|A Minox Memo historical
First published:Series 1, Volume 8, Number 2. Summer 1970
|THE HISTORY OF THE MINOX-THE
WORLD'S SMALLEST PRECISION CAMERA
More than 35 years ago a German photographer in Riga, Latvia, carved a little piece of wood small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, and to disappear inside a closed fist. The man's name was Walter Zapp, and the little piece of wood was the first step in the realization of his dream: An ultra-miniature camera that people could have with them always, wherever they went, whatever they were doing. Such a camera, Zapp realized, would have to be more than simply tiny: It would have to be very precisely constructed, and at the same time extremely simple to operate.
In 1938 the design was completed, after years of critical experimentation. Zapp succeeded in infecting a manufacturer with his enthusiasm for this finger-size camera, and the first MINOX cameras were produced. The exterior design of the MINOX with its enclosed lens and viewfinder, and familiar "push-pull" rapid-trans port mechanism, has changed very little over the years. Even the famous MINOX B with built-in exposure meter closely resembles its pre-war ancestor. But this resemblance is only external, for the MINOX of today has undergone so many internal improvements that it can hardly be compared with the original 1938 model.
After the war Walter Zapp found himself in Western Germany, a refugee for whom everything seemed lost. Everything, that is, except his dream of a little camera with which people could make big pictures. In Wetzlar, a famous center of the West-German optical industry, Zapp made a fresh start. Working largely from memory, he soon completed a new set of engineering blue-prints. All he lacked was money, and practically everything else needed to put the little camera into production. But he used this time well, redesigning, refining and improving the original MINOX mechanism. An entirely new lens of superior optical performance, the 15 mm COMPLAN ff3.5 was computed for the post-war models to be. And a whole new line of MINOX accessories was developed in order to expand the little camera's sphere of applications.
Still another obstacle of a very different sort remained to be overcome: Many photographers refused to believe that anything so small could be a real camera! A camera, they maintained quite seriously, was a big black-and-chrome thing one carried about in a leather case with a shoulder-strap. Nothing so tiny as the MINOX could possibly fit the bill.
But the first post-war MINOX cameras, manufactured in improvised Wetzlar workshops, soon caused a rising tide of doubt. From the tiny 8 x 11 mm ultra-miniature MINOX negatives came pictures, and very good and sharp ones at that. The precision, elegance and convenience of this remarkable ultra-miniature design won enthusiastic friends for the MINOX in every corner of the globe. Using the world's smallest still camera film format, the MINOX is today sold in more than 100 different countries and is far-and-away the best seller of the ultra-miniature camera world.
The present MINOX factory in Heuchelheim, a little village between Wetzlar and Giessen, was opened in 1948. Here, all parts of the MINOX, from lens to body, and all MINOX accessories including exposure meters, enlargers and projectors, are manufactured under one roof. A work force of approximately 1000 engineers, opticians, fine-mechanics and workers is today devoted solely to the production of the MINOX line of cameras and accessories.
Many modern machine-tools and the skill of hundreds of superbly skilled lens-grinders and machinists are needed to guarantee MINOX quality, a by-word in the ultra-miniature camera field. More than this, however, the MINOX company employs one of the most rigid quality-control programs in the entire optical industry to ensure that every MINOX camera exploits its little negative for mat to the fullest extent possible. Mechanical tolerances are measured in microns, the thousandth part of a millimeter, or 1/25,400th part of an inch. The period you put at the end of a type-written sentence usually has a diameter of about 1 mm, or a thousand microns! The spirit of perfectionism needed to perpetuate these high manufacturing tolerances are inculcated in the young apprentices who train for four years before becoming full- fledged members of MINOX's optical or mechanical departments. On the MINOX B camera are two small transparent arc-shaped windows through which one reads the frame number and position of the exposure meter needle. MINOX apprentices are made to grind these windows as perfect optical flats not because this is really necessary, but to nurture the tradition that no part of this mighty midget can be less than perfect!
Three camera models are produced today, the MINOX IIIS, without meter, the MINOX MINOX B, with built-in Model C exposure meter, and the newest model electronic MINOX C with computerized exposure automation. The microscopically sharp image definition of the MINOX, permitting enlargements to normal print sizes, derives from the excellence of its mechanical and optical construction, and two interesting design innovations: The MINOX lens has no diaphragm, working always at its full f3.5 aperture. This enabled the designers to concentrate their correction for a single aperature, and by-passed the problem of diffraction, a source of poor image definition when small lenses are stopped down. Unlike most other cameras, the MINOX filmplane is not flat. In stead, a precision mechanism forces each frame against a precisely ground spherical pressure-plate computed exactly for the 15 mm COMPLAN lens. This innovation gives the MINOX unusually good flatness of field which produces the corner-to-corner picture sharpness for which it has become so famous.
The model IIIS has the same basic features as the post-war MINOX models, with the addition of flash synchronization for flash-bulbs as well as electronic-flash. Introduced in 1952, the popular IIIS measures 3¼ inches long, and its impressive specifications include shutter speeds from 1/2 to 1/1,000th of a second, focusing from infinity to 8 inches, an automatically parallax- compensated bright-frame optical viewfinder, two built-in color filters, and the famous 15 mm COMPLAN f/3.5 lens. All this in a camera weighing 2 ½ ounces!
1958, "the year of the model B," saw the MINOX catch fire, especially in the USA where deliveries had to be rationed severely against a clamoring demand. The MINOX photographer who previously carried an exposure meter as large as, or more probably larger than his camera, now had a complete meter-plus- camera unit measuring only a scant 3 inches long.
In Spring of 1969, the newest model MINOX C was introduced. Although it differs little in size and shape from its predecessors, it is the world's first ultra-miniature camera with automatic electronic exposure control. With the exception of the two electromagnets, the automatic electronic exposure control system of the MINOX C, which controls shutter speeds that vary from seven seconds to i/i000th of a second, utilizes all solid state construction and printed circuitry. Overall the camera weighs only four ounces including the film and battery and is merely 4¾ x 1 1 x ¾. It also features "picture pre view" capability, a warning light to signal the need for slow speeds or flash and a countdown dial for 36 or 15 exposure films.
The world's smallest precision camera, and undisputed champion of the ultra-miniature field, the MINOX is one of West Germany's most respected camera exports. To the engineers and workers of the MINOX factory this world-wide acceptance is both a compliment and a challenge. As pioneers of ultra- miniature precision and progress they feel a special obligation to keep their famous camera in the forefront of technological progress. To this end a design group is constantly striving to improve this amazing little camera so that it will always be worthy of its motto: "Little MINOX/ Big Performance."