America did not invent photography—that honor must go to the French—but US camera manufacturers can take credit for introducing simple ways of taking pictures and bringing photography to the masses. Along the way, many also came up with often strange and sometimes ugly designs.
Cameras with built-in meters were not rare in the 1960s, but the problem with camera meters before the Topcon RE Super was that the cell took in a different view than that of the lens. Using a standard lens that was mostly okay, but if a wide-angle or telephoto lens were fitted, changing the field of view and the part of the subject needing to be accurately metered, it was a different matter.
The Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) design involved two lenses, one to record its image on film, the other to reflect its image to a focusing screen. The style dates back to the days of plate cameras, but came to the fore with the launch of the Rolleiflex in 1928.
The Voigtländer Prominent was one of the most sophisticated cameras of the 1950s—also among the most complicated, and just a bit eccentric. It was launched in 1951, a time when 35mm rangefinder cameras were at their peak. Yet it anticipated the approaching popularity of single lens reflexes by offering devices that converted it from rangefinder to reflex use and surrounding itself with interchangeable lenses, viewfinders, close-up attachments, filters, and other accessories that made it a true system camera.
Making panoramic pictures in the digital age is easy. But it’s a lot more fun to use classic panoramic cameras, many of which can still be bought and used today.
The first panoramic camera was the Megaskop, made in 1844 to produce daguerreotypes on silver-plated copper plates, 4.7x17.5” wide. Later, there were Cirkut cameras, made first by the Rochester Panoramic Camera Company in 1904 and later by Kodak. These cameras were, and still are, used to produce super-wide school or sports club pictures. As the exposure was made, a clockwork motor rotated the camera on its tripod while inside the film traveled from one spool to another, past a slit at the focal plane.
Polaroid was not the first company to try instant photography. Back in the daguerreotype and wet plate days, patents were granted for cameras in which the plate could be developed inside the body. But it wasn’t until 1864 that the first commercially successful instant picture camera came to the market.
When Leitz launched the Leica in 1925, they did more than start the 35mm revolution. They also influenced the way some rollfilm manufacturers began to consider smaller formats. One result was small rollfilm cameras that took their own unique sizes of extra-small film. The Ensign Midget was one of the best.
When it was launched in 1956, advertisements of the time claimed the Rittreck to be the world’s most versatile Single Lens Reflex (SLR). It’s a statement that would be difficult to argue with. How many other SLRs can you name that offered interchangeable lenses, interchangeable backs, close-up facilities, a choice of four different formats, and the option of shooting on roll film or cut film?
In the days before digital, most film cameras had built-in, battery-driven motor drives. But cameras with motor drives were around long before the electronic age, the only difference being that they ran by clockwork.
Say clockwork to collectors and Robot is the name that springs to mind. These cameras were the brainchild of Heinz Kilfitt, a German watchmaker and prolific...
In 1947, the English Wray Optical Company took out a patent on an amazing and innovative 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR). It had an eye-level penta-prism viewfinder, instant return mirror, Through The Lens (TTL) metering, and a built-in clockwork motor drive—four features never before seen on this type of camera.