I am not in the camera review business. I use cameras. But I do not review them. There are so many reviewers and influencers out there, that it does not need another one. But here is an exception because this is a camera review. And I made the exception to review a camera that is probably not so well known and that you do not see often mentioned. That might be because there is only a small community of pinhole camera users. So now, this is about a pinhole camera I like a lot. And since I am coming back into doing pinhole images again I thought, why not write something about the cameras I use.
Zero Image? What is it? Zero Image Co. is a small Hong Kong based company doing hand crafted pinhole cameras. In fact, it is a one man shop doing what he does with a lot of dedication. And that does not only apply to the cameras he builds, it also appies to everything else around it, from a lovely done users manual, to the packaging – just everything.
Although this is about the Zero Image 612D, I do own other cameras from Zero Image. It all started with the little gem called Zero 2000, a medium format camera like the 612D but with fixed format of 6×6. Then I got a Zero Image 75D which is a multi-format 4×5 inch camera. That means the 612D is my third camera from Zero Image. But for me it is the most practical, especially since I do no longer run a darkroom which makes loading 4×5 cassettes and processing 4×5 sheet film a lot more cumbersome. And the 612D compared to the Zero2000 is just more flexible.
What’s in the box
As you can see on the left, the camera comes in a nice package, including a manual, a kind of viewfinder for the different formats and a certificate of ownership. More about using the viewfinder later as I use another way to find my view. My model is the 612D which – compared the the basic model – comes with a level attached and a cable release adaptor. It is the back to nature model. Because at the time I ordered the camera there was no 612D model I ordered the basic back to nature model (612B) with the level and cable release adaptor separately and it got delivered with everything already installed and its name was 612D How nice. Now as of writing this the 612D model also has a filter adaptor installed. Good that I ordered before that, because I would not use it anyway. I think working with filters on pinhole cameras is a bit tricky because you have to make sure the filter is clean. Otherwise you will see the dust on the filter. Remember, there is no lens and out-of-focus areas.
Here is some more images of the camera:
Selecting the format
The Zero Image 612B is a multi-format camera which means that you can select from five different film formats. The smalles format is 6×4,5 and it goes up via 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 to 6×12. Once a film is loaded you can not change the format because that can only be done if the camera is open. There are two dividers (or format reducers if you want to put it that way) which you put into place using the notches inside the camera at the top and bottom. See the image at the right. The outer-most notches are for 6×12 and you can make that even a bit wider if you do not insert the dividers there. For me this would mean that I risk to loose them and 6×12 is just big enough. Without the dividers in place there would be no separation of the images on the negative strip. Then it continues, go one notch more to the middle on each side and you have 6×9 and so on until you end in the notches in the middle which means 6×4.5.
To load the film you have to remove the top plate (the screw in the middle), then remove the back and put an empty film spool – the take-up spool – in place (on the right). You can see this already in the image above about the format reducers. Then enter the film spool on the left and insert the paper tip into the slit of the empty spool. Turn the taking spool a bit so that the film gets tightened.
Here is a few images demonstrating the film loading.
Then insert the back of the camera and make sure that the lever on the top left fits into the spool before you put back the top plate. You may have to turn either the film spool or the knob on the top plate. Once the top plate is installed you have to wind the film to get it into place. Here comes the little red windows on the back of the camera in place.
Depending on the image format that you choose you have to look at a different window. If you selected 6×4.5 look at the top one and wind the film until the number one appears in the window. Now the camera is ready for the first image. If you decided to use 6×6, then the middle window is your friend. For 6×7 and 6×9 use the lower window (which means for 6×7 you just produce more space between the images. And finally for 6×12 use again the middle window, but wind the film until you see a 2. Here the next image would be the one with number 4 and so on.
Since the image numbers of the test film I inserted to show you the film loading were hard to see, I opened the back again to show you how the film now sits in the camera (see the image on the left). Do not do this! It will ruin the film or at least two or three images of it.
Before we dig deeper into exposing a pinhole image, finding the correct exposure, reciprocity failure and the like, let us stay with the camera and look at the overall handling.
First of all, the camera feels solid and very well done. Everything works smoothly. And it is a joy to use. I am not a big user of tripods, but with pinhole cameras I do use a tripod almost all the time. I also prefer to use a cable release and not open the shutter by hand as that might result in camera shake or movement. Not a big deal if your exposure time is in the minutes, but in summer on a bright sunny day even with f160 your exposure time can get to short to compensate for camera movement. The cable release adaptor works very well and I can handle also pretty short exposure times consistently. That is good. For longer exposure times you might want to make sure that you do have a cable release which you can fix so that you do not need to press ist for several minutes. But on the other hand, in this case you can also opt to simply not use the cable release but slide the shutter to the side as camera movement is not a big deal with that long times.
When advancing to the next image, that can be a bit tricky as some films use a pale gray to mark the image number on the back paper. These are then hard to read through the red window on the back of the camera. Even more so in dark conditions. But that is not an issue with the camera, it is an issue of the film.
Inserting the top plate can be a bit fiddly as the top slids of the take-up spool need to be correctly aligned with the lever of the film advance knob. But you get used to it. The film advance knob can only be turned into one direction. There is no going back. Once you missed the next image number in the image counter window … that image is gone.
There is no viewfinder on the camera. It is also not a digital camera with instant control or some display to help with the composition. Finding the correct framing is a bit of guess-work but over time one gets more and more experienced with it. There is however a kind of viewfinder coming with the camera. It is a piece of translucent plastic with the framing indicated. If you hold it before your eye in a distance corresponding to the focal length of the camera you get a wild guess about what is in the frame and what is out. But that is a bit tricky and easily you hold it to far away from your eye or not far enough. There is only one correct distance and so many wrong ones.
I helped myself with a piece of laminated paper where I indicated to field of view with some lines. This allows me to and that allows me to better guess about my framing. See the image on the right.
The focal length of the pinhole camera is the distance between the pinhole and the film plane. And that is different if you look at the image center or the image corners. The f-stop is a function of focal length and the pinhole size and that means that your f-stop is bigger towards the image corners. For all formats that you can select the center f-stop os f160, but for 6×12 the corner f-stop is more than two thirds of a stop higher. That means waht you get is some vignetting. Even more since looking from the corner you do not see a circular pinhole but a more oval one which means less light. You have to take that into your calculation of the exposure time and for example over-expose the center to get at least some definition in the shadows for the corners.
But there is something else which tries to make our lifes hard. And it is not only a pinhole camera related issue, it is an issue with film and long exposure times. It is that film tends to get less sensitive the longer it is exposed to light. It is called reciprocity failure. Each film behaves differently, some need a bigger reciprocity correction than others. And a bigger reciprocity failure also increases the vignetting. For that reason I prefer films with a low reciprocity failure. Namely Fuji Neopan Acros. For times under a minute reciprocity failure can be ignored and also for longer times it is not much of a deal. If I compare the Acros to Ilford HP5 then once it comes to longer exposure times of say around two hours for Acros at ISO 100, then I would already need more than two and a half hours for HP5 at ISO 400. That means the low ISO film Acros would be faster than a high ISO film HP5 for very long exposure times. Now to be fair, one hour exposure time is already pretty long and if you are outside during daylight you will not get into these situations.
How do you adjust for reciprocity? There is good data which you can find on the internet about reciprocity corrections for certain films. A lot of research has been done. I used one of those formulas and produced correction sheets like the one on the left below. But I once ran a pinhole blog back in 2010 where I also had a post about reciprocity. You may want to have a look there: Click!
So you need a light meter to measure light for the subject at f8 and then you can read the needed exposure time with reciprocity correction for f160. You also need a timer and then open the shutter for the appropriate time. And usually I also use a notebook to take notes about the exposure.
But these days I got rid of all the above and instead use an app on my phone called Pinhole Master. I do have the phone with me anyway and with this app there is no need for anything else. You can store the reciprocity data for your film and the f-stop for the cameras you use. You also set the ISO. It can measure the light, computes the exposure time, can be your timer and you can store an image with the exposure data overlayed. Nothing else needed. Well, except your pinhole camera. You can see the app in action below in the middle.
Once the last frame is taken, the knob for the take-up spool should be turned until the film is completely rolled up. You will hear it. Now open the camera again and take the film out. There is a paper-tip which you glue around the film so that it hold on the spool without un-rolling. Some film vendors have it self-adhesive (like Fuji), others (Kodak and Ilford) need you to lick it like a stamp. At least, Ilford used to have it taste like peppermint. I do not know if they still do. You might choose you film by that taste, but I do not recommend that being the most important criteria for film selection.
Depending on the format you get more or fewer images on your roll. It is 16 frames for 6×4.5, 12 frames for 6×6, 8 frames for 6×7 and 6×9 and 5 frames for 6×12. OK, desperately you can get 6 frames for 6×12, but that last image almost reaches the film end so that hanging the film for drying might get a bit difficult. I for myself take that extra frame.
The Zero Image 612D is a very capable pinhole camera. It operates smoothly, everything is well made and it comes with the great flexibility of multiple formats. Using it is a joy, the format is big enough for pinhole, yet small enough to be handled. Sure, with pinhole photography, there is nothing better than even bigger formats, but that comes at a price. In the end the film needs to be processed and the negative needs to be printed or scanned. That is still easy with rollfilm 120.
Here are some images I made with this camera some time ago when visiting Gräfenstein Castle in Palatinate Forest. They are processed in DigitalLith.