Miniaturization of the Precision Camera

The Kodak Brownie was technically very basic. The cheap fixed focus lens was adequate for snapshots of places and people, but was incapable of close-up photography. Meanwhile, a number of technical advances benefited professional photographers. German camera manufacturers led the way in this sector of the market. The first anastigmatic lens, the Protar f7.5, was developed in 1889 by the German physicist Paul Rudolph for Carl Zeiss, manufacturers of optical equipment based in Jena, eastern Germany. An anastigmatic lens guarantees that all points of the image are accurately aligned in both the vertical and horizontal planes. The Zeiss Tessar lens of 1902 reduced the maximum aperture to f4.5, which improved the depth of field. In 1898, the American inventor William F. Folmer developed the Graflex camera, the first camera capable of high-speed photography in split focal planes. The first compact precision camera, the 35 mm Leica, was manufactured by the German company Leitz, based in Wetzlar. Although Oskar Barnack developed the prototype in 1914, the production model was introduced at the Leipzig trade fair only in 1925.With its rangefinder optical viewing system, interchangeable lenses, and range of accessories, the Leica became an industry standard, and the 35 mm format is the dominant format today. The Zeiss Ikon, marketed from 1932, was another popular professional 35 mm camera.

The portability of the Leica also encouraged the growth of photojournalism, although many publishers insisted on contact printing from large-format negatives. A number of magazines with high photographic content, including Life in the United States and Picture Post in Britain, were launched in the 1930s. Reflex cameras were invented in Britain in the nineteenth century but became a standard camera type only in the 1930s. The key advantage of the reflex camera is that the photographer sees the same image that the lens “sees,” enabling accurate focusing. This is achieved through an arrangement of angled mirrors and prisms that reflects the image entering the lens to the viewfinder. The single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, invented in 1861, was followed by the twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera in 1880, which had a separate lens supplying the viewable image above the main lens. In 1929, the German company Rolleiflex produced a TLR camera with a large viewing screen in the top panel, which became a popular professional model.

SLR cameras, which were compact and more suitable for amateurs, were available from the mid-1930s but did not became common until the 1960s when Japanese camera makers brought out more affordable models. They were easier for hand-held, rather than tripod, use because they had a conventional front-facing viewfinder, which received the image from a hinged mirror that swung back out of the path of the lens when the shutter release was activated. A subminiature precision camera, the Minox, was produced from 1937 by the Latvian company V.E.F.