Some Assembly Required: Bob Lee’s Sardine Tin Camera

This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.

Sardine Tin Pinhole Camera

Bob Lee, Ackworth, UK

William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Taking inspiration from this quote, photographer Bob Lee sought to make a pinhole camera that was as uniquely beautiful as the photographs it produces. He created his Sardine Tin Pinhole Camera partly in response to Lomography’s Sardinia 35mm toy camera, thinking it could be improved if made with an actual sardine tin. As it turned out, a real sardine tin is much too small for a proper camera.

The pinhole camera uses 35mm film and measures about 100mm wide, 60mm tall, and 22mm deep. The tin’s lack of depth presented a challenge in determining focal length and exposure time. A short focal length equals a short exposure time, which would mean that the pinhole would be too large and would overexpose the image. To increase the exposure time while maintaining the charm of the simple sardine tin concept, Lee decided to use ISO 50 film and a 0.12mm pinhole from an acupuncture pin. When used together, Lee can photograph a shutter speed of around 3.39 seconds on a sunny day.

The current model of the sardine camera is Lee’s fifth version. For the first, he used anything he could find including a sewing thread bobbin, bottle top, and radiator key—all stuck together with tape and glue. As he improved on the design, Lee learned to solder and created an external brass carrier and advance spool. In the latest model, Lee 3D printed all of the internal camera components which has fewer light leaks and a tripod mount. The camera will soon be available from his blog, Pinbox.

Photo made with Sardine Tin camera

View more of Lee’s work on his website.

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