart recorded with my DIY Digital Pinhole Camera.

I was interested in seeing how well a pinhole would work on a small sensor (APS-C) DSLR so I decided to give it a try. All I needed to do was to drill a hole in the spare body cap, darken a piece of aluminum foil with a permanent marker, punch a small hole in it and then tape it to the front of the body cap. It looked like a fun project so I set out to collect the items I needed:
    DSLR camera and spare body cap
    Drill and 1/4 inch (or larger) drill bit
    Aluminum foil
    Black permanent marker
    Electrical tape
    Small pin
    Magnifying glass or loupe (the more powerful the better)
    Ruler with millimeter markings

Making the pinhole:

Cut a few pieces of aluminum foil about 5X5cm (2X2 inches) in size.
Use a black permanent marker to blacken the dull side of one of the pieces of foil.
Place the blackened piece of foil between a couple other pieces of aluminum foil.
Place the stack of aluminum foil strips on a piece of wood.
Take a small needle and gently pierce the aluminum foil stack (rotate the needle as you push).
You don’t need to push all the way through the stack of foil, just push deep enough to get the size hole you want in the blackened piece of foil. This will take some trial and error.
Remove the blackened piece of aluminum foil and inspect the pinhole with a magnifier.
Make the pinhole as round and as smooth as you can, this will help produce the best quality image.
Repeat this process until you have a pinhole the diameter you want (use the calculator below).

After you have a pinhole you like, trim it and tape it to the body cap with the blackened side pointing toward the sensor. Try to place the pinhole in the center of the hole in the body cap. You can drill the body cap hole larger if you find this size causes some vignetting in your image (if you are using a camera with a larger digital sensor).

For your first attempt, don’t worry too much about getting the exact size pinhole but try to get one that is round, smooth and as close to the size you want.

Recording images with the pinhole camera:

Place your camera on a tripod or stable surface.
Set your camera on Manual Exposure mode.
Set your ISO to 100 (this can be changed to any setting you like later).
Set the camera so you can see the histogram when you review the image you just recorded.
Turn on "Live View" if your camera has this feature, you might be able to see an image on the screen which will help you compose your images.
Set the camera’s self timer to delay a few seconds after the shutter is tripped. This will help lessen vibrations.
Record an image with a 2 second exposure (on a bright sunny day).
Review the images and adjust the shutter speed according to the histogram information.
Repeat this process until you are happy with your exposure.
You are now recording digital pinhole images. Have fun!

I used a Canon 90D camera which has an APS-C (22.3 x 14.9mm) sensor. Because this camera has such a small sensor, I was interested to see what kind of image I would be able to create. I measured the distance from the sensor to the pinhole to be 52mm which meant I needed a pinhole with a diameter of 0.26mm (F# 200). This combination of pinhole to sensor distance, and the camera’s small APS-C sensor, created a horizontal field of view of about 24 degrees which is about the same as an 83mm lens on a full frame (35mm equivalent) camera.

Images recorded with DIY digital pinhole cameras tend not to be as sharp as those recorded with larger format film or photographic paper cameras (not that any pinhole images are really that sharp to begin with, that's the beauty of this style of photography) but they are much easier to create and do not require film processing or a special darkroom setup.

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day is the last Sunday in April so give this a try and have fun creating your own unique pinhole images.

Pinhole Diameter Calculator

Enter the distance from the pinhole to the camera's sensor or film (mm)


Your Optimal Pinhole Diameter for DIGITAL or FILM is: mm (F# )
Your Optimal Pinhole Diameter for PAPER is: mm (F# )

Formula: sqrt(Focal_Length X Wavelength) X 1.56

A wavelength value of 0.00055mm (550 nanometers) is used for the DIGITAL or FILM calculation.
A wavelength value of 0.00048mm (480 nanometers) is used for the PAPER calculation because photographic paper is not sensitive to longer wavelengths (550 nanometers and above).
A multiplier value of 1.56 is considered to be an optimal balance for image sharpness and contrast.
The F# is calculated by dividing the distance from the pinhole to the camera's sensor or film by the diameter of the pinhole.

Images recorded with my DIY Digital Pinhole Camera

Covenanter's Church, Grand Pré, Nova Scotia, Canada.
(ISO 100, 1.6 second exposure)

Work at the Trestle statue, Waterfront Park, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.
(ISO 100, 1.6 second exposure)

Manning Memorial Chapel, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.
(ISO 100, 2.5 second exposure)

Grand-Pré National Historic Site, Nova Scotia, Canada.
(ISO 100, 1.6 second exposure)

Ceremonial Mi'kmaq wigwam, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.
(ISO 100, 2.5 second exposure)

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