Box cameras rely on the most basic form of photographic technology, utilizing a sealed rectangular container with a fixed focus lens on one end and film at the other. Early designs from the mid-1800s generally lacked any control over focus, aperture, or shutter speed.

Most box cameras came equipped with meniscus lenses, which are convex on the exterior and concave inside, and were sunk into the front panel. Box cameras frames were typically made of wood or metal, but later included detailed leather finishing or shiny Bakelite plastic.

Limitations of the box camera design made them best for daylight photography with subjects at an intermediate distance from the photographer. Yet because of their simplicity, box cameras introduced millions of amateurs to photography, and created the concept of the snapshot as we know it today.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce invented a box camera prototype while working from various camera obscura, or pinhole camera, designs in the 1820s. Others began creating their own versions of Niépce’s design, and by 1870, a model called Le Phobus was available for sale in France. Le Phobus was a wooden box camera without even a formal shutter—users simply removed the camera’s leather lenscap to begin exposures and re-covered it when they were finished.

Kodak developed the first roll-format film during the 1880s, which made the box camera much easier to use and came to dominate all subsequent camera designs. At the time, most box cameras included single plate exposures, which required the photographer to replace each negative after taking a photo, or a series of drop-plate exposures, in which a stack of plates or cut film were loaded into the camera and then removed after each exposure.

In 1892, S.W. Turner created the Bull’s Eye Camera, which featured film backed in black paper for loading in full daylight, along with a new exposure number that was visible to the user. Three years later, George Eastman bought Turner’s patent and continued to produce a version of this design as Kodak’s first Pocket Camera.

The Pocket Camera eventually relocated the interior film spools just beyond the lens mechanism, greatly decreasing the overall size. Kodak later made the camera even more compact...

In 1900, Kodak introduced the Brownie series, which would become the most successful box cameras in history. The renowned German company Zeiss Ikon updated this generic amateur format for its Box Tengor, giving users the choice of three apertures and focusing ranges.

During the 1920s, companies like Hako, Kodak, and Voigtländer marketed early versions of the twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera, which incorporated a second focusing lens attached to a viewfinder. This allowed photographers to better anticipate their shots, but because the two lenses had no linking mechanism, actual exposures varied widely from the initial preview.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Brownie Box Cameras

Brownie Box Cameras

At Brownie Box Cameras, collector Remy Steller traces the evolution of Kodak’s inexpensive box-shaped Brownie, fr… [read review or visit site]

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    

Vintage No. 2a Blue Beau Brownie Doublet Lens Kodak Camera W/ Original CaseEastman Kodak No. 2 Flexo All Wood Great Condition!Antique Century Wood Camera Estate FindEnsign Blue No.e29, 129 Film Box Camera, In Original Box. Made In EnglandRollieflex F3.5 Planar Lens Camera Excellent Condition Vintage Red Imperial Mark Xii Flash Camera By Herbert George Co.Antique - Number 3 Folding Buster Brown Box CameraVintage Kodak Camera Brownie Model Huge Collection Lot Imperial Hawk EyeLot Of 6 Kodak Brownie Cameras Starmite Starflash Holiday Flash Six-20Lot Of 4 Vintage Cameras Ansco Shur-shot, Brownie Target Six-16, Junior, & FlashVintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Outfit Camera In Original BoxKodak Brownie Target Six-16 Vintage Box Camera, Decorative Antique 1940s #355346Lot Of 4 Vintage Brownie Hawkeye Cameras Flash Attachment & BoxVintage--kodak--duaflex Ii--box Camera--kodet LensVintage Kodak Brownie Bullet & Brownie Hawkeye Cameras~both Work!! No ReserveImperial Savoy Colored CameraVintage Kodak Duaflex Ii 620 Film Camera With Kodet LensImperial Savoy Colored CameraVintage Eastman Kodak Brownie Target Six-16 CameraVintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Camera Vintage Kodak Brownie Six-20 Boy Scout Box CameraVintage Flash Brownie Camera -with BulbKodak Six-20 Brownie E Vintage Camera Made In London England 1953-1957 620 FilmVintage Eastman Kodak Brownie Target Six-20 Film Camera Antique Vintage Brownie Hawkeye Box Camera With Flash Unit Vintage Kodak Brownie Target Six-16 Box Camera, Made In Rochester, N.y.Vintage Eastman Kodak Six 20 Art Deco Camera Rochester N.y.Imperial Mark 27 CameraVintage--kodak--brownie Hawkeye--box Camera--with Flash AttchmentFex Photo-pack-matic Disposable CameraVintage Antique Collectible Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model Box Camera In BoxVintage 1940's Kodak Brownie Flash Six 20 Camera With Flash AttachmentNo.2a Buster Brown Box Camera-2.5x4.25 Inch On 116 Film-nice Cosmetic ConditionKodak Duaflex Camera W/kodet LensVintage Camera--time Traveler 120 By Pho-takVintage--kodak--duaflex Ii--box Camera--with Flash Attchment--kodet LensVintage Kodak Brownie HawkeyeEnsign Ful-vue Medium Format 120 Camera + FilmVintage--argus--seventy-five--box Camera--with Flash AttchmentKodak Brownie Camera Lens Accessory #13 Portrait Attachment With Box And PaperKodak Brownie Starflash CameraVintage Kodak Brownie Holiday Flash Camera Model Dakon LensBrownie Hawkeye Box Camera And FlashVintage Kodak No. 2a Brownie Model C Box Camera, Nice For DisplayVintage - Brownie Eastman Kodak Box CameraAnsco Buster Brown No.2..vintage, Seampunk CameraVintage Brownie Box Camera No. 116 Eastman Kodak CompanyVintage Eastman Kodak Browie Target Six-16 Box Camera 1942 Brownie Targetsix-20 Box Camera Original Vintage Collectible Kodak Vintage Brownie Box Camera, 1916Kodak HawkeyeVintage Ansco Shur Shot Box Camera