Shaken, not stirred….spy cameras…!


I’ve always been fascinated by those so-called tiny spy cameras….I guess my first intro to them was via my favorite movies of James Bond!

Minopan100-01

Minox 16 and film

In those days, and I’m talking about way back in the 70s, money was tight, and I was a forlorn student, eking out an existence in shared digs in a dingy old house in Finchley, London, sometimes having to live on nothing more appetising than baked beans on toast, or if I was feeling more adventurous, Marmite on toast! But this is a partial lie, as I did have enough money to eat properly….as a student, you tend not get too involved in what you eat, so anything that filled me up was game…we had a guy studying math, who seemed to live on nothing else but Coke, or Coca-Cola as it was called in those days!

Anyways, as cash was not king at the time, all I could do was just look and fantasize about these cameras. I did visit a few camera shops in London at the time, pretending to be a buyer of such a camera, which gave me the chance to actually handle one. The first time I held one, I was smitten….I had to have one. The price tag in those days made my eyes water….more than £200….suffice to say, it was unaffordable.

Fast forward 25 years or so, and I was finally able to indulge in my fantasy! It still held the same fascination….feeling like a solid, intricately engineered lump of metal, rather like a Swiss watch.

It took tiny rolls of 16mm film, which also cost a lot to process, but by then I had my own darkroom set up and was busily experimenting with different chemicals and films, so developing 16mm was no bi g deal.

The results it gave were disappointing. I was expecting really fine prints, but anything bigger than postcard prints were heavily grained.

Then I had a brainwave…I made use of the fact that the camera produced so much graininess in its photos, that I took to using it for street shoots, where the results were magnificent….shed loads of grain in my monochrome shots, giving them a mystical quality…eureka!

Nowadays, that same camera is available for around £50….a fraction of the original cost, and, if you are a hard-headed film nerd like me, well worth buying!

I still have one or two suppliers who stock the film, but for how much longer, who knows! Let me know if you need some.

Another much cheaper and more affordable one is the Minolta 16 II, which uses the same film and is just a few mm’s bigger than the Minox. It has a very sharp lens which goes from f2.8 to f16 and a good spread of shutter speeds from 1/30s to 1/500s. So if you’re interested in this niche, try the Minolta…they call it the poor man’s Minox!

Minolta 16 II

Image taken with Minolta 16

I’ll leave you with my favorite spy camera, often classed as the absolute Rolls Royce of the genre….the Rollei 16S.

It is generally acknowledged that this was built to even greater precsion than the Minox camera, whihc is saying something indeed.

The lens on this beauty has never been surpassed, on a sub-mini camera that is…a fab 25mm f2.8 Zeiss Tessar. It was able to take both wide and tele lenses, as well as tiny little filters, too.

Again, this camera was very expensive indeed when it was introduced….now the price has plummeted and it can be had for around $150 at some auction places online.

It was made famous not only by its quality, but also by a TV character called Kolchak The Night Stalker, a series about a Chicago newspaper reporter.

Rollei 16S

Kolchak, using the Rollei 16S

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About filmcamera999

ME & MY PASSION! ok, you probably looked at the length of this "about me" page and thought, god, what's wrong with this guy!....does he have to start telling us his life story or something!!? well, youve come here now anyways, so why not hear what im like as a person, eh? ive been using film cameras for well over 30 years...my first one being the family yashicamat twin lens! over the years, ive both bought sold and collected film cameras...too many to tell the truth! in fact, ive been buying and selling cameras well before the internet came on the scene, so anything you purchase from me is backed by my self-styled moneyback promise.....if you dont like what youve bought, send it back within 14 days and you get all your money back...no arguments!! WHERE I STAND ON THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION! yes, i do use digital as well, but only as a ready-reckoner...i try and take most shots with my simple 2megapixel digicam....if the shot looks good, i pull out my film camera and shoot! i most defintely do not believe in digital manipulation of photographs....that in my eyes is not photography...its cheating! WHERE I USED TO LIVE, WHERE I AM NOW & WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO DO! i used to live in Ontario, Canada, but moved back to the UK a little while ago (its a long story..!)...but now i'm living in the one place i always wanted to be...Vancouver, BC..the next best thing to paradise on earth! as i work as a freelance writer as well as other things, i often find hat my work takes me to europe for short spells, so i get to travel a lot...not a blessing, as i just hate long flights! im a qualified Quality Assurance guy (you know...ISO 9000, auditing, documentation etc) ....99% of my skill-set is transferable so i can handle any admin or documentation-related roles....see you in BC! otherwise, i specialise in ISO 9000 auditing and documentation. my dream? to have my own thriving camera shop in Vancouver BC, whilst living in the mountains somewhere.....the best of both worlds!
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4 Responses to Shaken, not stirred….spy cameras…!

  1. iamamro says:

    Fascinating piece. Thank you very much.

Comments are closed.