Toronto. On my 25th birthday, my sister, gave me a copy of Cooper’s 1958 ULTRA-miniature photography book as a present, so when George Dunbar sent me a 1947 LIFE ad for Whittaker’s Micro-16 camera, I tracked down the book in my bookcase.
No luck looking in the book. Cooper did not show the Micro-16 camera. A browse on the web and I discovered why. The Micro-16 was made from 1946/7 to 1950 when it disappeared from the marketplace.
The Whittaker factory was based in Hollywood, California and made aircraft parts during the war. Afterwards the little company branched out. The Micro-16s were machined from small blocks of aluminum and while little more than cheap box cameras, their size made them initially attractive to police and detectives. The Micro-16 could fit into an American cigarette package!
The two element f/6.9 lens offered poor resolution at best. The shutter had a fixed setting of about 1/50th second while three waterhouse stops adjusted the lens for color [film], dull, and bright conditions. Owners were encouraged to shoot only outdoors and in bright light for the best results. Once exposed, the film was returned to Whittaker in California for developing and printing.
I think that when looking for something to make after the war, the amazing Minox (also machined from a solid block of metal) and the abundance of 16mm movie film tipped the company towards cameras. While the Minox used even smaller film, it was far better quality with a great little four element fixed aperture lens and a range of shutter speeds. Unlike the fixed focus slow aperture Micro-16, the tiny Minox lens had adjustable focus from 8 inches to infinity, always at f/3.5.
All miniature cameras of the time suffered from the same issues – lots of grain, poor resolution, and limited use unless attached to a flash. I once won third prize in a photo contest using a Minox B. My custom Minox enlarger was perched backwards on a desk with the easel and an 8×10 sheet of photo paper on the floor. With the tiny negative, I created a winning grainy blowup of a Montreal Caleche and horse in motion at night.