Tessina cameras are unique in many ways. First, they are a subminiature camera
that is still being made. In addition, it uses regular 35mm film, so your
film options are extensive. Perhaps most impressive is the camera's size.
It is as small as many 16mm cameras, and is available with many accessories,
colors and special features, such as special gears to reduce the noise of
the built-in spring-drive. Three, nearlt identical, versions were
The camera is made by Concava in Lugano, Switzerland, since 1960. It is a twin-lens reflex (with pop-up viewfinder) that produces 14x21mm images on 35mm film which is reloaded into special Tessina cassettes. The Tessina uses a mirror imaging system to fold the light path to the film. As a result, for a right reading image you have to print through the base (the opposite of most other cameras) The lens is a Tessinon 25mm f2.8-22. Focusing to 9 inches. Shutter speeds are 1/2 - 1/500. The spring motor advances the film through 5 - 8 exposues on each winding. The camera is available in chrome, black, gold, and red. Accessories include: daylight film loader, wrist strap. meter, neck chain, prism finder, noise reduction, filters, magnifier and more.
One of the major problems facing the ultra or subminiature user has been non-standard film. Whether 8mm, 9.5mm, 110, 17.5mm or 16mm is needed, the photographer depends an the camera distributor for loaded cartridges or must go through an elaborate, and sometimes complicated, cartridge reloading scheme using movie film or slit 35mm film. Processing of the very tiny and delicate color and black & white images is good, bad or indifferent depending on the lab. It's fairly expensive in any case.
The Tessina manufacturers, Concava S. A. of Switzerland, have cleverly eliminated all this trouble. The tiny (2 x 2 x 1 in.), light (5 oz.) Tessina uses standard 35mm film in special slim plastic cassettes similar in construction to standard 35mm cassettes. An extremely clever daylight bulk loader allows the user to load film from any ordinary 35mm film cassette. The plastic Tessina cassettes hold 14 - 20 in. of film depending on the thickness of the film base. About 20 - 30 pictures, 14 x 21mm, can be made on one loading. If you figure some loss of film for front and rear leader, a standard 20 exposure 35mm cassette yields about 40 Tessina pictures, bigger than any other ultraminiature size yet slightly smaller than the standard single-frame format of 18 x 24mm area. Incidentally, you don't have to do any counting when using the loader. It measures either length of film automatically and has a built-in knife to cut the film, too. It takes about three minutes to load a single cassette. The 35mm film when processed in any 35mm tank using standard 35mm developing procedures can be enlarged in any enlarger having a standard 35mm negative carrier. You will probably want to use an enlarger lens in the 28 to 35mm range, however.
So much for the system. Now to the camera. The Tessina is slightly larger than a matchbox, and you hold it like one. The viewing and taking lenses on one long edge are protected by a sliding metal shield. Unless the shield is slid open, you can't fire the camera. The shutter release button is on the front of the camera. At the back are the spring-wind film advance wheel, the rewind knob, click position shutter speed dial, MFX sync dial, and push-on flash contact, plus lift-up rewind lever. On top of the Tessina near the front are two wheels. The right one focuses the lens, the left has non-click-stop aperture settings and a central, concentric, manually-resetting exposure counter. Dials and numerals are for nimble fingers and good eyes. Behind the focusing dial is a 14 x 21 mm ground glass with rails to hold either the folding reflex and optical sportsfinder, condenser field lens or the new eye-level prism. At the left is an exposure guide plate. On the bottom of the camera is a removable plate with brief loading instructions. This can be replaced with a plate attached to a wrist-watch like strap or metal plate with tripod socket and neck chain.
At this point you may begin to wonder how the lens can be at one long end of the matchbox shape Tessina and the film rolling along on the bottom. It's done with a front surface mirror set at 45 degrees between lens and film plane. Consequently all film shot by Tessina is reversed, as in a mirror. By reversing the film when printing or enlarging you get a right way 'round result.
You load the Tessina very much like other 1960-era 35mm half-frame cameras. The entire bottom (back in a standard 35mm camera) is removable. You then wind the film advance spring knob about four turns, set the film counter at the red dot before zero and click off three frames to reach exposure 1. When all shots have been made, you flick up the rewind knob, rewind the film and take the film out.
When the smooth Tessina shutter release is pressed, an almost inaudible click of the shutter is followed by a whirring wind of the film advance clockwork mechanism. It sounds much like the Robot camera film advance.
The optical sportsfinder is quite easy to use but the tiny 14 x 21mm focusing ground glass is not. It is film area size and there's no magnifier in the folding hood. A brilliant field lens which replaces the hood is even more useless since it has no hood protection against extraneous light and no magnification either. We made a small cone-shaped magnifier out of a novelty key chain transparency viewer and licked the focusing problem -- at least partially. By removing the viewer's plastic film end and standing it over the ground glass, we could focus the camera very easily and found picture taking most enjoyable -- for vertical pictures. Since the camera must be held on edge for horizontal pictures, this proved quite a chore with our makeshift rig. However we were delighted recently to obtain the long-awaited pentaprism viewfinder. We put the prism in one pocket, the camera in another. In seconds we could slip both out, attach them and have a most critical focusing eye level prism reflex. The view through the prism is adequately bright with a fairly coarse ground glass which provides amazing ease of focusing -- and from a 25mm lens too. Pin-point focus portraiture by natural light from 9 in. to 3 ft proved a snap.
Results from the relatively large negative area were understandably far superior to what could be achieved in like circumstances with like film of any ultra or subminiature camera. Once we got the location of the controls down, we found operation of the camera to be fairly easy. Good finger nails to lift out the spring wind and rewind knob are helpful. Incidentally if the whir of the film advance mechanism disturbs you or the subject, just shoot while holding the rewind knob tightly. After shooting, release the rewind knob slowly. The Tessina then becomes as quiet as a mouse.
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