It’s National Camera Day today, so celebrations of the still image abound. As we rightly focus on photographs throughout the day, we should remember that though mobile devices with great lenses and filters have effectively made a photographer out of everyone, the great and weird cameras of past and present are now something of an afterthought. But they really shouldn’t be—not with photographic technology’s eclectic history.
Companies and individuals have either made one-off cameras or entire lines of strange photographic curiosities—some intentionally, others rather inadvertently (think the Diana and Holga cameras). Other interesting cameras aren’t interesting so much for the design as they are the type of film stock they used.
The Nimslo 3D is perhaps the most curious of all curious cameras. Released in the 1980s, this camera came equipped with four 30mm lens that snapped photos with each lens, producing a 3D lenticular image that could be printed. The company’s TV spot is pretty fantastic, with a girl’s 2D face creepily transforming into a 3D image. Later bought by another company and rebranded the Nishika 3D N8000, the camera was endorsed by horror film icon Vincent Price, who shot a 17-minute camera tutorial.
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum, but also sporting multiple lenses, is the Light L16. Billed as the world’s first multi-aperture camera, the L16 looks like a smartphone on psychedelics. A triumph of digital technology, it features 16 individual cameras, 10 of which fire simultaneously, capturing images at multiple fixed focal lengths. It would seem it is the perfect toy for those who favor the modern emphasis on quantity over quality.
If we judge a camera purely on aesthetic absurdity, K. K. Konishoruko’s World War II-era Type 89 Rokuoh-Sha 35mm Machinegun Camera probably wins. Originally used as a training tool for gunners and pilots, the Rokuoh-Sha camera takes 18x24mm pictures on 35mm cine film loaded in 2.5m strip. Mirroring an actual gun that would be mounted on a plane, the camera was driven by a hand-cranked spring motor that shot 10 frames per second. So, you won’t be carrying this camera around the streets.
Also used in warfare, but of a far more clandestine variety, is the Minox subminiature—the so-called “spy camera.” Watch a Cold War spy movie and someone will probably be using a Minox. These cameras were about the size of a digital recorder, which made them splendidly discrete. To advance the film the user simply had to open and close the camera. They are now collectors items, going for around $1,000 a pop.
The Lomo LC-A is the camera that kickstarted the modern craze for analog box cameras like the Holga and Diana. Known for rich, saturated colors and shadowy vignettes, the Lomo LC-A was originally manufactured in Russia. In the 1990s, Lomography—a group of Vienna-based Lomo enthusiasts—acquired the rights to the camera and kept manufacturing it until 2005, when they replaced with the Lomo LC-A+, which now gives the operator multiple exposure capabilities and an enhanced range.
Lomo LC-A, via Wikimedia Commons
If you happen to find any of these original cameras on the cheap, which is pretty unlikely, best snap them up. While the Machinegun Camera and Minox will really only be conversation pieces, the Lomo LC-A and Nimlo 3D might well provide operators with some intriguing artistic inspiration. As for the Light L16, maybe it will be the wave of the future when similar designs are incorporated into mobile devices. Then again, as so many cameras attest, maybe it will just be a curiosity to future generations.