The camera most commonly associated with the Minox name is the sub-miniature series using the 8×11 mm film format, first designed by Walter Zapp in 1936. The original model was first manufactured by VEF (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika) in Riga, Latvia in 1938, and hence called the Riga Minox. After World War II, the Minox company, set up in West Germany, continued the production of these and various other 35 mm cameras, binoculars, etc.
The archetypal sub-miniature camera, the Minox, was invented by Walter Zapp in 1936. Zapp, a Baltic German, was born in 1905 in Riga, then part of the Russian Empire. The family moved to Reval (now called Tallinn, Estonia) where he first took a job as an engraver before finding a position with a photographer. He became friends with Nikolai 'Nixi' Nylander and Richard Jürgens, and it was through discussions with these friends that the idea of a camera that could always be carried came to him. Nixi Nylander also coined the name MINOX and drawn up the Minox mouse logo. Jürgens funded the original project but was not able to get support in Estonia for production. Jürgens contacted an English representative of the VEF electrotechnical manufacturing concern in Riga who then arranged a meeting where Zapp demonstrated the Minox prototype (UrMinox), with a set of enlargements made from Ur-Minox negative. Production began in Riga at VEF, running from 1937 until 1943. The Riga Minox has a stainless steel body, equipped with a parallax correcting viewfinder, a Cooke triplet type Minostgmat 15 mm/3.5 lens, dual blade lens front shutter, and telescoping film advance mechanism. Riga Minox measurement: 80 mm x 27 mm x 16 mm; weight: 130 g, the heaviest of all Minox 8x11 cameras, due to its steel body.
After World War II, production of aluminium body Minox II was resumed in 1948 at a new company, Minox GmbH, in Wetzlar, West Germany. The sales of Minox spy camera peaked in the 60s with the introduction of Minox B, Minox's best seller ever.
Minox was acquired by Leica in 1996, but a management buyout in August 2001 left Minox an independent company again. Although primarily marketed as a luxury item, the Minox was also used as an espionage camera. Its close-focusing lens and small size made it perfect for covert uses such as surveillance or document copying. The Minox was used by both Axis and Allied intelligence agents during World War II. Later versions were used well into the 1980s. The Soviet spy John A. Walker Jr., whose actions against the US Navy cryptography programs represent some of the most compromising intelligence actions against the United States during the Cold War era, used a Minox C to photograph documents and ciphers. An 18 inch measuring chain was provided with most Minox cameras, which enabled easy 8x10 or 8.5x11 inch document copying. The espionage use of the Minox has been portrayed in Hollywood movies, and some Minox marketing efforts have played up the "spy camera" story.
The Minox cameras project an image of 8x11 mm on to the negative. The film is in strips 9.2 mm wide, or less than one-quarter the size of 35 mm film, and unlike 35 mm film, it has no sprocket holes. This film strip is rolled up on a supply spool in the supply side chamber of a small twin chamber cartridge, with the film leader taped to a take-up spool in the take up chamber; the film strips can be up to 50 frames in length for Riga Minox and Minox II, III, IIIs and B, from Minox BL and C onward, the Minox film cartridge holds, 15, 30, or 36 exposures. Early Minox cameras from Minox II to earlier Minox B were equipped with a four element three group Complan lens designed by ex- Leica lens designer Arthur Seibert. The Complan lens has a curved film plane, hence in these cameras, the negative must be held in an arc to improve the edge-to-edge sharpness of the image. The Minox enlarger also holds the negative in this same curve. Later models, began with late model Minox B to the current model TLX, using the 15 mm/3.5 4 element 3 group flat field MINOX lens, and the negative was held flat.
The early Minox cameras from Riga to Minox B and BL, were equipped with mechanical shutter, later model Minox cameras have electromagnetic shutter. When closed, the viewfinder and lens windows are protected. Complan lens and Minox lens are unit focusing lens, focusing from 8 inches (20cm) to infinity through precision gear linked to a focusing dial on top of the camera. All Minox cameras except the EC has parallax correction viewfinder, when the focusing dial moves, the viewfinder moves in tandem to correct for parallax. From the Riga to Minox B, the film counter counts up to 50, from Minox BL, C to CLX, the film counter counts down from 36/30/15. For mechanical Minox 8x11 cameras, a separate shutter speed dial sets the shutter speed from 1/2 to 1/1000 second, plus B and T (BL has no T). For electromagnetic Minoxs, the shutter dial starts with 1/15 sec end with 1/1000 (Minox C), or starts with 1/30 and ends with 1/2000 (Minox LX/TLX/CLX); the electromagnetic Minox camera also has an 'A' setting for automatic exposure, controlled by the built in exposure meter. Above the viewfinder is a filter bar used to slide a green or an orange filter in front of the lens, start with BL, there is only a ND filter. For Riga Minox to Minox B, the film advances each time the camera is closed, regardless whether a picture is taken or not. Opening the camera causes pressure plate to press the film into a concave or flat (depending on the model) surface to stiffen thin emulsions for better clarity. When push to close a Minox, the pressure plate moves back from the film plane, thus allow the film strip to move freely to advance the film to next frame. From Minox BL onward, the camera is equipped with a "freewheeling" mechanism, such that the film advances one frame only when a picture is taken, otherwise, closing the camera does not advance a frame. Minox BL uses a PX625 button cell to power the CdS exposure meter; Minox C, LX, EC, used 5.6v PX27 mercury battery to power the exposure meter and electromagnetic shutter, TLX, CLX, ECX use four 1.5v 386 silver oxide button cell in an adapter; this adapter combo can also be used to replaced the discontinued 5.6v PX27 battery for Minox C, LX and EC.
The Riga Minox camera, the gold Minox and silver Minox and black Minox are collector's items. Newer electronic versions, such as the Minox TLX, remain in production, essentially unchanged in features from the LX model since the 1970s.
Minox 8x11 camera is quite versatile; it can be attached to a Minox copy stand for document copying. It also can be attached to binocular for tele-photography, or attached to the ocular of a microscope for microphotography.
electromagnetic Minox cameras.
In 1974 Minox introduced a very compact (101 mm x 62 mm x 35 mm), glass fibre reinforced Makrolon bodied 35 mm camera designed by Professor Fischer of Vienna University: the Minox EL, the first one in Minox 35 mm series. These compact cameras featured a drawbridge style lens cover which when lowered brought forward a 35 mm focal length f/2.8 four element 3 group Tessar type Minotar/Minoxar lens with between the lens leaf shutter and diaphragm, a center positioned viewfinder, two stroke film winder lever and a film rewind knob. The camera offered aperture priority exposure with the option of manual settings, among them the Minox 35ML and Minox M.D.C offer program mode (P mode) exposure in addition to aperture priority. The 35 mm/2.8 Minotar/Minoxar lens was very sharp, with low distortion, the camera's metering-system's capability to produce excellent results especially under low-light conditions was outstanding - using exposure times of up to two minutes. Minox 35 camera back can be removed for loading or unloading film. All model has a 10 sec timer switch and a 2x backlit exposure switch. When the timer is engaged, a flashing LED indicates the timer counter is counting down, for the last two sec, the flash interval shortened.
All the above model use 5.6 v PX27 battery, can be replaced with two CR 1/3N 3V Lithium Battery with an adapter.
All the above, except ML, MDC uses 2x CR 1/3N 3V Lithium batteries or 6V SPX27 silver oxide battery. ML, MDC use 6V PX28 battery. Accessories for Minox 35 includes, UV filter, ND filter lens hood, eveready leather case and dedicated electronic flash.
Today, a range of digital cameras is offered along with binoculars and other optics. The few 35 mm cameras now offered are of the "point and shoot" style:
The original 8x11mm range is still in limited production as well. Minox has expanded its range of 8x11 models by offering cameras produced by Sharan Megahouse of Japan, rebadged with Minox logo. These are styled as miniatures of famous classic film cameras of the past, including:
The digital camera offerings also include similar miniatures: