Miniature Photography – Part I

Reducing the size of the picture frame and subsequentially of the camera  is a requirement that has accompanied the evolution of photography from its beginnings up to digital era: the splitting of original deguerreotype sheet sizes (up to sixteenths), the improvement of field cameras up introduction of roll films, all of these steps were completed, according to the standards of their time, in the same direction.

A format such as 4×5, which we now consider “Large”, was in early years little more than a small size; the true limit to miniaturization was shattered with the invention and refinement of the photo enlargers: from that moment sizes of frame and cameras were disconnected, at least in part, from the final print which could be made different from contact printing. It ‘s true that in 1839/40 Steinheil produced a camera that created images of 8×11 mm but, to be usable this had to be equipped with a visor to enlarge them and for this reason just little more of ten exemplars were produced.

The other element that allowed the momentum towards minimizing the size was the abandonment of the wet collodion  in favor of dry plates  first  and celluloid film then: the end of the ‘900 saw the emergence of many different types of camera, disguised as book, ashtrays and the like, until you get to the size of cigarette packets or watch chain.

But the real phenomenon of minitiaturization and “subminiature photography” came up  with cameras that used 16mm film or the like and with so-called “spy cameras” like the Minox. The first Minox was developed starting in 1934 thanks to the genius and vision of Walter Zapp; it was the very beginning of a great manufacturing precision and complexity instrument, which was marketed with great success until the beginning of World War II.

The Minox represented and still represents the main synonymous with photography in miniature, thanks to the small size of its frame; in addition to espionage applications, which really existed and even massively, this type of cameras met the favor of all those amateurs who needed simple souvenir photos, mainly in 9×13 cm print format or less. This allowed the flourishing of models on the market from many other manufacturers, especially Minolta and Yashica, as well as the Soviet Kiev 30 and 300 Alcune fotocamere 16mm

All these models are more or less complex in their construction and in their operation and some of them, such as certain models of Minolta 16, constructed of materials and lenses that allow image quality far superior to that which is expected as standard for this small format, allowing you to get sharp images and of good quality even at high magnification.

The film sizes primarily used in these cameras are three: 8 mm, 9.5 mm and 16 mm, while several image formats are impressed, also due to the different perforations (and therefore to winding mechanisms) that the films were pre-packaged; the following table shows the film formats and frame used for cameras that had the major market penetration:

Film Type
Image Size
8 mm 6,1 x 6,1 mm Echo 8mm
9,5 mm 8 x 11 mm Minox
16 mm 10 x 10 mm Minicord
16 mm 10 x 14 mm Minolta 16, Kiev 30
16 mm 11,5 x 14,7 mm Mikroma
16 mm 12 x 17 mm GaMi 16
16 mm DP 10 x 14,7 mm Mikroma

In the next part we will go through some of the most popular models.

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