The Minicam Boom in the mid 1930s

Fortune Magazine October 1936

Toronto. In 1963 as part of my English assignment at university, I was to research and write a paper. One spring evening, I strolled down to the Montreal Bibliotheque on Sherbrooke Street East. I was unsuccessful  investigating the topic I chose, so I browsed for a bit and spotted an article on miniature cameras.

I asked the librarian to bring the October 1936 issue of Fortune Magazine up from the stacks. In that library as darkness fell, nearly  30 years later, I first read about the Minicam Boom that took place in the USA in the mid 1930s.

The pre-eminant camera at the time, the Leica, had been on the market for twelve years. It had been followed by the Zeiss Contax, Retina, Peggy, and many more. The little cameras had a number of issues to overcome, not the least of which was to sell a mainly contact printing population that a small negative and enlarging could result in a great print. Leitz and its imitators had chosen to use 35mm cine film simply doubling the frame size t0 24 x 36 mm. The earliest books on the Leica spent time persuading the readers that they really could make large prints from small negatives. This encouragement continued into the 1950s. Leitz used famous photographers such as Toni Schneiders in their ads.

Toni Schneiders – Ethiopia – c1950s Leica Ad for small negative, big print

The much shorter focal length of the miniature camera standard lens meant a much deeper depth of field. A faster aperture would narrow that depth of field, of course.  By the 1950s the miniature camera had superseded the big press cameras of the 30s and 40s. Japanese companies like Nikon and Canon entered the camera market and quickly routed almost all the German and other firms as they moved from imitation to innovation.

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