Lensbaby Puts a Modern Twist on the Pinhole with the Obscura

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Lensbaby has announced its latest release in the digital pinhole photography market: the Lensbaby Obscura. For those not familiar with it, pinhole photography does not use a lens, and a traditional "camera obscura" works when all the light from the scene passes through a tiny hole in a plate or window (or lens cap) and is projected onto the sensor, film, or a wall where an artist could sketch or paint the projected scene. Compared to modern photographs taken with a lens, the pinhole gives photographers a creative tool for making truly distinctive images. In that mold, the Lensbaby Obscura is designed to help facilitate that creativity with some unique and interesting features when compared with other pinholes.

Non-product images © Charlotte Johnson, courtesy of Lensbaby

Obscura 50
Obscura 50
Obscura 16
Obscura 16
Obscura Optic
Obscura Optic

Lensbaby's Obscura comes in three different versions, and each version gives photographers the same three different pinhole options.

Mirrorless shooters get a 16mm pancake pinhole body machined for Canon RF, FUJIFILM X, Leica L, Micro Four Thirds, Nikon Z, and Sony E mounts. DSLR and SLR photographers can enjoy a 50mm Obscura for Canon EF and Nikon F mounts. And Lensbaby shooters who already have the versatile Optic Swap mount can employ the Obscura 50 Optic while adding the creative possibilities of tilt to their pinhole photography.

Lensbaby Camera Obscura | ISO 800 | 1/30 | Sony a7R IV
Lensbaby Camera Obscura | ISO 800 | 1/30 | Sony a7R IV

The three different shooting options are used by cycling through three different apertures—standard pinhole, pinhole sieve, and zone plate.

  • The pinhole setting has a single hole (f/90 mirrorless, f/161 SLR & Optic) for a more traditional pinhole aesthetic.

  • The pinhole sieve (f/45 mirrorless, f/64 SLR & Optic) shoots through multiple holes to create varying artifacts, glare, and glow.

  • The zone plate is the largest opening (f/22 mirrorless, f/32 SLR & Optic) and features a central hole surrounded by smaller pinholes for an effect like the sieve but with a (relatively) sharper center section.

When compared to normal photographic lenses, those apertures are tiny. But, when compared to some pinholes, they are on the larger side—one pinhole I use is f/256. Based on the numbers, the Lensbaby Obscura might lend itself to shorter exposures/lower ISO pinhole work—an advantage for many photographers.

Lensbaby Camera Obscura | ISO 100 | 1/40 | Sony a7R IV
Lensbaby Camera Obscura | ISO 100 | 1/40 | Sony a7R IV

One disadvantage of digital pinhole photography is sensor dust. Digital pinhole is great for making unique photos, but also great for showing you just how dirty your sensor is—not fun. Also, pinholes for digital cameras allow dust to get to your sensor (not a ton as the holes are super tiny). Lensbaby's Obscura is designed to help mitigate this issue by having a 1.5mm thick layer of anti-reflection coated glass between the world and the sensor. Even though the Lensbaby Obscura is designed to keep dust from your sensor, cleaning your sensor before you shoot with any pinhole should still be on your personal chore list.

Lensbaby Camera Obscura | ISO 100 | 1/1300 | Sony a7R IV
Lensbaby Camera Obscura | ISO 100 | 1/1300 | Sony a7R IV

Is there tech in pinhole photography? There is now. Lensbaby's version creates its pinholes using three delicate layers of chrome deposited on the aforementioned multicoated glass. The chrome layers measure 0.00014mm thick.

For those of you who follow, or are fans of, Lensbaby, you probably wonder why the company never rolled out a stand-alone pinhole “lens” before now. And, for those who follow pinhole photography and are familiar with Lensbaby, you know that this version of the pinhole, with Lensbaby's creative know-how, is advanced and modern compared to the do-it-yourself lens cap pinhole experience.

Lensbaby Camera Obscura | ISO 100 | 1/250 | Sony a7R IV
Lensbaby Camera Obscura | ISO 100 | 1/250 | Sony a7R IV

Regardless of whether you are making a projection the size of a room or shooting pinhole with a mirrorless digital camera, pinhole photography presents an awesomely fun challenge and I, for one, can't wait to take the Lensbaby Obscura for a spin. Are you ready to try it? Let us know in the Comments section, below!

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