This wooden hand-crank camera might be the most fun I've ever used

Jollylook Pinhole camera
(Image credit: James Artaius)

While my first love is mirrorless photography, I'm a huge geek for both instant photography and vintage cameras. Which is why I jumped on the chance to get my hands on the new (well, 'new-old') camera from Jollylook – and it's flat out one of the most fun cameras I've ever used.

In case you missed it (in which case, you can read my earlier story for all the details), the Jollylook Pinhole is a vintage-style bellows camera, made from wood, that uses Instax Mini film and captures images by pinhole exposure. 

(Image credit: James Artaius)

It's a completely manual affair. You have to physically open and set up the camera from its box state, expanding the bellows, popping up the viewfinder and setting the focal slider. 

Pop in a pack of Instax Mini film and you're ready to go! You'll need a tripod, because again this is a pinhole camera – which means that it relies on long exposures, and your shutter is manually controlled via a flick switch, so it needs to be locked down. 

And once you take a shot, you need to manually crank a lever on the side of the camera to develop and eject your photo. Swipe through the images below to see the setup and developing process:

As anyone who has used an old fashioned finder will attest, composing your shots isn't easy and requires some practice. It's not dissimilar to using the viewfinder on an Instax or Polaroid camera, where you have to get used to the perspective shift between the finder and the lens.

The camera's focal length is about 44mm, as attested by the shot below taken on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark III from the same spot. To give some idea of how things translate, my settings on the Oly were 1/250 sec, f/8.0, ISO200. My "settings" on the Jollylook were opening the shutter for 15 seconds (on standard ISO800 Instax film).

Now, given that this is a completely manual camera, calculating exposure times is completely down to the user. And like the composition, it's something that takes some practice to get the hang of – especially when you're trying to gauge contrasty scenes like in the second image below.

The Jollylook image (left) and the view from my mirrorless camera at 44mm (right) (Image credit: James Artaius)

(Image credit: James Artaius)

To help you figure this out, there is an exposure calculator on the back of the camera, which features a natty geared design that's very satisfying to turn as you input settings for your scene. 

You turn the gear so that the arrow points to the ambient lighting conditions, from indoors to bright sunlight. The six icons at the top of the gear, representing the six focus positions for the bellows, each indicate their estimated exposure time. 

This can be a matter of seconds to a matter of minutes, so it's helpful to have the timer on your phone handy to time things. 

Even so, you still need to interpret the available light and ambient conditions (unless you have a light meter, which actually might be a smart idea to improve your consistency). You might also have to make adjustments on the fly, if the sun decides to duck in and out of clouds in the middle of your exposure!

All of this will result in a whole lot of badly composed images, incorrect exposures, and generally hit and miss shots. And this is why the Jollylook is so much fun to use.

Coming from the digital world – especially mirrorless, where the viewfinder shows you exactly what you're going to get and you can rattle off as many shots as you like – we're being completely detached from actual photography. We take the simple act of exposure for granted.

(Image credit: James Artaius)

Getting the hang of the viewfinder will take practice, but does make sense eventually! (Image credit: James Artaius)

But here, where you have to physically move a shutter and time the precise number of seconds that you're allowing light to hit a sheet of film, you appreciate the act of exposure and photography in an entirely fresh way. 

And that's why the Jollylook Pinhole is one of the most fun cameras I've ever used. Especially for just $69 (around £57 / AU$99)! The camera's Kickstarter campaign is in its home stretch right now, so if you're interested make sure to check it out before it closes on Friday September 09. 

Please note: As with all crowdfunded projects, there is no certainty that the final product will ultimately be released or even resemble the initial depictions. DCW makes no endorsements or guarantees about this or any other crowdfunded product.

The shutter is controller by this fingertip leaver that uncovers the pinhole (Image credit: James Artaius)

A timer is invaluable for taking exposures of up to a few minutes (Image credit: James Artaius)

(Image credit: James Artaius)

(Image credit: James Artaius)

Read more: 

Pinhole photography
What is a pinhole camera
Thingify Pinhole Pro Max review

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.