It was an early, sleepy Monday morning, the first of February, 2021, and the year was off to a frustrating start, when I opened my email to find a note from Dominick Oczkowski, creator of the Minuta Stereo camera. I knew something of Oczkowski already, thanks to a podcast or something I saw on Twitter back in January, and within 3 minutes of hearing of his project had signed up for the mailing list, and I felt honored and strangely validated when he offered to send me a preproduction model to try out, try to break, etc.
Well, after six weeks and (shamefully) only four rolls, and with about 10 days left on the Kickstarter, I haven’t managed to break it… But what do I think about it?
tl;dr: The Minuta Stereo is the cutest, sharpest, most thoughtfully designed, and most capable pinhole camera I’ve had the pleasure of using. If that’s not enough to get you off the fence and ready to support the Kickstarter, then read on…
At time of publication, the Minuta Stereo is live on Kickstarter, and less than $1000 shy of its modest goal with about 10 days to go. If you’re reading this, and have a bit of cash, maybe we can push it well over the line?
And if this is the first you’ve heard about the camera and wonder what it is, well, the Minuta Stereo is a stereoscopic pinhole camera, laser-cut from MDF with a precision drilled and burnished f/140 pinhole. It’s a multiformat, stereo pinhole camera, with masks and winders for 120 (6×6, stereo or single image) and 35mm (square or 3:7 panorama, with sprockets, also stereo or single). All this wrapped up in one very cleverly designed package, for about the same price as the Ondu 6×6 Pocket, and not a whole lot more than the basic Zero Image 2000,* and they’re both stuck at the one format.
And just look at its cute little face…
Anyway… First, some background:
For several years now, starting, I guess, shortly after I began unboxing photobooks and bits of gear on YouTube and reviewing those books and bits of gear here, I had a fantasy that some publisher or someone would reach out and offer to send me books or gear to try out. If it were a publisher, I’m not sure I would accept, as I enjoy the editorial independence that buying everything myself provides, but still. I never imagined it would happen or even think it even possible, so I never gave it too much thought. And then I opened that email…
Honestly, I felt flattered and honored, and began to plan, or at least think about, all the things I could do. And after a brief delay, the camera arrived.
That was six or seven weeks ago, and I’ve managed 4 whole rolls of film: a short roll of bulk loaded 35mm, and three rolls of 120, all Foma 200. Yes, I feel a bit ashamed. First, I’ve repeatedly tried and failed to make an unboxing/usage video. I have a couple of hours of footage, and, just… nope. And second, the pictures I’ve made with the camera aren’t going to win any awards. Life has been a bit frustrating lately, I’ve not made the time to shoot that I should’ve, especially given the trust Oczkowski placed in me.
More on that later… Let’s get to the camera itself!
The Minuta Stereo is beautifully and thoughtfully designed. The front is just the cutest, with its gleeful, surprised little face and cute little bear ears/strap lugs and tiny Bart Simpson spikes… The little mouth serves as a shutter lock, and it and the shutter release, the winders, and the window shade on the back are magnetized and satisfyingly thunk into place.
The back side is likewise beautifully and helpfully designed, if not quite as adorably cute.
Two sliders provide reminders for ISO, format, and click stops. The way it’s all put together and designed impresses me greatly. It’s so much more than any of the other cameras I’ve kickstartered (Reto 3D, Hamm Camera NuBox and PinBox) and while this preproduction model has a few issues, Oczkowski has been responsive and is already aware and working to resolve most everything I’ve found. The same can’t be said for the Reto or Hamm products.
A helpful bubble level appears on the top, and, yes, the Minuta Stereo features a tripod socket on both the bottom and the top.
Why is there a tripod socket on the top? Well, if the stereo function wasn’t enough, the Minuta Stereo provides rise and fall for all formats…
Look closer at the front: the pinholes are not vertically centered. This means that, with the camera oriented normally and 120 film loaded, you have natural rise, that is, the horizon will be closer to the bottom third of the frame. Flip the camera upside down, and you have built-in fall (the horizon closer to the top third of the frame). And with 35mm and the included spacers, there is similarly built-in rise and fall, and also an option for centered 35mm.**
Speaking of included bits, the preproduction kit I received included a bunch of bits, most all of which are expected to come with the production version, albeit with some modifications.
Here’s a screenshot from the aborted unboxing/usage video I failed to make.
From top right, moving clockwise, we have: a viewfinder holder thing with frame markings on it; the camera, in the process of taking a stereo view of the camera filming it, with Oczkowski’s business card on it; one of the 1/3 (rise/fall) spacers, the 120 winder, the 1/3 winder; viewfinders for 35mm panoramic (one for rise/fall, and one for centered) and for 120; the other 1/3 spacer; internal mask for 35mm square; and spiraling in, there are two of the three clickers (tabs inserted into the body of the camera to make a clicking sound as the film winds on, to help count for frame spacing) and a sort of lock thing for the back door.
Not pictured are the spacers for centered 35mm, one clicker, and the 6×6/35mm panoramic mask, as they were inside the camera at the time, and the winder/rewinder for centered 35mm and click stops, which, in the video, would shortly be being wound and rewound as I had come to the end of the roll. There are also a couple of canvas bags for the camera and all the bits (the smaller one appears in above).
Apologies, again, to Oczkowski and to you, dear reader, for my failure to make a video… If that changes, I’ll update, of course, but don’t hold your breath.
So that’s the camera. Honestly, it’s one of the most well-designed Kickstarters I’ve had the pleasure of handling, and it’s a brilliant bit of kit. Seriously. Stop reading and go preorder one of these. Despite getting a free one, I’m a proud and excited backer, and I look forward to receiving and playing with the first production version.
But how does it photograph?
Well, in the hands of someone competent, in the hands of a half-decent photographer, it’s capable of absolute greatness… that is, if my half-decent, best results are of any indication.
Obviously, I don’t have a handle on the focal length… it’s pretty wide, much wider than I’ve figured out… (Looking back at the Kickstarter, Oczkowski reports it as 20mm equivalent in 35mm, and that seems about right). Both of the above, my darling wife standing patiently under that great tree, would be far better if they were made closer.
That said, with a bit of cropping and some play in software, it’s easy and fun to make wiggle gifs…
I did this some, with some limited success, with the Reto 3D, though I didn’t really appreciate that camera much at all, and didn’t really understand how to do them effectively. And the three half frame 35mm images, made with fixed focus, plastic lenses, don’t come close to the quality of a well-manufactured pinhole on 120 film (or 7:3 35mm, or even square 35mm).
To be honest, my first rolls had some issues, and I got much better results after looking at my failures (the photos above came from the most recent rolls of 120 Fomapan 200).
With the first roll of 35mm panoramic, which I loaded almost immediately after unboxing, I shot much of it handheld, and so most of it was blurred beyond anything, and what wasn’t blurred was marred by various failures, of framing, of winding, of any sort of photographic thought or vision.
With my second roll (120), I didn’t wind on far enough, and so the film went wonky in winding and led to stereo images that don’t match up.
With both, I managed some fun stuff though… two 7:3 35mm frames make a nice sized panorama, even blurry, though a quick handheld half-second exposure means that the shutter doesn’t really open all the way, and so you end up with some dark bars on the edges.
And if you make a wiggle gif from wonky 120 film… well, if you’re prone to motion sickness, scroll by quickly.
And if you have a Windows machine,*** you can use use the free StereoPhoto Maker software to export a “Rotating Illusion” animated gif, what I call a “barf-o-matic” gif… or if you take the gif into the Gimp, duplicate and invert the two layers, and cycle them a bit off-kilter, and you can really get something fun:
Sorry for that.
Even with wonky film, though—and that’s the first thing I saw—I’m impressed by how sharp the shots came out.
I was so impressed both by the sharpness and by the flare characteristics, that I tried again with the next roll… and ended up with a nice double or triple exposure somehow.
And that’s what I’ve had with the preproduction Minuta Stereo: nothing but good times.
Now, if you read the footnotes, I said I’d say something about the Zero Image camera, so here we go…
Back in my long-ago review of the Zero Image 6×9 Multi-Format, I wrote that “For multi-format (6×4, 6×6, 6×7, and 6×9) pinhole, there’s none better.” I stand by that, and for sharpness, pinholes in the Zero Image and the Minuta Stereo seem roughly equivalent. But the Zero Image had (and still has) a major design flaw: it can not natively keep film flat, and in this it pales when compared to the Minuta.
Sure, the Minuta and I had issues with wonky frames, but only because I misloaded the roll (and production versions will include a start mark to help jerks like me get it right). Tolerances on the Minuta are beyond compare, likely due to the computer aided design, carried out by a professional architect, and laser-cut MDF vs. hand-cut sailboat wood.
As far as looks to, the Zero Image, with its brass hardware and glossy finish has a preciousness that the Minuta Stereo lacks, but the Minuta is cute cute cute, and after 6 weeks of handling has some character (dings, wear marks on the finish) that my Zero lacks, even after years of largely non-use. (Even after adding a couple of 3×5 cards, cut down and taped over, to the rear door, the Zero still can’t keep film flat, but I did get an incredible shot out of it in Arkansas late last year.)
As far as formats go, the Zero 6×9 offers 4, but is limited to 120 film, and while the Minuta Stereo is limited to 6×6, it does shoot stereo, and rise and fall, and accepts 35mm film in two formats, all with rise, fall, and centered horizons, and so… well, it’s horses for courses, as far as that goes, but I’ll probably reach for the Minuta before the Zero, unless I specifically want 6×7 or 6×9.
The cute little Minuta Stereo camera has been a surprising bright spot in what was a challenging several weeks, and if you’re reading this in late March 2021 and have some bucks to spend on a really excellent, fun, and unique pinhole camera, consider the Minuta Stereo. At time of writing, it needs less than $1000 to get over the finish line, and every dollar will help!
Feel free to reach out with questions about the camera or my experience with it! I’m happy to answer any questions, and if I don’t know, I’ll do my best to find out.
Thanks for reading! Have you pledged to support the project? Do you plan to? Let’s have a chat about it!
*I’ll be making some comparisons to Zero Image products because the Zero Image Multiformat 6×9 is the finest pinhole camera I’ve had the pleasure to shoot, up until I saw the first results form the Minuta Stereo.
**Sadly, due to the care and professionalism of the UPS, the 35mm 1/3 (rise/fall) knob broke in shipping, and so I was unable to test… And I also forgot to ever flip the camera upside down. I guess I’ll have to put another roll of 120 through it. Life’s rough all over, ain’t it.
***If you run Mac computers, you can easily create a Wineskin “machine” and run it through that… that’s what I did. I ran into some issues getting gifs created with it to play nice on social media—they wouldn’t save at all on Twitter and showed up as single images on Insta—and had to open with the Gimp and export.