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Harman Titan Pinhole
It's hard to believe in the digital age of megapixels, fantastic lenses and fast computing that there is still a market for getting back to the absolute basics of photography, but surprisingly this is the case. There is really nothing simpler than a pinhole camera as it's essentially a lightproof box with a tiny hole in one side which throws light onto a piece of film on the opposite side, and this review looks at the latest contender in this growing niche market.
The Harman Titan is a 3 piece camera manufactured by Walker Cameras in ABS plastic and consisting of a body/frame, a cone and the pinhole holder which fits into the cone by a bayonet action. The crucial extra part of the holder is the pinhole lenscap as this acts as the shutter to control exposure of the film, so no worries about batteries going flat at the wrong time. The pinhole included in this kit is 0.35mm which equates to f206 on the 72mm focal length of the cone, thereby resulting in a wideangle view of 97 degrees, which is about 20mm on 35mm film/fullframe digital or nearer 14mm on cameras with APS-C sensors.
The kit contains the camera itself plus 10-sheet boxes of Ilford Delta 100 film, Ilford Direct Positive paper (ISO 3), Multigrade printing paper for negatives and a cutout-and-build exposure dial. The camera uses 5x4 inch sheet film, but a holder for the film sheets is an extra that isn't included with the kit.
PHOTO Delta shot looking down Loch Ness
Delta shot of Nessie watcher van at Loch Ness
I'll leave the film aspects until later and just deal with the camera itself for now. First thing that hits is the extremely light weight of 250g for a large format camera, so you could carry this all day with a couple of filmholders. You'll need a tripod to mount it on and the camera usefully has 2 tripod mounting holes for use in landscape or portrait mode, plus it's fitted with 2 small bubble levels to even it up. The pinhole is way too small to see through, so the camera is lined up externally and framing the shot is quite difficult to start with, although trial and error will teach you quickly. It's hard to resist the temptation of a camera with a suitably wide lens and a built-in meter to help, although the meter reading will then have to be transferred onto the exposure dial provided with the camera. You can also use weather symbols on the dial to make a reasoned estimate of the exposure, so lack of a meter won't stop you getting photos with this kit.
OK, so the camera's on the tripod, the loaded filmholder is fitted in place ready to go and you've worked out your exposure for the shot. You then remove the darkslide from the filmholder and expose by removing and replacing the lenscap to take the shot, followed by replacing the darkslide to make the holder light-tight again. I found that exposures were shorter than I had anticipated using the Delta 100, with a fastest one of 2 secs up to a slowest of 17 secs, and exposing for 2 secs in this manner is quite difficult to do accurately. There is also the potential for causing vibrations as the tightfitting lenscap is removed, and this will affect a 2 sec exposure far more than a 17 sec one. You'll also need a stopwatch of some description (although a mobile phone may do the job), so that's both your hands occupied for a 2 sec exposure, although it would be possible to hold a filter in front of the pinhole during a longer exposure.
Pinhole photographs are famously soft and detail fans aren't likely to be impressed, although the photos from this pinhole are relatively sharp compared to some others. There is also a drop-off in light from the centre of the shot to the edges, so that means the edges have an obvious darkening, but that's not a big problem on film at least. The Direct Positive paper at ISO 3 is 5 stops slower than the ISO 100 Delta, and the photos are fiercely contrasty and show this darkening effect to a greater degree, although it's possible to reduce the contrast by pre-flashing the paper according to the kit instructions. The photos below show a Delta shot @ 2.5 secs and a comparison of 2 shots on the direct positive paper. The top shot was taken at the calculated 80 secs, while the bottom one was at 240 secs, which was 33% more than the suggested 180 secs, and is too much for my taste. The colour one shows the actual scene and the colours involved, and you'll note that the Direct Positive paper actually reverses the image!
Photo of boat Delta
Photo of boat in colour showing camera on tripod
In this one the film shot was 17 secs and the paper one was given 450 instead of the calculated 544 secs. The info sheet suggests 360 - 600 secs for dull/cloudy conditions, so that confirms the exposure was reasonable, but the result is clearly overcooked for me. (Fibre base paper needs to be washed for 60 minutes and this has picked up a stack of dust which I haven't cleaned up.)
Photo of old petrol station Delta
Photo of old petrol station DP paper
Harman Titan Value For MoneyThe kit is £150 and maybe £25 of this is the film and paper included, so the camera itself is perhaps £125 and there are plans to produce another 2 cones of longer focal lengths, so it isn't a single focal length camera like other pinholes. You'll immediately need a filmholder (also called a double darkslide or DDS) which takes 2 sheets of film or paper, and I'd advise buying new at about £30 to get used to the process, then buy additional secondhand if desired. You'll need a very large film changing bag or tent in order to load the filmholder in total darkness and keep dust levels to a minimum, and then you'll need processing equipment and chemicals for developing the film and paper. One supplier is advertising the kit at £175 with a filmholder, £49 for a film tent and £75 for a processing kit, so that'll be £300 for a new buyer compared to an existing 5x4 user where the cost is effectively £125 for the camera itself, so I'd say it's good value for the existing user.
Having praised the quality of the kit and assuming a buyer likes the look of pinhole images, I'd say they wouldn't be in any way disappointed with it and I actually think they'll find themselves with a smile on their face as they use it. I'm also confident that there will be a good secondhand market for these in due course if they eventually tire of the pinhole look, so just go for it!.
The Film BitThere's no need to be afraid of the dark and loading filmholders is pretty easy once you've done it a couple of times, so don't let that deter you. Developing the film has to be done in total darkness and this is awkward to say the least, but once you get used to it there are other bits of kit on the market to make the processing more enjoyable, although this is more cost which isn't actually required in order to get good results.
Once you've got your negative processed you'll either have to enlarge it, scan it or contact print it to get an end result. Contact printing literally means placing the negative on top of a piece of printing paper and exposing it with a lightsource in the dark, then chemically developing it. Enlarging will be out of the range of many as a 5x4 enlarger is a mighty beast and few of us have room for one, while few scanners are capable of scanning 5x4 negative to get it onto your computer, with the Epson V700/V750 being the best known. A contact print can be scanned on even the cheapest flatbed scanner or multi-function unit, so again the budget can be kept to a minimum for newcomers to the world of 5x4 sheet film.
|The Harman Titan really hits it's target and Walker Cameras are to be congratulated for the quality of manufacture of this precision instrument.|
Harman Titan ProsPrecision made from modern materials
Light weight encourages use when a heavier camera might be left at home
Additional cones allow change of focal length
Not linked to the future cost or availability of 5x4 film as paper can also be used
Harman Titan ConsShort exposures difficult to achieve accurately with lenscap
Risk of vibration when removing lenscap
Really needs additional spend on equipment for new 5x4 users
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
User instructions are downloadable from IlfordPhoto (PDF).
Exposure calculator downloadable from IfordPhoto (PDF).
Article by Peter Black (snapper).
Harman Titan Pinhole Photos of Equipment