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]

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    

2 X Vintage "j Lancaster & Son" Cameras Inc. A "1905 B.b. Instantograph"2 X Vintage 1/2 Plate Bellows Cameras Inc . A "g. Mason & Son, Leeds"2 X Vintage - 1/4 Plate Bellows CamerasKodak "ordinary" Camera Model B Ca. 1891-18951965 Vintage Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Super Bc Camera, Tessar 50mm Lens Leather CaseVintage Wooden Camera No Name Possibly A 4x5 Gundlach Or KoronaDuo-ensign 2 1/2 'blue' Camera For Portraits & Views - Superb ConditionAntique CamaraVintage Rolleicord Franke Heidecke Dbp-dbgm Model Camera GermanyVintage Rolleiflex Syncro Compur Camera 1279806 With Case And Manual In GermanOld CamerasKodak Flexo No. 2 Box Camera Kodak Baby Brownie CameraEnsign Ful-vue Box Camera With CaseLot Of 2 Vintage Cameras - Argus Argoflex Seventy-five & Ansco Rediflex W/ CasesKodak Brownie Six-16 & Six-20 Box Cameras - Excellent!Lot 4 Vintage Eastman Kodak Brownie Cameras-2a/116-target Six-16-hawkeye-movieVintage 1950s Sabre 620 Box Camera Mint Green 2-tone181611 Eastman Kodak No.1 Brownie Model B Box Camera Rollei F&h Rolliecord Model V Dbp Dbgm Tlr Twin Lens Xenar 1:3.5/75 CameraVintage Art Deco Front Kodak Six 20 - 620 Brownie Jr. Junior Box CameraVintage Recovered Box Camera W/ Film Plates 762Kodak Eastman, Brownie Hawkeye Flash ModelVoigtlander Vitomatic Iia 35mm Film Camera 5 Vintage Art Deco Box Camera Spartus Spartaflex Gevabox 6x9 Balda Empire 120 Ez4 Vintage Box Cameras May Fair Kodak Brownie No. 2-a Agfa B-2 Cadet Lot ErAntique Box Camera # 4 Bullseye 1897 Camera Rare Nice Shape For Age Lsdu 1021940's Spartus Art Deco Falcon Press Flash Box Camera Bakelite Exc Nr Two Eastman Kodak Limited No.2 Bulls-eye Camera Model D & C, Last Patent 1897 Circa 1960's Vintage Imperial Six-twenty 620 Box CameraBaby Box Tengor Zeiss Ikon 54/18 Classical German 127 Film Camera Focusing NovarOld 1926-1932 No 1a Pocket Kodak Folding Autographic CameraVintage Imperial Mark Xii Flash Red Box Camera Antique PhotographyVintage Kodak Camera Bulls-eye No 2.1897 Film Camera Orig.booklet & Outer Case6 Vintage Eastman Kodak Box Cameras No. 2-a 2a Brownie Lot Decoration FbVintage Antique Eastman Kodak Box Camera Brownie Target Six-16 Made In UsaVintage Official Girl Scout 620 Box Camera Gsa Antique Photography 7611950 Kodak Duaflex Ii Box Camera In Original Box With BookletsVintage Spartus Press Flash Box Camera - Untested As IsKodak Browie Starflex CameraKodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model With CaseTwo !! Paris Gap Baby Box Vintage Camera's 1945Franka Werke W/ Prontor Ii Lens Made In Germany Us - Zone Very Very Clean 50'5 Vintage Kodak Film Cameras Kodak Brownie Starmatic Starmite Ii Starflash Ep4 Vintage Box Cameras Seneca Box Scout No. 2a Kodak Brownie 2 Lot Antique FfRare Vintage Pho-tak Marksman 6x9 120 Rollfilm Camera - NiceVintage 1960s Imperial Satellite 127 Camera In Case. Great Externally, UntestedAntique Kodak Brownie Holiday Camera No. 179 Kodak Eastman: Brownie Target Six-20Kodak Eastman, Brownie Holiday Flash1930s Kodak Rainbow Hawkeye No 2a Modelb Folding Camera Black Exc NrLot Of 3 Kodak Brownie Camera 2 Flash 1 Standard And Midget Flash Field CaseVintage Zeiss Ikon Box Camera Tengor 54/2 Goerz Frontar Germany 6x9 120 750Vintage Kodak Brownie Bulls Eye CameraKodak Duaflex Ii With Case #9 Zeiss Ikon Baby Box CameraVintage Spartus 120 Box CameraA Vintage Ensign Ful-vue Rollfilm Box Camera In Black With CaseKodak Brownie Six-20 Model D - 620mm Film Camera With Flash Contacts - VintageGraflex Speed Graphic Camera 135 Mm Serial No. 751042 With Graphed Lens 4.7