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A camera is often referred to as a light-tight box and a quick look at the Obscura will tell you that it is very much from the box school of design. The question is whether that just makes it old-fashioned, or if it is actually funky in a retro way? Hopefully I can help you find out.
NB If you are unfamiliar with 5x4 film, you can get some info in my earlier review of the Harman Titan camera.
So far, so simple, but the key part of the Obscura deal is that it is a one-shot device which has to be unloaded and reloaded between taking each photo, and that's not something to take lightly when out and about. While it might be possible to use a fold up film changing bag with a bit of practice, the size of the Obscura when it is taken apart really means there isn't much room in a changing bag for a 3 section film box to put the exposed sheet in. The bag then needs to be opened up and the film box replaced with the fresh film box, so it is quite a palaver and really needs a spring-up changing tent as shown in the photos rather than a changing bag. The upside to this is that the sheet of film or paper just sits straight into the outer/rear half of the Obscura and is held in place by the inner/front half when it is slid into place, so that's easier than loading conventional filmholders.
The other thing to be aware of is a scientific effect known as reciprocity law failure which means you have to give considerably more exposure to the film once the speed goes beyond ½ second. Ilford provide a graph for this in their film data sheets (not with the Obscura kit) so it is possible to print this out and take it with you. As an example, let's say you measured the light at 1/15th @ f22 and then transferred this to the Exposure Calculator that comes in the kit, whereupon the exposure time at f248 reads as roughly 8 secs. If you then check the film data sheet, you'll see that reciprocity law failure means that an 8 sec exposure actually needs 25 secs for an accurate exposure, so the unwary could be lulled into underexposing by 2 stops if just using the Calculator.
As explained in the previous section, exposure times are a bit of an issue and, as they can easily be 25 secs or more, you really have to watch the light and wait for it to be consistent for the duration. The sun coming out or going behind a cloud during the exposure throws the whole thing out and this is a serious bind with a single shot camera.
Ilford Obscura Value For MoneyI understand that the Obscura kit is to retail at £70 with film and paper, so that means the camera itself is probably valued at £50 or so and I'd say it was worth it for trying out this type of photography. It is a one trick device though, and the only changes you can make to it are with the stickers that come in the kit so you can decorate it to make it more funky.
The Harman Titan I reviewed previously uses standard 5x4 filmholders, so you can take as many of these as you want on your day out. I also have a 120mm pinhole camera that can be set to 6x6, 6x9 or 6x12 and gives 12, 8 and 6 shots respectively at these sizes, plus the film can be changed outdoors with no hassle or changing tent, so that is another alternative that gives you more shots per day. These options also mean the day isn't wasted when the light changes during an exposure, since you just move onto the next bit of film.
Ilford Obscura ProsIt's a precision device that fits together well and stays closed due to the magnets
It's light and portable and you could carry it all day
No light fall-off on film
Its design is specific and clearly thought out for a purpose
Ilford Obscura ConsOne shot really limits the use of the camera
It is what it is and you can't change anything for the future
Having to take a changing tent and box of film is a major drawback
It isn't as much fun as you might hope for
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Harman Pinhole Obscura Specifications