Toronto. “What the heck is a photon, anyway?”, you may ask. Actually, it is a measure of light. In 1948, Bell & Howell misspelt the word to create a unique name for its still camera, as is often the case (think Canon, Beatles, etc.).
The Chicago firm, known for its professional motion picture gear used in Hollywood and around the world since about 1910, decided to jump into the still camera market with a 35mm camera called a FOTON. The engineering was intended to exceed the specifications and quality of the best of the German industry (Leica, Exakta, Contax).
Unfortunately, at $700 American retail, it was priced well above the best of the German 35mm cameras. Worse, the price was dropped a couple of hundred dollars shortly after introduction further eroding support. The FOTON was a marketing failure, disappearing into the fog of history by the very early 1950s. It was touted as an interchangeable lens camera, and telephoto lenses eventually showed up but nothing shorter (wide angle) than the original 50mm lens.
Very few of these cameras seem to have been made, making the FOTON very collectible by those with deep pockets and a good knowledge of camera models.
This advertisement appeared on page 34 in the April, 1949 issue of Popular Photography. My thanks to good friend George Dunbar for sharing his diligent research into photographic history with us. NB. The FOTON link above goes to Mike Eckman’s web site and is a very good read.
Note: The title of this post is a riff on a book, musical and movie from mid last century called, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying“.