From the very beginning, subminiature photography has been an essential ingredient in the history of photography. Subminiature cameras have been a major factor in the evolution of cameras and photography as we know it today. As a result, the history of subminiature photography -- even SPY photography -- closely parallels the history of general photography.

Photography did not develop overnight in one location. It evolved over many years through the work of many people in various locations. Cameras and lenses had been evolving since, at least, the time of the Greek classic civilization. Although these "camera lucidas", as they were called, did not use film, they were used by artists and others to project images for reproduction as well as to entertain and amuse.

The first film was developed in the nineteenth century. It is generally accepted that the first photographs were taken by Niepce in 1826-1827. He soon teamed-up with Daguerre who in August of 1839 announced the development of the Daguerrotype. Since the "paper" for this process was a copper plate carefully polished and plated with silver, the first cameras, by today's standards, were large and the resulting images small.

Subminiature photography quickly emerged through the work of Steinheil. By December of 1839, he was making a portable Daguerrean camera which produced images of 8x11mm. These were barely viewable with the naked eye and were used mainly for portraits to be placed in broaches and other jewelry. While this idea never really caught on, his work was important in several ways. First, his idea of a small, portable camera was very popular and led to the development of smaller, out-of-the-studio designs for regular cameras. In addition, his use of super-wide aperture lenses (such as f2.5) lead to the use of much faster lenses in other branches of photography. With the very slow "films" of the time, faster lenses were a definite advantage.

At the same time (1839), a microscopist named Dancer caught the Daguerrotype "bug" and redesigned it for use with his medium -- the microscope. He could take pictures of tiny objects, but discovered that by inverting the process and placing the "film" where the microscope slide normally goes, he would end up with incredibly tiny pictures of life-sized scenes. So, in the same year that the Daguerrotype was developed, the first micro-films were achieved. At the time, they were used primarily as a novelty, since the pictures had to be viewed through a microscope, but this achievement would have long-lasting implications.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, new, faster, flexible films were created. This, combined with other factors encouraged the evolution of subminiature photography. Most of the cameras of the time were large, heavy objects that required a portable darkroom. The new, flexible roll film got rid of the traveling darkroom. New forms of transportation made travel possible for a large segment of the population who now wanted smaller cameras to record their journeys. The interest in the new medium of photography was so great that even the lower classes wanted to have cameras. This meant offering less expensive cameras and the easiest way to accomplish this was to make the cameras smaller. Even war played a big part in the development of subminiature photography. Without the electronic methods of communication, such as telephone or radio, communication through battle lines was very difficult. Carrier pigeons had been used for some time, but one small piece of paper cannot carry much information. It was discovered as early as the American Civil War that the same pigeon, carrying microfilm, could literally transport a book. Perhaps the most important factor in the development of subminiature photography was the prudishness of the Victorian era. Even more so than today, people in the nineteenth century were disinclined to have their pictures taken, except under professional, studio conditions. One way around this was to design very small or disguised cameras for unsuspecting snapshots. By the turn of the century, cameras were showing up as books, hats, walking sticks, lunch boxes, binoculars, pocket watches and other common items.

When the 35mm format captured the camera-buying public's imagination in the mid-thirties, professional photographers and photo dealers alike were fond of delivering periodic and solemn pronouncements predicting a very brief popularity span for the so-called "postage-stamp" negatives. But to their great surprise, 35mm survived despite the repeated dire prophesies of doom and rather crude film emulsions of the day. And with the introduction of Kodachrome film and synchro-flash photography even the pros accepted 35mm, although begrudgingly at first. By the late forties, nearly all of the quality still cameras sold were 35mm, a market dominance that lasted until Kodak's fantastically successful introduction of the 126 cartridge in 1963.

And now, to the surprise of almost everyone, Kodak has done it again with the 1972 appearance of the 110 film cartridge for its new Pocket Instamatic camera series. Yet today's pocket cameras are essentially the ultraminiature cameras of the sixties and the subminiatures of the fifties. Both the concept and the cameras have been around almost from the beginning of photography, but stan-dardization of the film format, one of the key ingredients in extending their popularity to a mass audience, now appears to be on its way, courtesy of Kodak. Pocket camera photography is here to stay and regardless of which of the four current film formats your camera uses, you're right in the swing of things if you now own one. To see how we made it to where we are today, let's take a backward look at the pocket camera's development.

The pocket camera actually dates back at least to 1839, when Professor Carl Von Steinheil, a Bavarian scientist who founded the famed German optical works bearing his name, produced a small daguerreotype camera. Its 20mm two-element achromatic lens took 8x11 mm pictures on highly polished, silver-plated copper disks. Iodine vapor was used to sensitize the disks and mercury vapor developed the exposed image. Records show that Steinheil manufactured only a dozen, and six of these eventually turned up in England. Locate one today and you've got a real collector's item.

Some two and a half decades later. Charles P. Smyth, a prominent English astronomer and Egyptologist, developed a small format camera using wet plates. Although he was successful in using it to photograph the Great Pyramids and other Egyptian relics, it remained for Maddox's invention of the dry plate in 1874 to really spur the pocket camera concept to commercial success. For the next two decades, the so-called "detective" or "spy" cameras enjoyed a healthy vogue as small cameras were incorporated in a variety of books, false parcels, hats, walking sticks, pocket watches and tie pins.

But public fascination with the hidden cameras was never really extensive and they gradually faded before the concentrated marketing of larger and more inexpensive roll film cameras such as those produced by Kodak. George Eastman was fond of advertising several of these as "pocket" cameras and the term was accepted by the public, who bought the large monstrosities (by today's standards) by the millions. The pocket concept was further refined by extending it to those cameras using No. 127 or "vest pocket" film, as it was popularly known, and once more cameras were sold by the millions.

But the modern pocket camera concept did not materialize until the mid-1930s. This time, it was in the mind of Walter Zapp, who manufactured his original Minox design in Riga. Latvia, until World War II disrupted European commerce. The Minox came to fame as an espionage tool used by the Allies as well as the Germans. The Japanese even got into the act with a camera concealed in a most logical place, in a Zippo-type cigarette lighter, one of which was used to photograph military installations at Pearl Harbor before the Japanese attack. As a result of the cloak-and-dagger publicity these cameras received in the movies and popular literature of the war years, the postwar photo market was primed for a pocket camera boom.

The boom began on the American photographic scene even before Minox GmbH returned to production in 1948. Bill Whittaker of Los Angeles had been a rather successful fabricator of aircraft parts during the war; with the cessation of hostilities, his market nose-dived. Firmly resolving to use his metal die-casting experience in the camera business, Whittaker began the manufacture of his Micro 16 in 1946. The camera carried an f/8 lens with three Waterhouse stops and a simple single-speed shutter, but at the quite reasonable price of $29.95; some 250,000 were manufactured and sold in the five years the camera was marketed.

The popularity of the inexpensive Micro 16 and the precision Minox soon brought forth a host of competition from around the world-GaMi from Italy; Stylophot in two models from France; Mikroma and Stereo Mikroma from Czechoslovakia; Mini-cord from Austria; CamBinox, Stei-neck A-B-C and Mec 16 from Germany; Mamiya, Ricoh 16, Steky, Petal, Minolta, Echo and Yashica from Japan; and the domestic Tynar and Universal Minute 16.

While the price tags on this deluge of pocket cameras ranged as low as $4.95, the majority were precision instruments of which the undisputed king remained the Minox, although its throne was briefly challenged by the system approach of the superb GaMi 16. But the GaMi was also the largest and most expensive of the pocket cameras and never quite captured the public imagination, as had the Minox, although both cameras possessed that same indefinable aspect of design and production sought by all camera manufacturers, but achieved by only a few-quality. Part of this aura of excellence can be explained when you realize that the Minox B, measuring a mere 3 7/8x1 1/8x5/8 inches and weighing only 3 1/4 ounces, required 1614 individual steps to assemble its 237 parts. With mechanical tolerances held to 4/10,000 inch and optical tolerances of 1750,000 inch involved in its manufacture, 388 separate inspections were used to control the 1973 separate dimensions involved, resulting in an ultra-precision product that has become the object of a virtual cult of enthusiasts over the years.

Originally introduced in I954, the Italian GaMi was probably the best engineered and most superbly made pocket camera of that decade. A six-element 25mm Galileo Esamitar f1.9 lens could be focused to 20 inches by its coupled rangefinder, and its synchronized all-metal shutter ranged from 1/2 to 1/1000 second and Bulb. Sequence photography in tnree-picture bursts was made possible by a built-in spring motor and the coupled extinction light meter was an attempt at exposure control. Its many accessories included supplementary telephoto lenses and gave the GaMi a versatility unmatched by any other pocket camera then or now, but the weight was a hefty 10 1/2 ounces and the price was $297-pretty steep in dollars of that era.

The Austrian Minicord III held the distinction of being the world's smallest true twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera. Using a roof prism instead of a mirror, it provided a right-side-up and unreversed image through its 45-degree eyepiece. This allowed the user to follow action with ease, a feature lacking in all other TLRs of the time, pocket size or larger. The six-element 25mm Goerz Heigor f/2 lens was geared to the viewfinder objective and could be focused as close as 12 inches. The Minicord III also used a synchronized metal focal-plane shutter with speeds of 1 /10 to 1 /400 second and Bulb. Placed beside the shutter release, its rapid advance trigger also permitted sequence photography at the rate of one picture per second. Although priced at a more reasonable $139.50, the Minicord III was the heaviest of the pocket cameras, weighing 12 ounces.

While European manufacturers were content to produce superior quality, it remained for the Japanese to introduce partial standardization and bring the pocket camera genuine popularity for about a decade. First discovered during the Korean conflict, the Japanese Mamiya and Minolta 16 were well received in post exchanges. The Mamiya Super 16 was also distributed for a time by Sears, Roebuck as the Tower 16, and with its f/3.5 lens and 112 to 1 /200 second shutter range, proved a popular, low-cost ($39.95) pocket camera. This model was gradually phased out in favor of the Mamiya Automatic 16 (which appeared at about the same time as the Minox B) with its built-in coupled exposure meter and $69.95 price tag. Mamiya obligingly provided empty film cassettes for bulk loading by those owners far-sighted enough to spot the end of the boom.

With all the advanced features incorporated in these tiny quality cameras, and the numerous advantages that the pocket concept had in its favor, what happened? Well, the manufacturers were partially at fault for its eclipse. Although all used drop-in cartridge or cassette film loads, each company designed its own and selected its own negative format, which ranged from the 6x6mm Echo 8 to the 12x17mm GaMi and 14x21mm Tessina. While the Japanese manufacturers were unable to agree on a universal cartridge, they did settle on a 10x1 4mm negative size and this helped prolong the popularity of their cameras; but strangely enough, even though the GaMi is long gone, its 12x17mm format seems to have won out. Had one single cartridge been adopted by several manufacturers, the pocket camera boom might have lasted longer, but film for a particular camera was available only from dealers that handled it, and most corner drugstores refused to stock the multitude of brands and sizes. And it's exactly this problem that Kodak's 110 cartridge will soon solve, as more and more manufacturers move into the field of pocket camera production with new and different models.

Few camera enthusiasts were interested in doing their own darkroom work during the fifties and so processing and printing of the pocket camera negatives were left to the commercial labs, most of which capably botched the results of careful composition and exposure on the part of the camera user by returning scratched negatives and fuzzy prints in exchange for an exorbitant price. While nearly all camera manufacturers had authorized processing stations to which film could be sent, these seemed to be as bad as and more expensive than the independent labs. Incidentally, some processing labs are still living back in the fifties where this type of work is concerned.

Several color emulsions were loaded for pocket camera use at the time, but only the old Kodachrome was really suitable. The lack of fine grain in other color films of that era contributed to a seemingly unsharp image when blown up. Processors customarily returned the tiny transparencies either in strips or in 2x2-inch paper mounts for use in standard 35mm projectors. The strips were quite unsuitable for anything but hand viewing, unless the customer wanted to mount his own, which was both costly and time-consuming. When the 2x2-inch mounts with their tiny 8x11 or 12x17mm transparencies were projected in a 35mm machine, the results were immensely disappointing, as the four- to five-inch focal length lenses common to 35mm projectors produced a very small screen image. To enjoy his slides, the pocket camera enthusiast really had to buy a projector especially designed for the small format, and at.a time when the projector market was rapidly automating, manufacturers were content to offer pocket camera users only the old-style manual push-pull changer, turning off a lot of potential buyers at the counter.

So what's brought the pocket camera back to life in the seventies? The same advantages that have always appealed to a small group -- portability and convenience. Of course, the latest technical advances in new models, such as exposure automation, electronic shutters and the like cannot be overlooked, nor should a changing public preference away from color transparency to color negative film. But probably the largest factor of all is the simplest, and it may seem insignificant at first.

When Kodak went to its advertising agency to have them develop a marketing campaign for its new 16mm cameras, it expected a profound and new idea that would take weeks to develop in order to properly sell the line to the public. But the ad agency's suggestion was one of absolute simplicity -- just call them Pocket Instamatics. Kodak accepted, but not without some hesitation -- it all seemed too simple, too easy. Yet this one word fired public imagination as never before and you can rest assured that pocket camera photography is not only here to stay, it's the wave of the future.

Subminiature photography has continued to flourish through new wars, formal and informal espionage, new lens designs, new film developments, the space race, inter-company and inter-national competition and many other factors. For more information about the design and development of subminiature cameras through war and peace, check out the library.

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