In 1889, Thomas Edison’s research assistant William K. L. Dickson split a roll of standard Kodak film down the center and perforated each side, inadvertently creating the 35mm width that would become the future standard of film. This format was soon patented for use with Edison’s various moving picture devices, yet it wasn’t until much later that the film size became linked with still photography.

While the first patent for a still camera using perforated 35mm film came in 1908, various manufacturers continued to produce an array of camera shapes with differing film sizes to match. In Germany, optical engineer Oskar Barnack was searching for an alternative photographic technology to the heavy plate standard, in which glass sheets coated in special chemicals were used to create photo images. In 1914, Barnack developed a still camera for the Leitz company that incorporated a sprocketed 35mm film design, based on his previous work with this cinema film format.

World War I put the product on hold, but in 1924 the Leitz company’s new Leica design finally became the world’s first high-quality 35mm camera. Leica’s success among professional photographers made the format so popular that lesser companies developed models specifically to compete with its design.

In 1936, German company Ihage released the Kine-Exakta 1, the first single-lens reflex (SLR) 35mm camera available. The Exakta featured a waist-level viewfinder that allowed the user to preview each exposure exactly as it would be captured through the lens. Although the viewfinder display reversed the final image, this was much preferred to earlier models where the viewfinder and lens utilized separate optical paths (twin-lens reflex cameras) that created significant differences between what was seen through the camera and what actually appeared on the negative.

The venerable German camera-maker Zeiss had also begun developing a similar product around this same time, although its camera featured an eye level viewfinder, whereby the photographer could look directly into the back of the camera and preview the frame about to be captured. World War II interrupted the Zeiss development, and it wasn’t able to market the successful Contax S until 1949.

Meanwhile in Japan, Canon’s founder Goro Yoshida had dissembled a Leica camera in the early 1930s to examine its interior workings. He found that its superior quality had nothing to do with exotic or difficult-to-find parts. Instead, Leica’s technology was based on mechanical accuracy, an attribute Yoshida’s fledgling company quickly grasped. By 1935, he had developed the first high-quality Japanese 35mm rangefinder. The machine was named the Hansa Canon, and included a body produced by Yoshida and an optical system built by Nikon.

Canon steadily produced upgraded versions of this camera design, notably introducing its own line of lenses in 1948 and creating the IV Sb model in 1952, the world’s first 35mm rangefinder with electronic flash sync. Also in 1952, the Asahiflex 1 became the first Japanese 35mm SLR. It was followed by models from Miranda, Yashica, Minolta, and, finally, Nikon. Although Nikon’s 35mm SLR wasn’t available for purchase until 1959, careful product development made this new F-series an instant success...

The Nikon F was designed as part of a larger system, which included a wide array of accessories and features, and was standardized to be interchangeable with new releases. Nikon’s F-series was the first 35mm SLR camera system to be widely adopted by professional photographers, and its popularity has held strong for more than 50 years. But as contemporary camera makers have moved away from film toward digital technologies, many have phased out 35mm production entirely; the last 35mm Nikon was the F6 from 2004.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Collection D'Appareils Photo

Collection D'Appareils Photo

While we couldn't read everthing - it's mostly in French - the images on this site speak for themselves. Its an ext… [read review or visit site]

Magic Mirror of Life

Magic Mirror of Life

Jack and Beverly Wilgus have put together a great trove of information and images of camera obscura-related photos … [read review or visit site]

Cameras and Co

Cameras and Co

An impressive collection of antique and vintage cameras, this site features high-resolution images of over 120 came… [read review or visit site]

George Eastman House

George Eastman House

This showcase of vintage cameras and photography is plainly designed, but the camera collection and related referen… [read review or visit site]

Antique Cameras D. Tristram Ludwig

Antique Cameras D. Tristram Ludwig

David Tristram Ludwig shares high resolution images of his in-depth personal collection of antique cameras, includi… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Olympus 35sp Vintage 35mm Rangefinder Film Camera Zuiko 42mm Lens 35 SpRolleiflex Vintage Camere For Parts/repair!! NrRare Rollei 35 Se Chrome Camera With Sonnar 40mm F/2.8 Lens And Cover ClassicVintage Retro Cult Olympus Trip 35 35mm Film Camera D Zuiko Japan Lomography Vintage Yashica Electro 35 Gsn Camera Hong Kong With Original Case JapanRollei 35sLot Of Vintage Cameras And Lens From My Fathers Collection Yashica, Canon, EtcRolleiflex Tlr 3.5f - 75mm F/3.5 Zeiss Planar Lens Parts/repairrshutter StuckBeautiful Ihagee Exakta Camera Three Lenses And MoreZeiss Ikon Super Nettel Folding 35mm Rangefinder Camera With F3.5 Tessar LensLot Of 10 Vintage 35mm Camera Lenses - Pentax Nikon Vivitar Prinz Sears Canon NrVintage 35mm Cameras Lens & Parts Lot - Olympus Pen & ArgusYashica Electro 35 Gx W Yashinon Dx 40mm F1.7 All Works Cla'd, ExYashica Electro 35 Cc W Yashinon Dx 35mm F1.8 All Works Cla'd Ex-Two Complete Universal Mercury Ii CamerasLot Of (5x) Folding 35mm Cameras - Kodak Retina, Ikonta, Balda Read Vintage Asahi Pentax Super-takumar Camera Tamaron Lens Case JapanVintage Retro Cult Olympus A11 Flash Unit For Xa Xa2 Xa3 35mm Camera LomographyVery Rare Kardon 35mm Rangefinder Camera "the American Leica"Vintage Calypso Underwater Camera Lens No.5202 France, Helix Aquaflash 22 Vintage Rollei 35mm Camera W/ Carl Zeiss Tessar Camera Lens Case GermanyCamera Lot Vintage Cannon Asahi Pentax K1000 Extremely Rare Vintage Detrola 400 35mm Rangefinder Camera Vintage Pontiac Lynx 35mm Film Camera Paris France Som Berthiot LensIhagee Dresden Exakta Vxiia Camera And Leather Case + Carl Zeiss Jena 2.8/35 Vintage Lot 2 Nikkormat Nikorex 35mm Cameras Steinheil LensVintage Zeiss Icon Contax Camera With Zeiss Opton Lens & Case In Original Box !!Leica Minilux Zoom CameraVintage Kodak Retina S Camera Schneider Kreuznach F:1.9/50 Mm LensNikon F2 As 35mm Camera Bundled With 4 Lenses * Must See & No ReserveLot 2 Polaroid Land 35mm Slr Film Cameras Model 110a 95a #2 Photography DisplayVoigtlander Vitess L 35mm Folding Rangefinder CameraLot Of 3, 35mm Vintage Cameras 2 X Werra Carl Zeiss Jena, Yashika Electro 35Rollei B35 Chrome Germany Film Camera W/ Carl Zeiss Triotar 40mm LensVintage Edixa Flex Wirlin Camera Schneider Xenar LensOlympus Pen Em Rare Vintage Half Frame Camera & Case C1965 Sold For Parts Only Leica Ii Model D Black And Nickel With 50/2 Summar Lens Nice Vintage Set No Res!Vintage Nikon F Apollo Photomic Ftn 35mm Slr Film Camera BodyVinrtage Ricoh 35 Mm Camera Ricohflex Ricoh DiacordH0tdawg First Rate Zeiss Contessa (533/24) 35mm Rfdr Camera Looks & Works GreatYashica Electro 35 Gx W Yashinon Dx 40mm F1.7 Filter All Works Cla'd, ExVintage Kodak 3d Stereo 35mm Film Camera Bakelite W/ Leather Case NrKodak Retina Ii CameraRicoh Ff-1 With Color Rikenon 35mm F2.8-auto Shutter Working-elegant Folding CamVintage Exakta Ihagee Dresden Vx 11a Camera Carl Zeiss Komura LensRollei 35 W/tessar 3,5/40 Lens Singapore & Riken Ultrazin Filter Used Nice ShapeVintage Canon Ae-1 Canon Lens Fd 50mm 1:1.8 S.c. Camera Lens Case JapanMinolta Xg-1 35mm Slr Camera W/ Md Rokkor-x 45mm F2 Lens Graflex Speed Graphic Camera Kodak Retina Iii C (3c) Camera 2.0 50mm Xenon RepairKodak Bargain Bundle - Retina Iic & Ib, Signet 35, Flash Bantam, Vp AutographicNikon Fe3 Camera Model Sz-x 210Zeiss Ikon Stuttgart Ikonta Vintage German Made With Case 524/16 Tessar 1230/16 Vintage Rolleiflex Rollei B35 Carl Zeiss Triotar 35/40 Camera Lens Germany Vintage Carl Zeiss Jena Nr.3524484 Tessar 1:3.5 F=50mm Camera Lens Case GermanyPentax K1000 Camera KitVoigtlander Vito B, Vintage Camera, Lens Color Skopar 3.5/50Olympus-pen F 35mm CameraHoneywell Pentax Sp500 35mm Slr W/ 55mm 1.2 & 28mm 2.2 LensesCanon Ae-1-35 Mm Camera-canon Lens Fd 50mm !:1.4 Ssc-case/instructions Inc.