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    

A Very Rare 1898 Kodak 1 Box Camera No. 4 Bullet CameraVintage Eastman View Camera 2-d/eastman Kodak Co. 661Eastman Kodak Beau Brownie 2a Doublet Lens - In Great Condition!!Blair Camera Co. Hawk-eye Detective Camera 4x5 Film Holders, Ground Glass ScreenArt Deco Cameras LotVintage Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex Tlr Box Camera GermanySpartus Press Flash Art Deco Black Bakelite Box Camera 1930s A Vintage 620/120 Ilford Envoy Bakelite Box Camera C1953 - 60 - Custom CaseVintage Camera Lexa 20 Made In Australia Eastman Kodak Vintage No. 2 Brownie Model F Box CameraVintage Camera... Kodak Duaflex IiAgfa Clack Modified Box Camera, Germany, 1954-65Antique 1909 Kodak No. 2a Brownie Box Camera Model B With Original Manual! 4 Vintage Kodak Cameras: Brownie Duaflex Ii Camera..non TestedVista Art-deco Bakelite Film CameraEastman Kodak Monitor Six-20 (620) Folding Roll Camera W/ Original ManualKodak Brownie Camera Hawkeye Outfit In Box Wit Flash Bulbs 177eRoy Rogers And Trigger CameraVintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model 620 Film Box Camera Brownie | Hawk Eye | Camera | Vintage | Flash | Collectible Vintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Box Camera Flash Model Sturdy, Timeless Good Cond.Six-16 Kodak CameraSlx_20 Target Brownie Box CameraVintage Brownie Hawkeye Camera & Pana Vu Slide Viewer 2-- 2 PcsKodak Brownie Hawkeye Vintage Film Camera Flash Model With Hand StrapKodak Brownie Bullet Camera Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model Bakelite Camera Made In UsaVintage Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model CameraKodak Brownie, Polaroid, Agfa Ansco Cameras Plus Misc. Vintage GearKodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model CameraSlomexa 1950's CameraKodak Duaflex Iv CameraVintage Kodak Brownie Bulls-eye Camera With Flash Attachment & BulbsAnsco Shur Shot Vintage CameraVintage Original Kodak Eastman Model Brownie No. 2c Box Camera ~ Film 130 ManualKodak Brownie Cresta 120 Roll Film Camera In Case, Near-mint 1955, Fully WorkingVintage Spartus 120 Film Camera Decorative Style Design 1950's Prop Collectable Eastman Kodak 120 Vintage Box Camera Free Shipping!!!!Herco Imperial 620 Snap Shot Camera1950s Vintage Ansco Ready Flash CameraOld CameraAntique Brownie Camera Flash Six-20 Rare Old Kodak Polaroid Photography Vintage Kodak Brownie Flash Six-20 Camera With Flash HolderKodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model, Kodalite Flasholder, Original BoxVintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Camera !!!Kodak Baby Brownie Film Camera1917 Kodak Brownie Box CameraVintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Box Camera Bakelite + Kodalite Flash HolderKodak Brownie Hawkeye Camera With Kodalite Flasholder, 12 Sure-fire BulbsOld Camera Collection