Monday, September 16, 2013

Legends of Photography -- The Minox Riga camera

The Minox Riga camera became the iconic symbol of a a spy camera because its tiny size coupled with the fact that it was born in pre-WWII Latvia in 1937 made it a natural for covert uses by both Axis and Allied forces during the war with its use later extending into the Cold War era.

The Minox was invented by Walter Zapp who partnered with a Latvian radio company, VEF, in Riga. During the war years, Latvia fell under first Russian, then German occupation making the early years of the Minox company very difficult. With the aid of post-war US support in 1945, it finally moved to Germany where it was established as Minox Gmbh.

The main camera pictured here is an early Riga model made of stainless steel. Later post-war models were made of much lighter aluminum. The camera took 8x11mm pictures on film that was about a quarter the width of the recently introduced 35mm film type used by Leica. The camera measured only 3 1/8 x 1 1/8 x 5/8" (80 x 27 x 17mm) in its closed position, and weighed only 4.7oz (134g).

The original Minox Riga is shown in front with a couple of later, more modern models and accessories placed around it. On the lower right is a slip-on attachment that allowed for surreptitious reflex viewing through an angled mirror.  On the left side is a distance chain with its measuring beads for precise setting of  close focus distances. 
The lens was a Minosigmat 15mm f/3.5 Cooke triplet coupled with a parallax correcting viewfinder. The mechanical shutter had speeds from 1/2 - 1/1000 sec, plus T and B. Focusing from 8" (20cm) to infinity was accomplished by turning a dial on top of the camera. Early Minox cameras came with an 18" (460mm) chain that had precisely spaced beads on them to allow precise close focus distance measurements. A sample of such a chain is shown on the left side of the photo above.

Film was advanced and the shutter cocked each time the camera was closed and opened again. So you wasted a frame if you did not take a picture each time the camera opened. This mechanism was changed on later models so that the film only advanced if the shutter had been depressed.

Above the viewfinder is a bar that slides to place a filter in  front of the lens. Originally green or orange, it was later changed to ND.

The Minox Riga in open position ready for taking a picture. The lens is located in the center with the viewfinder off to the right side. The knurled bar above the viewfinder can be used to slide a filter in front of the lens.

The Minox Riga in closed position.

No comments :

Post a Comment