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 Collectable Camera Kodak Eastman Vintage Kodak Brownie Box Camera And Instructions And BoxVintage Collectable Camera Kodak Junior BrownieOld Six -20 Box Brownie C Made By Kodak Retro Film Camera As CollectedVintage Collectable Camera Kodak Junior Brownie Vintage Ansco Memo Camera. Box/case/manual.Kodak Brownie Reflex Cameras Vintage Film Lot Of 4Vintage Clix-o-flex Reflex Style Camera In Original BoxScovill Triad Detective Camera 1892Vintage Herbert George Co. Official Girl Scout 620 CameraGirl Scout Box Camera Jem Jr.Vintage Retro Art Deco Style 40's Kodak Brownie Six-20 Model C 620 Film CameraVintage Gevabox 6 X 9 Box Camera - Made In GermanySavoy Vintage Green Camera With StrapVintage Spectator Flash 120 Box Camera, Mfg. By Pho-tak CorporationVintage Vredeborch Vrede-box Black Standard Menis 'n' CameraVintage Kodak Brownie Box Camera Target Six-16 Vintage (1950's Era) Herco Imperial 620 Snap Shot Box Camera (made In Chicago)Vintage Retro Art Deco Style 50's Kodak Brownie 127 Bakelite Camera & CaseVintage Herold Acro-flash Bakelite Camera For Parts Repair Display OnlyVintage Sabre 620 Box Camera Aqua BlueVintage Agfa Box Camera Uses B-2 Film - Nice!Vintage Herbert George Co. Roy Rogers And Trigger 620 Snap Shot CameraArgus Argoflex Box CameraVintage Empire 120 Box CameraVintage Kodak Brownie Six- 20 Boy Scout Camera Olive GreenGoerz Dogmar German F4 LensKodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model Camera, Good ConditionVintage Rex Box Camera, Made In EnglandVintage Collectable Video Camera Minolta Auto Zoom 8Eastman Kodak The Bullseye Special Kodak No. 4 CameraAntique Wooden Century Camera Plate/holder/slideLot: Kodak Brownie Bull's-eye, Brownie Special, Instamatic 100 & Revere 8 Vintage Kodak Baby Brownie Special Bakelite Box Camera, Old AntiqueVintage Film Box Folding Cameras Kodak Brownie Lot Of 3Vintage Jem Jr. 120 Box Camera By The J.e. Mergott Co.Vintage Tan Imperial Mark Xii Flash Camera By Herbert George Co. With Flash2 Vintage Eastman Kodak Cameras Box Camera 50th Anniv. + Brownie Special Six-16Vintage Anscoflex 11 CameraVintage Kodak Brownie 2a Box Film Camera~made In UsaVintage Kodak Box Camera Duaflex Ii Kodet Lens 620 Film Eastman No ReserveVintage Tan Imperial Satellite 127 Camera With Original Box & ManualVideo Movie Camera Vintage Collectable YashicaVintage 1950's Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Camera W/ Flash & Cover-original BoxZeiss Box TengorKodak Bantam Camera With Leather Case Circa 1936-47 For DisplayVintage Black Imperial 620 Snapshot CameraVintage Grey Imperial Mark Xii Flash Camera By Herbert George Co. With FlashVintage Imperial 127 Reflex Flash Camera With StrapVintage Herbert George Imperial Mark Xii Black Camera - Original Box & Flash!Vintage Kodak Brownie Starlet Box CameraVintage Kodak Brownie Fiesta Camera With Flash & BoxVintage 1950s Ansco Anscoflex Ii Camera With Leather Case