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]

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    

Wrayflex 1a English 35mm Slr Camera With Unilite F2/50mm Lens, Rarely OfferedVintage Nikon F Photonic 35 Camera 50mm 1.4 35mm 2.8 200mm F4 Lenses Vietnam WarVintage Voigtlander Prominent 35mm Camera W/ 50mm Nokton Lens & 35mm,100mm !Vintage Exakta Vxiia Camera With Steinheil Macro S Quinon 1:1.9 F=55mm LensVintage Fujica St801 35mm Camera Ebc Fujinon Lens Panagor Proxiwide 06x (690)Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar And Sonnar Lenses On Zi Pentacon Early Prism 35mm SlrVintage Aires 35-v Camera W 3 Lens, 15 Filters, Leather Cases, Estate Listing NrVintage Rollei 35 S Camera W/ Rollei- Hfi Lens 2.8/40 W/ Case & ManualsMitchell 35mm Movie Camera - Owned By Francis Ford Coppola!!!A Rare Original Braun Paxette Model 1a From 1956-58, Good Condition With Case6 Argus C3 Cameras - Lot Includes 5 Standard C3's And 1 Golden Shield Version1939 Black Leica Standard E Camera W/rangefinder & Case Beautiful ConditionContax T2 Camera Sonnar 38mm, F2.8 LensVintage Leica 35mm Camera Lllc Summitar F2 50mm Lens Instuctions Vintage Nikon F CameraVintage Kodak Retina-xenon Iiic F2/50mm Lens Synchro-compur, Schneider-kreuzach.Vintage German Agfaflex Camera Lot With Case 35mm GermanyLeica If Body - Black Dial Bd From 1952 (1,118 Black Dial Cameras Produced) 1fPre-owned Used Nikon F Camera With Nikkor-q Auto 1:2.8 F=135mm LensVintage Canon Ae1 35mm Camera. Black Body Fd 50mm Lens Olympus Om-2s Program 35mm Film Camera W/case Sundog Bag InstructionsNice Leica C2-zoom 40-90mm CameraLot 5 Vintage Cameras Ihagee Exa Exakta V Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Graflex Ricoh No Reserve! Leica Vintage 1940's Drp Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Camera 35mm Nr 622077 Vintage Canonet Ql17 35mm Rangefinder Film Camera (690)Nikon F 35mm Vintage CameraVintage Lot Of 4 Cameras For Parts Or Repair Zeiss Ikon Aires Argus N700Antique Camera, Zeiss Ikon, Contax, 178712, Repair, Case, Made In GermanyRobot Star 50 CameraRollei 35 Camera Carl Zeiss 1:3.5 F=40 Mm Tessar Lense Made In Germany35 Mm Nishika N8000 3-d Camera With Twin Light Variable Angle Flash And ManualVintage West Germany Voigtlander Bessamatic Camera Skopar 1:2.8/50 Lens & CasePentax K1000 Camera 35mm CameraCanon Ae-1 Program Camera W/quarry Mc Auto 1:2.8 F=28mm LensLarge Lot Of Vintage Old Film Cameras. Argus , Kodak, Zeiss Etc ***see Pics ***Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35mm Vintage Film Camera Tessar 45mm F/2.8 LensNishika 3d N8000 35mm Camera W/ Twin Light And ManualsVintage Kodak Rangerinder Camera Retina Iiic W/manual, Leather Field Case & BoxYashica Electro 35 Gsn Rangefinder "spiderman" Camera - Great ConditionCanon Ae-1 LotNishika N8000 3-d Quadra 35mm 3d Camera W/ Twin Light Flash & Protective CaseFujica Stx-1 Vintage Camera Slr 35mm X-fujinar-w 28mm Dm Lens And Filter WorkingFine Condition Nikon Fe Camera W/55mm 1;2,8 Nikkor Micro LensMinolta Cameras X-370 And Srt Mcii With Lenses And Carrying CaseKodak Retina Ii Folding Camera With Xenon F:2 / 50mm LensMinolta Hi-matic Af2 Vintage Auto Focus Camera 38mm 1:28 35mm Working Retro LomoPentax K1000 BundleCanon Ae-1 35mm Camera Fd 28mm 1:2.8 Lens & Canon Fd 50mm 1:1.8 & Fd 135mm 1:3.5Vintage Carl Zeiss Robot Camera And LensVintage Agfa Solinette Ii Folding 35mm Film Camera Classic Germany Photography Vintage Konica Konirapid D-s CameraKodak Retina Ii Folding 35mm Camera With Rodenstock - Heligon 1:2 Lens F = 5cmVintage Kodak Retina Reflex Camera + Works + Nice Schneider Kreuzach LensCanon Sure Shot A1 Waterproof 35mm Camera With Case An Strap Argus 35mm Brick Rangefinder Camera F/3.5 50mm Cintar Lens & Case Vintage L@@kVintage Canon At-1 35mm Camera Bundle 3 Lenses 50mm 200mm Vivitar Thyristor Vintage Pentax Asahi K 1000 Se Camera W/ Smc Pentax-m 1:2 50mm Lens UntestedVintage 1960s Nikon Nikkormat Ftn 35mm Film Slr Camera W/ Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 LensVintage Black Nikon Em 35mm Film Slr Camera W/ Promatic 35mm 1:2.8 LensVintage Canon Snappy 84 Los Angeles Olympics 35mm Camera, Box And Instructions