When we’re asked to think of spies, we can’t possibly imagine them without their incredible gadgets. And which gadget could possibly fascinate us more than their cleverly disguised cameras? Here’s a list of some of the most intriguing spy cameras that were used in the 1900s:
The Ticka Expo Spy Camera
This little guy was developed in 1904, and was every covert investigator’s best bud between 1905 and 1914. Disguised as a pocket watch, back in the day, it fulfilled the promise of discreet photography. Pictures could be taken through the stem where a tiny rapid fire lens was located, and the film could be loaded in daylight, capable of up to 20 exposures.
Lumiere ELJY Subminiature camera
In the 1930s, Auguste and Louis Lumiere developed the Lumiere ELJY Subminiature camera. It had a lens that could be extended and locked in place, a viewfinder that popped up, and the shutter located in the lens barrel could be switched to different speeds (1/10, 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100). All of this, in a camera that measured just 24 x 36mm.
The Petal Camera was first introduced sometime in late 1947 or early 1948. It was a tiny, round camera, so tiny that in 1974 it earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest subminiature photographic camera in the world. The 25mm film disc, which could be inserted in daylight, could shoot six, 6mm circular images. A small rigged dial at the front allowed you to change the shutter setting from Instant (I) to Bulb (B). One would need to have a very steady hand while shooting in Instant mode, and an even steadier hand while shooting in Bulb. Due to its size and fixed shutter speed, it was quite a challenge to operate.
Micro 16 Subminiature Spy Camera
Developed by Wm. R. Whittaker Co. Ltd. In Los Angeles, the Micro 16 was quite popular from 1946–1950. You could slip it into an empty cigarette pack for a disguise. It had a 90 degree viewfinder and used 16mm film. The aperture could be adjusted to bright, dull, and colour, with the help of a lever.
Echo 8 Lighter Camera
This brilliant invention was manufactured between 1951 and 1956 by Suzuki Optical Company of Japan. And yes, this camera was housed in a perfectly functional cigarette lighter case! With an 8-inch load of 8mm single perforated film, it was capable of twenty 6 x 6 mm exposures.
Probably the most well recognised subminiature spy cameras in the world, Minox cameras were every investigator’s favourite gadget for at least 50 years since 1940. It could easily fit into the palm of the hand, take 50 photographs without having to reload, and gave high-quality images. Sales were restricted to government officials in some countries, like the USA.
Steineck ABC Wristwatch Camera
Developed in the late 1940s, this spy camera was a product of post-war Germany. The person wearing it could discreetly take pictures while pretending to look at the time. This was most useful in close encounters, like meetings, and private conversations. Unfortunately, it could be easy to spot if you weren’t wearing full sleeves, as it didn’t have the dial of a watch.
Minute 16 Mini Spy Camera
What made this camera unique was its ability to shoot both stills and moving pictures. It measured three inches by two inches. Its multi–functional capability and size made it fairly popular.
The world’s first button–hole camera was used by intelligence agencies during the Cold War. It only took stills, and was so bulky that the user would have to disguise it under a heavy coat. A cord ran in to the agents pocket from the camera plate in the button. One would simply have to slip their hand into the pocket and press the lever to take a photo. They were all custom–made by different intelligence agencies.
The Tessina 35 was introduced in the market in 1957 and remained in production till 1996. It measured 65 x 50 x 20 mm, and was small enough to be slipped into a cigarette pack. It had the extra feature of being worn on the wrist. It was equipped with two 25mm f/2.8 lenses. One was for the viewer, and the other was for taking pictures. Images were projected onto a 35mm screen. By drilling holes into the side of a cigarette case, and making enough space for a lens to see through, the Tessina could be operated from within the case itself. It was a popular surveillance tool used by the Stasi during the Cold War.
The Pigeon Camera
And finally, the Pigeon Camera. This form of surveillance was used during the First World War. A small, light weight camera was strapped onto the belly of a homing pigeon, and the bird was released. The camera was equipped with a pneumatic timing mechanism, which meant that ever so often while the bird was in flight, the timer would go off, leading a burst of compressed air to trigger the device and take pictures. The pigeon, being a common species, was perfectly concealed amongst thousands of birds.