BLACK & WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY    -      january 2006


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.... The Tortuga 5 is without doubt the

crème de la crème of pinhole cameras ....

 

     
 
 

In the age of sophisticated technology it's easy to forget the joys of the primitive image. Andrew Sanderson experiments with the distinctive Tortuga pinhole camera

Over the years I have been inspired by the possibilities of pinhole cameras. I have made them from many kinds of containers and in a wide range of sizes. It is a technique that I return to every now and then when I get too hung up on 'quality'.

Using very basic equipment, which you have constructed yourself, is a liberating, exciting and unpredictable way of photographing and is a healthy balance to the hightech equipment of today. If you have never made a pinhole camera, then I urge you to give it a try. The pleasure of creating an image, however ropey, from a camera that you have built yourself is wonderful.

     
 

Earlier this year I did a six-week workshop at our local high school, making various sized cameras with the children, exposing and processing resin coated paper, scanning and inverting the results. The response was enthusiastic and my class often ran over time. What surprised me was that all these kids had very advanced mobile phones with cameras, and they could make a picture instantly and send it to the other end of the country in a moment, yet they got very excited about a fuzzy image made from a shoebox or a cardboard tube!

When I got an e-mail from Ailsa asking if I'd like to write a review of a pinhole camera, it was my turn to get excited. I imagined a rollfilm camera around the size of a house brick and not much prettier. What I found when I opened the box and took it out of its packaging was a delight. It felt like I had a pristinely preserved Victorian camera in my hands.

     
   

The Tortuga is an unusual camera - it is a beautifully made, 10-sided wood and brass box with five pinholes arranged around the outside. These pinholes can be opened separately for individual shots, or opened simultaneously for one long blended image. It has a simple, but well designed winder on the top with a frame counter and a brass slide rule, with finely etched marks. The slide rule is for converting your indicated exposure from a hand meter, or 35mm camera, into the correct exposure for an aperture of f/250. The scale even accounts for the extra exposure needed to counteract reciprocity failure, so that there are no calculations to make - just move the slide rule to set the indicated exposure and read off the final exposure - simple.

Inside the camera, the film is wound from the spool around a central drum, emulsion outwards, and onto the take up spool. The procedure of loading the camera is quite tricky the first few times, but does get easier.

     
 

The camera is so nicely made and so unusual to look at, that it ought to be displayed prominently when not in use rather than left in the camera bag. It is a little on the large side, though not heavy. I found that it would only go in my Billingham on its side and this seemed a little undignified for such a lovely piece of kit.

On first inspection it would appear that the arrangement of pinholes ought to give a panoramic image. The camera does in fact see 240°, but does not give a conventional panoramic view. The long pictures that it provides display a blended, but disjointed arrangement of the original scene. The reason for this is because each pinhole projects an inverted image onto the film plane.

Photographing a scene in which the letters of the alphabet were displayed normally, a panoramic camera would show the sequence correctly as; A B C D E F G. The same arrangement photographed with the Tortuga would give instead a sequence of; B A D C F E G.

One other slightly unusual feature is that each projected image from a given hole strikes a curved surface where the edges are much further from the pinhole than the centre, giving an unusual distortion, the corners appearing to rush away from the middle.

 

 

The camera takes 120 rollfilm and gives just two shots per film if used in the joined-up mode, all shutters at once, for which it has been designed. It would be possible to shoot single images from the separate pinholes, but these will blend one with the other anyway and give a similar effect. If you wanted to keep the individual shots spaced apart, this would be tricky to say the least. A system of part winding of the film would have to be worked out, though it would be far simpler to carry a smaller rollfilm pinhole camera that gave normal spacing. Each 'aponarimic' image (the word panorama chopped up in the way the camera chops the scene) is around 12in long and produces a nicely proportioned contact print. The frames are too long to fit into even a 10x8in enlarger, so a contact print and then a scan from the contact is probably the simplest way to get larger prints.

As I mentioned before, I have made many pinhole cameras, some quickly built, used and discarded and others much more carefully constructed. I had read somewhere that the actual neatness of the hole was not critical to the quality of the image. Having used the Tortuga , with its precision, laser-drilled holes I am of a different opinion. The pictures from this camera are sharper than any other pinhole camera that I have ever used. I was very impressed. The Tortuga is a high quality pinhole camera, it is, however, rather expensive but, having said that, you are paying for a skillfully designed, craftsman built camera which should become a collector's item in years to come.

copyright: Andrew Sanderson, B&W Photography, january 2006

 

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