They are listed in general chronological order:
The first submini, it produced 8.5x11mm images on copper plates. The camera had a fixed-focus 20mm (f2.5) lens. What would someone do with images so small? At the time they were used for inserting tiny images into jewelry, but the camera was revolutionary since it had a very fast lens (for the time) and showed the feasiblity of making smaller images. At the time, images required VERY long exposures times and the advantages of the wider lens were immediate. The camera not only encouraged the development of faster lenses on all cameras, it encouraged the development of smaller cameras (which at the time were HUGE) and images (which at the time were relatively small).
This camera proved the feasibility of making disguising cameras. It looks exectly like a poket watch -- a common item in the 1880's. Many other watch cameras would be built over the years by other companies, and cameras would come to be disguised as many other common objects -- books, hats, binoculars, cigarette packs, cigarette lighters, vanities, radios, and pens, to name a few. The success of the disguised camera increased the overall demand and interest in subminis.
The first "real" submini, in that the camera was so small that it did not need to be disguised. It was also affordable enough so that many people could purchase one. It set a new standard for smallness in cameras. The quality of its pictures proved that small cameras could take excellent pictures -- and with todays film it is even more true. The Minox is truly the long-distance runner in the submini field. Often copied, but never outdone, new Minox equipment is still being sold today and cherished by its owners.
Although the family of 17.5mm subminiature cameras known as the "HIT" cameras are considered by many to be a photographic dead-end, they are still being manufactured today -- over fifty years since the Midget created the idea. There are very few camera styles that come close to this one in longevity. The Midget showed the feasibility of making smaller and cheaper cameras for the masses. As such, the Midget Jilona is not only the ancestor to the "HIT" cameras, but to the 16mm, 110, and disc cameras as well.
The Petal camera appeared on the market in 1948. It was a tiny, round camera about the size of a US quarter -- believe it or not! The Petal is so small, in fact, that it is listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as being the smallest camera ever produced. How it came to be listed as the smallest camera in the world is quite a story in itself. But rather than give a mere summary, we'll let the guy who owned the camera give you all the details himself.
Although this camera was not really made by Olympus (the work was subcontracted out) and although it wasn't the first half-frame camera (the first 35mm still cameras in the 1900's were half-frames), the Olympus Pen created a craze that we still feel today. The Pen was the first small 35mm film, still camera and the half-frame fad that it started lasted well into the 1980's. In fact, this camera, and other half-frames to follow, forced all 35mm camera manufacturers to rethink their basic camera designs and make their products smaller, lighter, and more appealling to the public.
The first camera, of any format, with a built-in behind-the-lens (TTL) metering system. Sure, it was only a selenium meter, but it showed the feasibility of the design and how well it could work for photographers in any format.
The first camera, of any format, with specially notched film cassettes to set the film speed. The built-in selenium meter then set the correct shutter speed and aperture. This notched cassette idea would be used in the Agfa rapid cassettes for 35mm film, the popular 110 cameras and eventually led to the DX cassettes that we have today.
This was the first camera, of any format, to have an integral, built-in, electric motor for film advance and rewind -- a common feature of most cameras today.
This was the first camera, using 35mm film, to combine an electronic shutter with automatic exposure control.
This was the first Japanese camera, of any format, to use the Agfa Rapid cassettes instead of regular 35mm cassettes.
In 1972, Kodak unveiled a series of new, subminiature cameras using a new film format called 110. It was developed to get Kodak into the lucrative submini market which was then dominated by the Japanese and Germans. The new Kodak cameras -- the Pocket Instamatic 20, 30, 40, 50 60, and 100 -- didn't offer anything new except the new film and cassette. But responding to wide-spread marketing, the public bought the new cameras in mass and it changed the whole nature of the submini market. Although 110 film is really just specially cut 16mm film, the 110 format quickly drove the 16mm market into oblivion.
First submini camera, with a built-in zoom lens. It was quickly over-shadowed by the more feature-laden Minolta 110 Zoom SLR, of the same year. Nowadays, we say, "So what?"; back then it was hailed as a breakthrough.
First submini camera with a built-in electronic flash. At the time, flash units were huge, so getting one into a submini was quite an accomplishment. Today, try to buy a camera without a built-in flash.
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