The first product to carry the Minox name was a subminiature camera, conceived in 1922, and finally invented and produced in 1936, by Baltic German Walter Zapp. The Latvian factory VEF (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika) manufactured the camera from 1937 to 1943. After World War II, the camera was redesigned and production resumed in Germany in 1948. Walter Zapp originally envisioned the Minox to be a camera for everyone requiring only little photographic knowledge. Yet in part due to its high manufacturing costs the Minox became more well known as a must-have luxury item. From the start the Minox also gained wide notoriety as a spy camera.
- 1 History
- 2 Minox subminiature camera
- 3 Minox 35mm cameras
- 4 Other products
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
From 1936 to 1975 the history of the Minox brand is essentially that of the Minox subminiature camera. From 1975 the Minox name also became associated with other products, most notably the Minox 35mm compact cameras produced from 1975 until 2004.
Minox subminiature camera
Subminiature camera history
The original Minox subminiature camera was invented by Walter Zapp in 1936. Zapp, a Baltic German, was born in 1905 in Riga, then part of the Russian Empire. The family moved to Revel (now called Tallinn, Estonia) where he first took a job as an engraver before finding a position with a photographer. He became friends with Nikolai 'Nixi' Nylander and Richard Jürgens, and it was through discussions with these friends that the idea of a camera that could always be carried came to him. Nixi Nylander also coined the name MINOX and drew up the Minox mouse logo. Jürgens funded the original project but was not able to get support in Estonia for production. Jürgens contacted an English representative of the VEF (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika) electrotechnical manufacturing business in Riga (by then independent Latvia) who then arranged a meeting where Zapp demonstrated the Minox prototype (UrMinox), with a set of enlargements made from Ur-Minox negatives. Production began in Riga at VEF, running from 1937 until 1943.
Shortly after its introduction, the Minox was widely advertised in The European and American markets. It did not surmount the popularity of 35mm cameras (which were then referred to as "Miniature Cameras"), but did achieve a niche market. It also attracted the attention of intelligence agencies in America, Britain and Germany, due to its small size and macro focusing ability.
Ironically during World War II production of the Minox was put in jeopardy several times as Latvia fell victim to invasion by the Soviet Union, then Germany, and then by the Soviets again. Cameras were produced under both Russian and German occupation nevertheless, and the camera became both a luxury gift item for Nazi leaders as well as a tool for their spies. In the meantime, Zapp and his associates protected their interest in the product by patenting it in America and by searching for alternative production facilities in Germany.
After World War II, production of the Minox II began in 1948 at a new company, Minox GmbH, in Giessen/Heuchelheim near Wetzlar, West Germany. The new camera very much resembled the original, but was made with a plastic chassis covered by an aluminum shell. This greatly reduced its weight and, to an extent, cost. The camera continued to appeal to a luxury "gadget" market which broadened during the 1950s and early 1960s. It also continued to see use as an espionage camera by both sides during the Cold War. During this time, the Minox company continued to develop the camera, working with Gossen to develop a companion miniature exposure meter, as well as improved models such as the Minox B, which incorporated an even smaller Gossen-designed meter into the camera itself. The Minox B became the most popular and widely produced model of the line. Further developments included autoexposure, and the company developed an extensive line of accessories. These included flash guns, viewfinder attachments, tripod mounts, and copying stands, all increasing the camera utility in a variety of applications. One accessory even allowed the camera to use a pair of binoculars as a telephoto lens (see illustration). Limited editions of the camera were also produced in a variety of luxury finishes, such as gold plating. Standard cameras were also available in an optional black anodized finish.
The Riga Minox camera, along with the luxury finish postwar cameras, are now collector's items. Newer electronic versions, such as the Minox TLX, remain in production, essentially unchanged in features from the LX model since the late 1970s. With the introduction of the LX came significant redesign of the camera's basic controls. There is also the fully electronic entry-level model, the EC, which has a very different internal design and has a fixed-focus lens. The production rate for these cameras is considerably slower than in former years, however, as Minox devotes more time to the design and marketing of OEM cameras under the Minox brand. As of December 2012, the Minox TLX is available once again to special order.
The Minox subminiature camera attracted the attention of intelligence agencies in America, Britain and Germany, due to its small size and macro focusing ability. There is at least one document in the public record of 25 Minox cameras purchased by the US Office of Strategic Services intelligence organisation in 1942.
The close-focusing lens and small size of the camera made it perfect for covert uses such as surveillance or document copying. The Minox was used by both Axis and Allied intelligence agents during World War II. Later versions were used well into the 1980s. The Soviet spy John A. Walker Jr., whose actions against the US Navy cryptography programs represent some of the most compromising intelligence actions against the United States during the Cold War era, used a Minox C to photograph documents and ciphers.
An 18-inch (460 mm) measuring chain was provided with most Minox subminiature cameras, which enabled easy copying of letter-sized documents. The espionage use of the Minox has been portrayed in Hollywood movies and TV shows, and some 1980's Minox advertising has played up the "spy camera" story.
Other special uses
A Minox B, operated by remote trigger and protected in a special housing, was used to inspect the interior of the United States Army's SL-1 experimental nuclear reactor after it experienced an internal steam explosion in 1961. This camera and housing were shown in the film report released following the accident investigation.
Technical details of Minox 8×11 cameras
The original Riga-made Minox had a brass chassis covered in a stainless steel shell, which telescopes to reveal or cover the lens and viewfinder windows, as well as to advance the film. It was equipped with a parallax correcting viewfinder, which was coupled to a Cooke triplet type Minostigmat 15 mm f/3.5 lens. The lens was capable of focusing as close as 20 cm, and, due to its small image size, provided such depth of field at full aperture that a diaphragm was deemed unnecessary. The maximum focus zone was about one meter to infinity. In front of the lens was a metal foil curtain shutter, which was itself protected by a window. These were advanced features at the time for any camera, regardless of size.
The dimensions of the Minox subminiature camera are: 80 mm × 27 mm x 16 mm; weight: 130 g.
The Minox cameras project an image of 8×11 mm onto the negative. The film is in strips 9.2 mm wide, or less than one-quarter the size of 35 mm film, and unlike 35 mm film, it has no sprocket holes. This film strip is rolled up on a supply spool in the supply side chamber of a small twin chamber cartridge, with the film leader taped to a take-up spool in the take up chamber. The film strips can be up to 50 frames in length for Riga Minox and Minox II, III, IIIs and B cameras. From Minox BL and C cameras onward the Minox film cartridge holds 15, 30, or 36 exposures.
Early Minox cameras from Minox II to earlier Minox B were equipped with a four-element, three-group Complan lens designed by ex-Leica lens designer Arthur Seibert. The Complan lens has a curved film plane, hence in these cameras the negative must be held in an arc to improve the edge-to-edge sharpness of the image. The Minox enlarger also holds the negative in this same curve. Later models, beginning with late model Minox B, to the current model TLX, using the 15 mm f/3.5 four-element, three-group flat-field Minox lens, and the negative was held flat.
The early Minox cameras from Riga to Minox B and BL, were equipped with a mechanical shutter, while later model Minox cameras have an electromagnetic shutter. When closed, the viewfinder and lens windows are protected. Complan lens and Minox lens are unit focusing lens, focusing from 8 inches (20cm) to infinity through precision gear linked to a focusing dial on top of the camera. All Minox cameras, except the EC, have a parallax correction viewfinder: when the focusing dial moves, the viewfinder moves in tandem to correct for parallax.
From the Riga to Minox B, the film counter counts up to 50, while from Minox BL, C, to CLX, the film counter counts down from 36/30/15. For mechanical Minox 8x11 cameras, a separate shutter speed dial sets the shutter speed from 1/2 to 1/1000 second, plus B and T (BL has no T). For electromagnetic shutter cameras, the shutter dial starts with 1/15 sec, and ends with 1/1000 (Minox C), or starts with 1/30 and ends with 1/2000 (Minox LX/TLX/CLX); the electromagnetic Minox camera also has an 'A' setting for automatic exposure, controlled by the built in exposure meter.
Above the viewfinder is a filter bar used to slide a green or an orange filter in front of the lens; starting with the BL, there is only a Neutral Density filter.
For Riga Minox to Minox B, the film advances each time the camera is closed, regardless of whether a picture is taken or not. Opening the camera causes the pressure plate to press the film into a concave or flat (depending on the model) surface to stiffen thin emulsions for better clarity. When the camera is closed, the pressure plate moves back from the film plane, thus allowing the film strip to move freely to advance to the next frame. From Minox BL onward, the camera is equipped with a "freewheeling" mechanism, such that the film advances one frame only when a picture is taken, otherwise, closing the camera does not advance a frame.
Minox BL uses a PX625 button cell to power the CdS exposure meter; Minox C, LX, EC, used a 5.6v PX27 mercury battery to power the exposure meter and electromagnetic shutter. TLX, CLX, ECX use four 1.5v 386 silver oxide button cell in an adapter; this adapter combo can also be used to replaced the discontinued 5.6v PX27 battery for Minox C, LX and EC.
The original 8×11mm range is still in limited production.
Major production runs
- Riga / I (Note: Retrospectively labeled Model I; but its name Riga prevails)
- A / II-IIIs (Note: In Europe II, III, and IIIs are all referred to as Model A)
- II - 5 element Complan lens
- III - 4 element Complan lens
- IIIs – flash synch
- B – ultralight aluminium shell, selenium meter, produced from 1958 to 1972
- C – introduced in 1969, electronic, used by spy John A. Walker, Jr.
- BL – 1972 with cadmium sulphide meter (requiring a battery), no longer winds film with each open/close cycle
- LX, – electronic, in anodized aluminium, black aluminium, gold and platinum finish
- TLX - titanium titanal eloxat coated
- CLX - chrome plated, limited edition
- EC - more economical model, smallest Minox
- ECX - minor changes to the EC
- MX, distinct model with flash
Special edition runs
- AX – similar in size the A (all mechanical) and built from BL parts with an LX shell, versions in chrome, black and gold
- LX Sterling – 925 sterling silver hallmarked
- LX Selection – gold with black dials
- LX Gold II – anniversary edition, all gold, with Walter Zapp's signature
- LX Platin – Limited edition platinum Minox LX
- CLX – with Walter Zapp's signature
- LX 2000 – brass black anodized with gold trim
- Aviator – black anodized with luminous dials, logo and script limited edition of 300
- MHS EC – Minox Historical Society EC with MHS logo limited edition of 100
- MinoxClub EC – 1st German Minox club EC in Riga blue with club logo, limited edition of 111.
- LX 100th Anniversary Edition – polished chrome with Walter Zapp's commemorative coin
Minox 8×11 accessories
- Minox tripod, ver 1 and 2
- Minox tripod adapter for Riga, II,IIIs, B,BL,C
- Minox copy stand
- Minox waist level finder
- Minox 90 degree mirror
- Minox film slitter
- Minox enlargers
- Minosix selenium exposure meter
- Minox flashgun
- Minox electronic flash
- Minox binocular adapter
- Minox microfilm reader
- Minox daylight development tank with thermometer
- Minox negative viewer and cutter
- Minox film sleeves
- Minox battery adapter, for replacement of discontinued PX27 5.6v mercury battery used in electromagnetic Minox cameras.
Minox 8x11 format slide projector
Matching the size of the slide film for the 8×11 MINOX cameras, MINOX also produced slide projectors ending with the auto-focus HP24 model.
Minox 35mm cameras
Minox 35mm compact cameras
In 1974 Minox introduced a very compact (100 mm × 61 mm × 31 mm), glass fibre reinforced Makrolon bodied 35 mm film camera designed by Professor Fischer of Vienna University: the Minox EL, the first one in Minox 35 mm series. These compact cameras featured a drawbridge style lens cover which when lowered brought forward a 35 mm focal length f/2.8 four-element, three-group Tessar-type Minotar/Minoxar lens with between the lens leaf shutter and diaphragm, a center positioned viewfinder, two stroke film winder lever and a film rewind knob. The Minox 35 camera back must be removed for loading or unloading film.
The camera offered aperture priority exposure with the option of manual settings. The Minox 35ML and Minox M.D.C offer program mode (P mode) exposure in addition to aperture priority. The 35 mm/2.8 Minotar/Minoxar lens was very sharp, with low distortion, while the camera's metering-system's capability to produce excellent results especially under low-light conditions was outstanding – using exposure times of up to two minutes.
Some models have a 2x backlit exposure switch and a 10 sec timer switch. When the timer is engaged, a flashing LED indicates the timer counter is counting down, for the last two sec, the flash interval shortened.
Until today the Minox 35 cameras are the smallest cameras for the standard 35mm film format. The design was inspired by the Rollei 35, which had been the smallest 35mm camera for eight years. The Rollei 35 is only slightly bigger, but much heavier than the Minox 35 cameras.
Minox 35mm compact camera versions
- Minox EL, 1974
- MINOX GL, 1979–1981
- MINOX GT, 1981–1991
- MINOX GT-Golf, 1984
- Minox GT-Sport
All the above models use a single 5.6 v PX27 battery which can be replaced with two CR 1/3N 3V Lithium Batteries by using an adapter.
- MINOX PL, 1982–1983, program-controlled version of EL- or G-series
- MINOX ML, 1985–1995
- MINOX MB, 1986–1999
- MINOX AL, 1987–1988, simplified program-controlled version of EL- or G-series
- MINOX AF, 1988–1990, autofocus
- MINOX GT-E, 1988–1993 with built in UV filter.
- MINOX AF-90, 1990–, autofocus
- MINOX MB Touring, 1990
- MINOX Goldknopf 1991–1993, EL- or G-series version with a solid gold button for shutter release.
- MINOX GSE, 1991–1994
- MINOX M.D.C, 1992–1995. This is the flagship of Minox 35 mm series. MDC differs from all other models by its anodized aluminium shell over Macrolon body; with two styles: a gold plated model and a titanium coated model. MDC has a multicoated Minoxar 35 mm/2.8 lens, all other functions are identical to Minox 35ML. Due to the extra metal shell, the dimension of Minox M.D.C is slightly larger than other Minox 35 cameras.
- MINOX MDC gold Collection, 1993–1994
- MINOX AF mini, 1994–, autofocus
- MINOX GT-X, 1998–1999
- MINOX GT-E(II), 1998–2001
- MINOX GT-S, 1998–2004
All the above, except ML, and MDC use 2 x CR 1/3N 3V Lithium batteries or a single 6V SPX27 silver oxide battery. ML, and MDC use a single 6V PX28 battery.
Accessories for Minox 35 include: UV filter, ND filter, lens hood, eveready leather case, and dedicated electronic flash.
Other Minox 35mm cameras
The few 35 mm cameras now offered are of the "point and shoot" style:
- MINOX M*142
- MINOX M*142 DB
- MINOX CD-25 silver
- MINOX CD-25 black
- MINOX CD-29 silver
- MINOX CD-29 black
- MINOX CD-70 silver
- MINOX CD-70 black
- MINOX CD-112 silver
- MINOX CD112 black
- MINOX CD-128
- MINOX CD-140
- MINOX Edition 140
- MINOX CD-150
- MINOX CD-155
Minox 110 camera
MINOX 110S, a 110 film format camera was also once sold. The Minox 110S has a Carl Zeiss Tessar 25 mm/2.8 unit focusing lens, and magicube flash. It is the only camera with a rangefinder made by Minox. An external electronic flashgun was also available. Users report that the 110S provides particularly good results on modern 110 film.
Miniature retro cameras
- Leica If
- Leica IIIf
- Leica M3
- Rolleiflex TLR
- Zeiss Contax I
- Hasselblad SWC.
Minox digital cameras
Today, a range of digital cameras is offered.
Digital miniature retro cameras
The digital camera offerings also include similar miniature retro cameras to the 8x11-based models:
- DCC Rolleiflex AF 5.0
- DCC Minox Leica M3
- Rolleiflex minidigi (out of production)
- DCC 5.1 (2011)
- DCC Minox 5.1 Colored (2012)DCC 5.1 Colour Collection
- DCC 14mp (2013) MInox 2013 Catalog 2013 DCC 14mp
Minox DSC subminiature digital camera
- At Photokina in 2008 Minox announced a new subminiature digital camera called the DSC, (Digital Spy Camera) with a 3 megapixel sensor that outputs 5 megapixel interpolated images. It includes some design cues of the Minox LX but otherwise does not resemble the original cameras.
- Minox DSC silver, with 9.0mm/F2.0 focusing lens, 0.6M,1M and infinity
Other current products
Minox also currently produce binoculars and other optics.
- Heckmann, Hubert E. MINOX The Queen of Spy Cameras, Variations in 8x11, Wittig Books 2012, ISBN 978-3-88984-153-7
- Heckmann, Hubert E. MINOX Variations in 8x11, Wittig Books, ISBN 3-88984-153-8
- Kadlubek, Gunther. Classic Camera Collection, Verlag Rudolf Hillebrand
- Moses, Morris and Wade, John. Spycamera: The Minox Story, 2nd ed., ISBN 1-874707-28-6
- Young, D. Scott. Minox: Marvel in Miniature, ISBN 1-58721-068-1
- Kasemeier, Rolf. Small Minox – Big Picture, Heering-Verlag, 1971, 45th–52nd thousand, ISBN 3-7763-2520-8
- Emanuel, W.D. Minox Guide, Focal Press, Tenth Edition, 1979 ISBN 0-8038-4697-5
- Eberhard, Peter. Oktaeder, Spy-cam Sketches. Minox 8X11 editon peer Luzern 2012, ISBN 978-3-905942-07-1
- Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton, with Henry R. Schlesinger, Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda, New York, Dutton, 2008. ISBN 0-525-94980-1
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Minox.|
- Walter Zapp's pronunciation of "Minox"
- Company web site
- Minox Historical Society
- Minox 35 mm Cameras(in German)
- Minox 35mm Cameras(in English)
- Models and serial nos. of all Minox 8x11 cameras
- Surviving VEF Minox Riga Serial No.
- Variations in subminiature cameras, including the full range of Minox 8x11 and 35mm cameras models, accessories and a detailed serial number tables
- Minox Digital Camera Database
- Minox camera forum
- MS Hobbies (Minox Specialist since 1969)