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    

Vintage Nicca Iii S Camera W/ Nikkor H.c Nippon Kogaku Lens 5cm 1:2 & Bcb FlashSamoca 35 - Rare 35mm Film Camera With Original Case - Very CleanVintage Nippon Kogaku Nikon F Camera Body W/ Photomic FinderIhagee, Exakta C (b W/backplate) Black 35mm Slr Vintage Camera (1933-1939)Vintage Canon E.p. 125850 35mm Camera,japan,50mm F:1.8,98692Zeiss Ikon Contax Iii 35mm Rangefinder Vintage Camera (1936-1942) (body Only)Vintage Zeiss Ikon Contax 35mm Film Camera W/1:1.5 F=5cm T LensLeica D.r.p. Ernst Leitz Wetzlar 35mm Camera With Case No.287052Vintage Canon Vt Rangefinder 35mm Camera & Case No. 507201 Japan 50mm Lens F:1.8Vintage 1950s Leica Iiif Dbp Ernst Leitz Gmbh Wetzlar Germany 35mm Camera & CaseLeica 1 (a) View Finder 35mm CameraVintage Robot Ii 35mm Viewfinder Camera W/ Robot Leather Case GermanyVintage Leica D.r.p. Ernst Leitz Wetzlar 35mm Camera Elmar F/35 Lens With CaseVintage Rollei 35 S Camera + Case + 100xl Mini Electronic Flash Vintage Kodak Retina Ii 35mm Rangefinder 011 Camera W/ 47mm F2 Ektar Lens Ihagee, Exakta B 35mm Slr Vintage Camera (1935-1937)Fed, Fed (type 1) With Leica Badging And Ww2 German MarkingsVintage Leica D.r.p. Camera Leitz Elmar F=3.5cm 1:3.5 Lens & Leather CaseSet Of 2 Vintage Dresden Exakta Varex Ii A 35mm And 50mm Cameras W/ AccessoriesVintage Kodak Retina Iii C, 35mm Camera,f:2.0 50mm Schneider Kreuznach Lens Krasnogorsk, Zorki 3 M 35mm Rangefinder Vintage Camera (1954-1956)Lot 3 Vintage Slr Cameras Beseler Topcon Canon Canonet 28 Petri 7 Film UntestedKodak Eastman, Retina Ii 11 35mm Rangefinder Vintage Camera (1946-1949)Krasnogorsk, Zenit 6 35mm Slr Vintage Camera (1964-1968)Leica Dbp 35mm Film CameraVintage K.w. Praktina Fx Camera, V. G. Cond. Interchangeable Finder, LeathercaseNikon F Nikkorex Camera #371672 With Large Light Meter Nippon Kogaku Tokyo & 1.4Panta By Dr Rodehuser - Rare 120 Roll Film Camera - Very Clean And WorkingNikon Fm 35mm Camera With 50mm Nikon LensKrasnogorsk, Zorki 3 35mm Rangefinder Vintage Camera (1951-1955)Beseler Top On Super D 35mm Camera With Kogaku Lens Stamped U.s. NavyVintage Exakta Vx Ihagee Dresden 35mm Slr Camera With Leather CaseKrasnogorsk, Zorki 4 35mm Rangefinder Vintage Camera (1956-1973.)Rollei Se 35 - Singapore - With Bergneustadt Tripod - Excellent ConditionFed, Fed (type 1) With Leica MarkingsVintage 1938 Univex Mercury Model Cc 35mm RareMercury Ii Antique Camera.Fed, Fed 5b (v) 35mm Rangefinder Vintage Camera (1975-1990)Vintage Kodak Retina Ii 35mm Rangefinder 011 Camera W/ 47mm F2 Ektar Lens C1946 Nikon Nikkormat Vintage 35mm CameraVintage Rollei 35 S Meter Non Functional, Shutter Works! No ReserveGraflex Graphic 35mm Vintage Camera With Case And AccessoriesLate 60's Canon Ft Ql 35mm Camera With Large 55mm F1:1.2 Lens Original OwnerNice Kodak Signet 80 Camera With Case 3 Lenses Flash Frame Finder Manuals Bulbs Aires 35 Model Iiic 35mm Rangefinder Camera, F1.9 Coral Lens; Sluggish ShutterVintage Canon Vt No. 504535 Camera W/accessories All In Great Working ConditionVintage Argus 35mm Film Camera F/3.5 50mm Argus Coated Cintar Lens Leather CaseVintage Kodak Retina Rangefinder 35mm Camera Schneider Kreuznach Lens GermanyVintage Kodak Retina Ii 35mm Rangefinder 011 Camera W/ 47mm F2 Ektar Lens C1946 Vintage Argus Camera C44 W/35mm, 50mm And 100mm Cintagon Lens & Cm2 AttachmentVintage Rollei 35t Camera In Very Good Condition, Made In Singapore.Vintage Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Super B With Case Tessar 2.8/50 (50 Mm F2.8 Lens)**Vintage Agfa Ambi Silette Film CameraKodak Retina Iia Camera, Weston Light Meter, Orgiional Flash Bulbs, Wwii MoneyRetina 3c Film Camera Works/looks GreatIhagee Exa Ii 35mm Slr Vintage Camera (1960-1963)Art Deco Argus A 35mm Camera F4.5 Anastigmat Lens W/ Case"as Is" Olympus 35sp 35 Sp From JapanVintage Nikon Nikkormat Ft2 Camera Outfit 3 Lenses, BagVintage Kodak Retina Iiis 35mm Rangefinder Camera W/ 50mm F2.8 Xenar Lens ~works