Clipper I vs II – A Tale of Two Shutters

Clipper is, in my opinion, one of the best 6×18 pinhole cameras in the world, especially considering the low cost. Users have taken some amazing photos with Clipper.

Clipper has an extremely wide 135 degree field of view, with virtually no light fall off at the ends. In fact, the field of view is so wide that my finger shows up at the edge of my shots. This photo shows the finger shadow in the corner.

Cable Release?

Clipper I’s shutter was remarkably simple and easy to make, but I felt it could be better still. Was a cable release really necessary? It’s another thing to lose or not have when needed. As well, many pinhole exposures, unless taken in broad daylight with fast film, need more than a few seconds exposure.[clear]

New Design

Clipper II is a redesign of Clipper I using the simple Flyer flip shutter. Everything else about Clipper I remained the same, save a few printability tweaks.

Making a product simpler is harder than making it more complicated. I thought Clipper I’s shutter turned out remarkably well at the time. Yet, using Flyer’s flip shutter has made Clipper II even better.


To clarify the choice, if you use a tripod or brace your Clipper on a stable surface, Clipper II is better. Clipper I is better only if your exposures are typically less than 10 seconds and you tend to set your Clipper down on a rock or other uneven surface without a tripod.

I use a tripod or tabletop Manfrotto and find Clipper II preferable in nearly all situations except exposures of less than 1 second. I can do 1/4 and 1/2 seconds reasonably well with a cable release, but not with the flip shutter.

Clipper 6×9 Mask, Again

I got some fans excited with the previous announcement of the Clipper 6×9 mask.  The mask slips inside the Clipper 6×18 and allows you to take eight 6×9 exposures instead of four 6×18 exposures.  That doubles the number of shots per roll when you do not need extreme panoramic shots.

Unfortunately, the previous design had to be printed as a solid curved shape, took a long time to print, required a big box, and at least $6 shipping US.  I only did a few.  So it was time to find a way to print one that could be mailed in an envelope.

After several iterations, I’ve done a flat mask that is quick to print, flexible enough to bend properly inside the Clipper, easy to insert and remove, and yet sturdy enough to last quite a long time if you are careful with it.


Three 6×9 masks off the printer on an envelope

The ends of the mask drop into the corners as shown in the photos below.  The smooth side of the mask faces the film and the rough side faces the pinhole.



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Clipper 6×9

6×9?  Isn’t Clipper a 6×18?

2014-12-07-12.20.33Yes. And yes. The new 6×9 mask – 3D printed, of course – pops inside Clipper and gives you the option of shooting 4 6×18 exposures or 8 6×9 exposures, when changing film.  I must give credit for this idea to a current Clipper owner.

Moreover, since Clipper has a curved backplane, the 6×9 shots also have no light falloff end to end.  This means Clipper 6×9 shots will be subtly and uniquely different from a flat backplane 6×9.  I’m not aware of any production 6×9 pinhole cameras with a curved backplane.

Here’s a sample photo from Bastrop, where the Clipper is sitting on the coupler of a derelict crane railcar, looking toward the end of the track. Compare this to the full 6×18 image from the Great Sand Dunes.

So how should 6×9 photos be credited to the camera? Clipper is how the camera is known, and will always be 6×18. The mask just allows you to take 8 exposures instead of 4, and the field of view is 68 degrees instead of 136.

Rather than winding 2-6-10-14 as with 6×18, wind to 1-3-5-7-9-11-13-15.

Check for 6×9 masks.

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Coupler & Tracks, Bastrop TX (Clipper 6×18 masked to 6×9, Ektar 100)

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado (Clipper 6×18, Ektar 100)




Loading the Clipper 6×18

A couple of Clipper owners have contacted me about difficulty loading the Clipper. I plan to do a video to make this more clear, but I wanted to post instructions that may help on the first time or two. This procedure is easier than it sounds, and becomes habitual after the first few rolls.

Loading Sequence

  1. Set the opened Clipper in front of you facing the red window as though you’ll take a picture
  2. Break the tape seal on the new roll and insert the tab into the takeup spool
  3. Wind about 3 turns off the new roll in your right hand onto the takeup spool in your left hand
  4. Guide the paper backing into the top rail of Clipper and drop the two spools into the camera
  5. If the paper backing did not drop cleanly into the bottom rail, you may see the paper buckling on top of the bottom rail
  6. Guide the paper backing into the bottom rail – moisten your finger and reaching into the center area, try pulling the paper backing up a little where it buckled and use a pencil or pen to press it against the back until it drops in
  7. When you have it in, press both spools down and then use a key to slowly turn the takeup spool – if you got it into the bottom rail, you’ll see the paper backing moving around without buckling.
  8. Put the top back on and slowly turn the knob
  9. You will feel a little resistance when the film, taped to the paper backing, first comes off the new roll and enters the guide rails
  10. Turn very slowly for 3-4 more turns – you will feel the initial resistance dropping as the film starts sliding on the rails
  11. At this point, you can advance the film to the first frame – on Clipper, you will shoot on frames 2, 6, 10, and 14 (4 exposures per roll)

A general reminder – it’s best to wind Clipper more slowly than usual due to the curved backplane. If the winder knob becomes suddenly becomes more difficult to turn, that’s usually a sign that the film has jumped the rails, and you should open it up in a darkroom rather than forcing the winder.

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(Sun) Tracks on the Film

As a boating enthusiast with a fascination for charts, I liked Tracks in the Sea: Matthew Fontaine Maury and the Mapping of the Oceans. So when it came to writing a post on solargraphs, I borrowed the title for Tracks on the Film. Flyer 6×6 and Clipper 6×18 make great cameras for recording sun tracks because they’re weatherproof and won’t fall apart in rain (though a little water might trickle in through the winder hole if not wrapped).


Actually, the proper term is “solargraph” but as the film records the sun’s track across the sky,
much as charts record tracks in the sea, I’ve always thought of them as sun track photos. A
solargraph can be anywhere from one day to six months, depending mainly on your patience for

The featured photo was taken by the author with a handmade pinhole camera (not Flyer) in San Lorenzo, and is in the New Mexico History Museum archives. The sun came out once during a cloudy day, right behind the bottle.

Neutral Density Filters

The Kickstarter edition of the Flyer 6×6 pinhole cameras all came with a stretch goal of 3 ND (neutral density) 1.2 filters. Post-Kickstarter, these are a separate order of $5 (shipping included).

Each ND 1.2 filter reduces the light by 3-3/4 f/stops, allowing only 6.3% light transmission. Put another way, a Flyer 6×6 photo using Ektar 100 on a sunny day should use a 1-second exposure. Each f/stop doubles the exposure, so rounding off to 4 for simplicity, that becomes 2, 4, 8, 16 seconds. One ND 1.2 filter gives me 16 seconds instead of trying to open and close the shutter in 1 second.

The second ND 1.2 filter extends that to 32, 64, 128, 256 seconds, or 4 minutes 16 seconds.

The third ND 1.2 filter extends that to 512, 1024, 2048, 4096 seconds, or 1 hour and about 8 minutes. Technically, another filter would be needed for an all-day sun track, but most films do better if treated as a lower ASA film than they actually are (overexposing).

In addition, a factor called reciprocity failure comes into play. Reciprocity failure means films don’t behave linearly and require progressively longer exposures than mathematically indicated as the light falls.

Three ND 1.2 filters should give you a decent solar graph image. For multi day or multi week
exposures, you might need one or more additional filters.


Remove the o-ring around the pinhole with tweezers or a pin (try not to damage the o-ring) and drop in the 3 ND 1.2 filters on top of the pinhole. Make sure they are clean and dust-free, and handle them with tweezers or by the edges. Replace the o-ring. If you have film loaded when adding or removing the filters on Flyer 6×6, this will cost you an exposure so be sure to advance the film one count afterward. Clipper 6×18 has an internal shutter and the filters can be changed without costing an exposure.


Locating a good spot for a sun track photo is important. The camera should point upwards to the sky (not necessarily vertically) and include something interesting such as a plant, tree, or other objects as a point of reference. The camera should be well propped or mounted on a tripod so it won’t shift when opening the shutter or rock in the wind.

Flyer wrapped in paper for the day

Flyer wrapped in paper for the day

The black camera will get hot in a bright sun, and while ABS can tolerate a fair amount of heat, it’s not good for the film either. I normally take a sheet of white paper, tear a hole in the middle for the shutter, and just wrap the sheet around the camera and tape the ends together in the back. This is sufficient to deflect most of the sun’s heat and can easily be torn off afterward.



This is simplicity. Open the shutter at dawn (or the night before if you’re not an early riser) and leave the camera out. Close the shutter at twilight and advance the film. Repeat (or take the filters out, advance an exposure, and resume normal shooting). Take the film in for processing when you’ve shot all the exposures or your patience runs out, whichever occurs first.


This requires cutting and loading/unloading in the darkroom or a changing bag, but you can unroll 120 film and cut 3 pieces, each about 3.5-4” long, stack them together and drop them into the film slot (no winding). The first piece will be overexposed, the second will be exposed, and the third will be underexposed. The effect varies by film (probably works better with B&W) and can be quite interesting. Remember to tape over the red window with opaque black tape.

Making Your Own ND Filters

While you can get pre-punched ND filters to fit your Pinhole Printed camera, you can also order or make your own. Commercial ND gel filters can be found from photo supply stores. If you want to do your own, you’ll need a roll of B&W film – 35mm is fine for this purpose. Pull the film out, expose it to daylight, and process it. You’ll then have a roll of black film. Cut out several 20mm (slightly larger than 3/4”) circles and experiment with how many you’ll need. Chances are one will do, possibly two, depending on the film.

Click on this link for the PDF version:
PDF: (Sun) Tracks on the Film