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There's a certain pessimism in naming a camera "Zero Image", which I respect.

For me pinhole cameras are like fisheye lenses: every couple of years I'm drawn to them, spend a lot of time looking into them, occasionally flirt with an unsatisfying substitute, and then move on to other things. And repeat. Except this time I finally did it, and bought myself a Zero Image wooden pinhole camera that puts a 6x6 image onto 120 film. This photo is from my test roll of deeply expired "New" Portra 400, which I went through as quickly as possible to learn a bit about the camera.

Something that had stopped me from buying the Zero is feature creep. That's an odd problem with a camera that's just a wooden box, but the options include bubble levels, cable release adapters, and filter holders. I'd like all of them – and rapidly priced myself out of the market. So what's different this time is that I committed to the basic model with a simple oil/wax finish, which kept the cost very reasonable. Yes, the bubble level would have been nice, but after a prolific weekend I don't miss the other extras.

The optional cable release in particular called to me, but that's because I didn't quite understand the description of the camera. The shutter is a simple wooden slide that covers the pinhole, and the description says that it has a gentle spring to hold it closed. This is correct. But I read this to mean that the spring pushes the shutter back into place in front of the pinhole: that I would need to physically hold it open during the exposure. That's fine for a few seconds, but not for several minutes.

Happily my understanding of the description was incorrect. In fact the spring is to push the shutter flush against the wooden body of the camera, and ensures that the shutter stays sealed against light, not closed against lateral movement. The shutter stays exactly where it's put – no need to hold it open – so the camera can be set to take an exposure and then left alone until it's time to slide the shutter closed again.

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The Zero produces some very sharp photos, relatively speaking. This could almost be a photo from some small-sensor CCD point-and-shoot that's stopped all the way down against the bright sky and missed the focus a bit. The phone number at the bottom of the sign is almost legible in the scans I've made of this negative – it has lots of 6's and 8's, and it's a bit tough to distinguish a couple of them. The detail from my old Canon 9000F flatbed scanner holds up surprisingly well against the Noritsu that my usual lab uses, although the home machine is far, far slower.

I suppose I don't really *need* to scan a pinhole image at ten thousand pixels to a side…

One thing that many of the reviews of the Zero Image say is that it's really hard to see the film counter on the back. All I can add to that is that no reviewer has used enough profanities to really capture just how hard that is. Twelve 6x6 shots will fit on a roll, but the most I've managed so far is 9, and that was by shining a flashlight into the little window to see the numbers printed on the backing paper for the film. That's not best practices, to say the least. To be fair, those numbers are printed very faintly on some rolls, but the window is a dark red that's inset in the wooden back. It can be hard to tell the difference between being able to see the pale grey backing paper and just getting a reflection or glare from an overcast sky. And because the Zero can only advance film, not rewind it, you can't go back to check your position if you suspect you've advanced it too far. Very, very challenging. It's almost as if getting so few frames from a roll of film is a reason to get a wider-format pinhole camera or something, as long as it allows more accurate frame counting.

It's a good thing I never established a "No Dramatic Foreshadowing" policy for this site.


I'm not going to get into the habit of reviewing cameras after using them for only a roll or three – I'm a blogger, not a Youtuber. But I do have more photos to post from this past weekend, and I wanted to get as much of the technical details out of the way first. Not that there are many technical details with little wooden boxes that have a slider for a shutter mechanism, but still. After this I go back to talking about images.