This book is about collecting old cameras. Cameras have been around since the early 1840s. Photographic cameras were invented separately by Daguerre in France and Fox Talbot in England. Initially, photographers had to make their own wooden cameras and repurpose lenses from elsewhere. Actually, cameras were in use before photography was invented. The word ‘camera’ is Italian for a room and the mediaeval camera obscura was a small room with either a small hole or simple lens in one wall which cast an inverted image on the opposite wall. Later, wooden boxes were made that worked on that principle that were used as an artist’s tool – the image being cast onto a piece of drawing paper.

The first lens to be designed as a photographic lens was designed and made by Voigtländer in 1839. This is the Petzval lens (named after its designer, Josef Maximilián Petzval). As far as collecting goes, these first camera lenses are still around although as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth. When these come onto the market, they sell for several thousand pounds each. Voigtländer also produced the world’s first commercial camera – a metal Daguerreotype camera in 1849 (I got these dates from Voigtländer’s own web page – other dates are to be found on the Interweb).

As far as collecting cameras is concerned, the further back in time you go, the more expensive cameras get. This is simply supply and demand. Before George Eastman and his Kodak camera, photography was the domain of fairly wealthy people. George Eastman’s Kodak made photography possible even for working people.

An example is the development of Houghtons into Ross Ensign:

  • George Houghton
  • (Houghton + Holmes + Jackson + Levi) > Houghton Ltd
  • Houghton + Butchers > Houghton Butcher manufacturing Co
  • Houghton Butcher > Ensign Ltd
  • (Ensign + Elliot) > Barnet Ensign
  • (Barnet Ensign + Ross) > Barnet Ensign Ross
  • Barnet Ensign Ross > Ross Ensign

Roll film and simple lenses made mass production possible and this reduced costs more so both more cameras around and more photographs being taken. This had the effect of encouraging designers and the advent of standard components. Some components became so standard that tripod screws in then 21st century are either 3/8 inch or ¼ inch thread while every other engineering screw is metric.

A similar thing happened in Germany where four makers merged under the Carl Zeiss Stiftung umbrella to form ICA in 1909. These were Hüttig, Kamerawerk Dr. Krügener, Wünsche and Carl Zeiss Palmos. In 1926, ICA, together with Ernemann, C.P. Goerz and Contessa-Nettal merged to form Zeiss Ikon, still under the Carl Zeiss Stiftung umbrella. There were, of course, many other merges but space does not permit me to detail them all.

  • Hüttig + Kamerawerk Dr Krügener + Wünsche + Carl Zeiss Palmos > ICA (International Camera Aktiengesellschaft)
  • Ernemann + C.P. Goerz + Contessa Nettal + ICA > Zeiss Ikon

Japan seems to have come to later photography and some of the early makers are still with us – Nikon, Canon, Olympus to name three.

In the aftermath of World War II, there were a number of changes to the photographic industry. The English makers had disappeared by the end of the 1960s. The German makers were split by the Iron Curtain. Some companies were divided into East and West versions – Zeiss Ikon, for instance, with parallel companies using the same name which resulted in much litigation. We actually had a period when East Zeiss Ikon and West Zeiss Ikon both made Contax II cameras, being sold into the same market with the same name (and the primary cause of the litigation).

Other makers (Ihagee and Balda, for instance) were based entirely within the new DDR and became state industries – the owners started up new companies in the FDR with the same name – so we have a few years where there were two Balda companies and two Ihagee companies. This situation stopped when the DDR (East Germany) subsumed all their camera makers into Pentacon VEB (Pentacon being, originally, a Zeiss Ikon trade name).

The second half of the 20th century saw the advent of the Japanese makers and the demise of most European makers. This was coupled with the development of the SLR concept and computers being used to design lenses. By the end of the 20th century, SLR design had matured to the point that all 21st century SLR cameras are visually and functionally indistinguishable from a 1990s SLR apart from the substitution of a digital sensor for the analogue film. Of course, camera design continues to develop, currently with the ‘mirrorless’ concept.


Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

2 thoughts on “Introduction.”

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