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    

Vintage Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex CameraZeiss Ikon Box - Tengor 55/2 Vintage Rollflim Box Camera With Original ManualAntique 1800s E & H T Anthony & Company Mahogany Box Camera W Flexible BellowsAntique Rochester Optical Company Wooden Dovetailed Camera Box Equipment BoxVintage Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex Camera Lot Of (5x) Vintage Kodak Brownie Cameras W/ Accessories - Baby, Six-20, 127Geaert: Geva Box Synchro. Uses 120 Film Produces 6x9 Exposures.Kodak No.3 Folding Brownie Model D 124 Roll Film Folding Red Bellows Box CameraVintage 1960s Savoy Mark Ii Camera Made By Imperial Camera - PerfectConway Art Deco Box CameraVery Large Edarly Box Camera - Possibly Early Box Plate Camera - Very Rare -l@@k6 Vintage Art Deco Box Cameras Kodak Brownie Junior Six-20 B-2 Shur Shot Agfa K6Yashica Mat Lm Camera Tlr 1:3.5 80 Mm Camera Original Box Case InstructionsCoronet F-20 Coro-flash Can Be Use W/ Both 120 & 620 Film. Made In England. Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash ModelSix-16 Brownie Junior Art Deco Box CameraKodak Brownie Six 20 Art Deco 620 Film Box Camera Vintage Retro 4 Vintage Art Deco Box Camera Kodak Brownie Target Six-20 Ansco Shur Shot Jr. AaVintage Antique Kodak No.0 Brownie Model A 127 Film Camera Lomo 100+ Years OldKodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model With Boxes Flash And 620 Film Kodacolor BagVintage Kodak Duaflex Camera With Orginal Box Antique Black Kodak No. 3 Brownie Box Camera, Model BKodak Eastman: No. 2 Beau Brownie. Uses 120 Film.Pho-tak Scout 120 Flash Vintage Box Camera - Boy Scouts Of America6 Vintage Box Cameras Tower Snappy Kodak Baby Brownie Special Ansco Cadet Lot Ay6 Vintage Box Camera Herco Imperial Debonair Tower Skipper Kodak Birdseye Lot BaVintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model Film Camera Flash Unit Vintage Kodak Portrait Brownie No2 120 Film Box Camera Photography Rare 120 FilmKodak Hawkeye No2 Model C Cartridge Camera W Original Case!Kodak Box Camera And Brownie Reflex CameraKodak Six-20 Brownie Box CameraEnsign E29 Box CameraVintage Kodak Brownie Flash Six-20 CameraConway De Luxe Box CameraVintage Kodak Box Brownie Junior No.2 120 Roll Film Camera England 1930'sKodak Baby Brownie Special - Vintage 1930's CameraYashica Mat 124 Twin Lens Reflex (tlr) CameraVintage Seafoam Green~savoy Box Camera~~ 1960's •• Atomic UsaOld/ Vintage/ Antique Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model Box Camera 5 Vintage Art Deco Box Camera Agfa Ansco D-6 Cadet Shur Shot Kodak No. 2a 620 AbAntique Argus Argoflex 4 X 5 Camera & Leather Case, Working ConditionVintage Tower One Twenty 110 Mm. Sears Roebuck And Co. Usa Box Camera2 Vintage Eastman Kodak Brownie Boxes*116 &120 Film+kodalite Midget Flash HolderVtg Minute 16 Miniature Spy Universal Camera CorporationHere Is The Mick-a-matic! This Is The Original Model Made For Disney In 1971. Vintage Argus Argoflex Box Camera And Leather Case With StrapVintage Kodak Brownie Bulls Eye Box Camera Original Box Vintage Brownie Hawkeye Camera Flash Model & Sleeve Of 12 Bluedot FlashbulbsKodak Brownie Bullet Camera-vintageVintage Argus Argoflex Forty Camera W/ Leather CaseVtg Kodak Duaflex Ii Camera - Appears Mechanically SoundOld 1926-1932 No 1a Pocket Kodak Folding Autographic Camera Vintage Kodak Lot, Box Model Camera, 1950's With Extras..Vintage Kodak Ensign Ranger 120, Ensign Pocket All Distance Folding CamerasKodak: Vintage Duaflex Iv CameraVintage Beacon Flash Color White House Camera 127 Film Photography 401Vintage Brownie Reflex Synchro Model Camera No. 173Kodak Brownie Holiday Flash Camera Vintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Camera, Kodak No 0 Brownie Camera Small Box Style