The Cigar Box Camera

I've been interested in shooting with a pinhole camera for a while. So I decided to create one... I was inspired by other people who've used cigar boxes as a base for their pinhole cameras. I've mulled around with how cool it would be to create my own, even possibly having a detachable back for 4x5 exposures or even having interchangeable lenses. I came to a point in dreaming about this to actually making it.

A few weeks ago, I started looking for a box. I walked into a cigar shop hoping to find a box that would fit my loose specifications, should look pretty light proof and sturdy. I found this San Luis Rey Cigar Box which happens to be abbreviated into SLR on the lid. The lid itself is a sliding lid which gave me the impression that its pretty light proof.

When one of my friends had heard of my project, he surprised me with a drillbit and drill... He knew me well enough to make this happen...

The Cigar Box Camera

After I bought the box, I shared the idea with my friends. I was already excited for this project because all the rest of the work that needed to be done was just putting in a hole, light proofing the box, and getting some light sensitive paper. It was a simple idea, but that idea somewhat evolved. I thought to myself, while I make a pinhole camera, I could also use the same pinhole for another one of my cameras. Then I thought, well, why don't I mount it to the box?

The Cigar Box Camera

So, here it is... The ingredients:

  • Cigar box
  • Slr Lens back cover
  • SLR body cover
  • Black sheet of foam
  • Spray adhesive
  • Super glue
  • Aluminum can
  • Cardboard

The tools:

  • Needle
  • Drill
  • 50mm drillbit (or drill bit the diameter of your lens back cover)
  • Scissors
  • Exacto knife
  • Ruler
  • Compass or circle template
  • Pencil
  • Black permanent marker
  • Sandpaper
  • Saw
  • Lighter

First things first, safety first; if you're a child, please seek some assistance from an adult. When sanding and sawing, wear some goggles and a face mask to prevent inhaling dust. Be careful with the Exacto Knife as its very sharp.

Okay, first thing I did was measure the box and mark the center. The following picture shows the box marked diagonally to find the center.

The Cigar Box Camera

Once its marked, punch the center with a nail enough to create an indent in the box. This helps the drill to remain in the center of the box.

The Cigar Box Camera

Sand off the area that was drilled.

Now the following procedures aren't pictured... because I really got into the project...

  1. Measure the thickness of the wall where you've drilled the hole
  2. Clean the inside of the area where you've drilled the hole with a wet paper towel
  3. Take the lens back cover and carefully place it in the hole to try the fit, sand paper if its too snug. Make sure that you mark the area where the lensback can accomodate the camera body cover
    The Cigar Box Camera
  4. Carefully saw off the area marked
  5. Sand down the lens back cover
  6. Superglue the lens back cover to the drilled area; make sure to not push the lens back cover too far that you can't replace the the body cover.
  7. Measure the inside of the box
  8. With those measurements, mark the black foam to be cut for the interior of the box. You may need to adjust some measurements for the thickness of the foam.
  9. Test the fitting of the foam in the box
  10. Clean out inside the box with a paper towel
  11. Mask the outside of the box and stuff the lens mount with a paper towel or a crumpled up piece of paper
  12. Feel like you're almost done
  13. Spray the interior of the box with the spray fixative
  14. Spray the foam pieces with the spray fixative
  15. Remove the piece of crumpled paper towel or crumpled paper
  16. Carefully place the pieces of foam
  17. Carefully place the foam pieces inside of the box
  18. Spray the inside of the lid with black spraypaint or use a marker
  19. Take the camera body cover, measure and mark the center of it
  20. Make an indentation in the center of the outfacing part of the camera body cover
  21. Carefully drill the center of the camera body cover
  22. Shave and sand down the center of the hole
  23. Take the aliminum can, cut off the lid and bottom of the can
  24. With the circle template, mark a circle and cut it out
  25. Using the needle, puncture the aluminum
  26. Sand down the area of the puncture
  27. (Realize that this is taking so many steps)
  28. Using the black marker, black out the cut out, punctured aluminum
  29. Affix the pinholed piece of aluminum to the inside of the camera body cover using superglue; make sure to center the pinhole to the camera body cover
  30. TADA, You're done

Just realized, this post too long... don't read.

Use a piece of black tape to cover the hole and use it as a shutter, when mounting an SLR lens to it, use the lens cover as a shutter. You might want to measure the focal length required for your lens before using it. I created a removable back for my lens.

Now the next part of this project is to get some photo sensitive paper 4in by 5in, or make some cyanotypes using this cigar box camera.


  1. You should have put the "don't read" instruction up at the top of the post.

    1. You know, I spent so much time actually building the box, then documenting everything I was doing that I only realized then that this might not be worth reading. But then I though well, someone out in the internet might get some ideas from this so I'll just leave it as is.

      Did you read the whole thing?

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