All I Want for Christmas is ONDU
By Paul McKay
Our readers may have seen certain images of wooden pinhole cameras stamped with 'ONDU' circulating on Instagram over the past few years. Some of you may be lucky enough to own one of these cameras! And today we talk to the man behind the brand: Elvis. Three successful Kickstarter campaigns, hundreds of cameras dispatched around the globe, and a lifestyle that seems to effortlessly match outdoor hikes with a friendly film camera factory - there's a lot to admire! So let's get started.
Elvis! How are you doing? How are Christmas sales looking for you?
Hi Paul, I’m good, wrapping up a good year behind us and excited for the future. Sales are actually the best they have ever been for this time of the year. In my mind this is proof that we finally made a very good product that has pretty much everything anyone could want in a pinhole camera made of wood.
That's great to hear, and the response to the Mark III has been pretty outstanding. Let's take a step back: what is your personal history with film photography?
I can trace back the early beginnings of my relationship to everything image wise to the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana where I went to university. It was just around the time where the consumer DSLR time was starting to amp up and everyone was on the digital train including me. Upon learning that there’s a pretty much vacant darkroom at the academy and learning the pleasures of self developing film and images coupled with the discovery of f295.org my everyday became consumed with pinhole photography. It started with a simple film cartridge camera and grew into many deviations over the years that ultimately led to the creation of ONDU.
So you were always into pinhole photography from the start? Do you shoot any favourite non-pinhole camera and film set-ups?
As someone who used to suffer a lot from GAS ( gear acquisition syndrome ) that’s a tough one. It kinda all depends what I want to make at the time. The camera I shot with the most was the CANON ae-1 as well as the A1. The go to lens was the 50mm 1.4. S.S:C. Then I had a very good period with a MINOX ML35, I liked this camera so much and for its size it gave phenomenal results. The go to film was usually either Kodak T-max 400 or Ilford HP5 that I liked to push it regularly to 3200. As for daytime I managed to score a whole freezer of various Efke films at the time when the Efke manufacturing facility started to close down. These are kind of the staples that regularly produce good results but it’s always nice to experiment with different films and developers as well.
This might be like asking a parent to choose a child, so I'll proceed with care...but do you have a favourite ONDU camera?
Again, it all depends what I’d like to convey with the image. Just like different lenses with their respective looks and personalities I believe the same is true for any pinhole camera. But all in all, I mostly use the 6x12 Multiformat RISE.
What inspired you to first start ONDU?
I made the first wooden camera on my student exchange in Poland, Krakow. Before that all the cameras were either cardboard, foamboard etc. They were not made to last and sadly I have only one left from that period. My design professor was kind enough to lend me his woodworking workshop after school hours and showed me some basics of machine safety. This was the first time where I went into a deep flow of working on something in my life and it dawned on me that this ( woodworking ) could be the thing that I’d like to pursue. After this and some other projects in between, 2 years later the ONDU pinhole cameras were created.
You recently successfully ran and fulfilled your MK III pinhole cameras - the third Kickstarter in ONDU history - how did it compare to past campaigns?
This was the first campaign that we made with pretty much no paid ads and targeting. We wanted to be a part of a true crowdfunding experience. Today, with so many new ideas and startups it’s pretty much impossible to make a Kickstarter without this kind of help. Luckily we have a very loyal following of photographers that enjoy our creations and almost half were return customers from the 1st and 2nd campaign. We are very happy how it turned out in terms of funding and satisfied as well that we managed to not be too late this time around with our delivery.
What motivates you to keep improving and iterating on the initial design?
It’s our users that dictate what can be improved with the cameras. I use the ONDU’s regularly but there’s so much I can see what It needs in order to make it better. User feedback is very valuable and if we see that there’s many people asking for the same thing, there’s something to it. And if that idea is executable we try to make it work.
What do you have in your plans for ONDU MK IV?
As for the actual functionalities of the cameras, I think there’s not so much more that we can do to get to a proper MK IV, we are looking into possibilities of new models, styles, addons and slight changes if we see the need for them. But for now the ONDU as it is has reached its pinnacle. We will work on optimizing our workflow, material management and focus more on our community. There are some amazing artists out there that we’d like to present to the world in the future. We are looking into making dedicated large format photography gear in the future but for now these are just ideas.
What’s the best photo you’ve ever taken on an ONDU camera (and which film did you use?)
It’s very hard to say what my favorite is, since there are so many, but I do feel that some of the best ones were made on our recent trip down to the Balkans. They were made mostly with the 6x12 Multiformat and 6x6 Pocket camera using Kodak Ektar 100. We’ll be sharing these pictures soon as they just got scanned over the past weekend!
What’s the best community photo you’ve ever seen from an ONDU photographer?
There are so many! Every so often we see images that are just on another level. As with any tool you can see when people take the time to learn the process, contemplate the shot and capture something that only a pinhole can do. It’s hard to say who and which, since whatever I say I’ll do a disfavour to all the other ones that didn’t get mentioned.
You recently opened your online shop to sell ONDU direct - what prompted that choice?
We have been selling ONDU’s from our online shop since the first campaign, we just upgraded it slightly in the past 2 years and now we have more plans to include more hands on learning and presentation for the future.
Oops sorry! But I think you have a special deal happening at the moment for Christmas - what are the details?
One of our add-ons when buying an ONDU is a personal engraving. For Christmas, since many of the cameras sold right now are gifts, we thought it would be nice to provide free engravings to all orders to add that extra special touch (even if it’s a gift to yourself!)
What would you say to any film photographer who hasn’t yet shot pinhole?
I would first suggest one thing. Not to buy a pinhole camera, and not to make one per se. Get some cardboard and black duct tape, find a room with a nice view and darken the whole room completely except a tiny pencil sized hole. Do this on a bright sunny day and let the room you are in become the camera that projects the outside inside. Seeing this for the first time and starting to realise how light actually “works” became a source of constant inspiration and I started viewing light in a different manner. This is what worked for me and I still remember that day as if it was yesterday, it’s not hard to do and it can benefit many photographers even if they are not into pinhole photography. ( yet!)
On top of that there’s something fundamentally special when it comes to making an image with nothing interfering between the subject and the film plane. It’s not a quick grab and shot kinda deal, if you want good results it will take time and commitment, but once you get there, there's nothing more rewarding.
I also shoot digital regularly and enjoy it as well. But there are some times and places that in my eyes, are just made to be in a pinhole shot.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to people about ONDU or film photography in general that hasn’t been covered naturally in our chat so far?
I’d like to start with a thank you to everyone that has ever supported us in any form. It’s amazing to think that there are so many of our cameras out there in the world right now bringing joy to people and taking their minds into a different perspective. We enjoy seeing the images ONDU friends make and share on a regular basis and we could have never imagined where this will end up. There were so many kind words shared with us over the years and in the world of high paced consumerism it’s rewarding to hear that people appreciate our work.
Thanks Paul for the chat!
My absolute pleasure! If this has inspired you to pick up an (engraved!) ONDU camera for yourself or a loved one then head over to the ONDU shop here - and don't forget to follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
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