While we can’t help but admire beautiful camera design and craftsmanship in our Lomopedia series, we also can’t turn our backs on some of the most interesting cameras ever made. They come in different shapes, sizes, and levels of strangeness. Inspiration comes from all around us, even from the weirdest of places. From the curious-looking to the downright bizarre, we give you some of the strangest cameras ever made.
Echo 8 Camera
Starting the list is a tiny camera that’s no bigger than a cigarette lighter. This is the Suzuki Echo 8 that was made in 1951. It’s a functional lighter and a subminiature camera in one. It was made by the Suzuki Optical Company of Japan and can even be considered a spy camera due to its nondescript appearance. According to Scott’s Photographica Collection the Echo 8 “takes 20 6x6mm exposures on an 8-inch load of 8mm film.”
It was followed by a simplified version called the Camera Lite in 1955. Imagine being able to carry this cool camera around with you when you’re in a pub with your mates. Just don’t try to light it up or fill with it lighter fluid as it may ruin the camera. Bring a box of matches. Now, does anyone still need a light?
Mammoth Camera by George R. Lawrence
Our first entry can slip into your pockets without a hitch, the second in the list, well… not so much. This one took 15 men to load it into a van for transport. George R. Lawrence’s Mammoth Camera is a logistics and design feat due to its sheer size and construction. It weighed 1400 pounds (the plate alone tipped the scales at 500 pounds) and used 8 x 4 ½ ft-sized glass plates to take pictures.
Camera designer George R. Lawrence and Chicago camera builder J.A. Anderson joined forces to bring this gargantuan camera to life. It’s not difficult to imagine that this mammoth of a camera needed some assembly before you can take a photo with it. The first photo it took was that of the Alton Limited train and you can already guess that both the camera and the locomotive made waves. The camera cost $5000 to make and the Chicago & Alton Railway (the company that owned the Alton Limited train) was convinced it was money well spent.
Rudolf Krügener's Book Camera
They wise would always say “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Indeed, there’s weight to that timeless statement. Feast your eyes on Dr. Rudolf Krügener's book camera. This tome carries all the working components of a film camera under a neatly designed book facade. Designed by chemist Dr. Rudolf Krügener and manufactured by Haake & Albers of Frankfurt, this unique albeit strange camera was an inspired piece of photographic gear.
The camera body was encased in a leather bound book that housed 24 dry plates. It was able to take photos without opening the camera. It was called the “Taschenbuch” (pocket book in German) and was considered a detective camera. The Taschenbuch was designed to be carried under the arm with the lens pointed at the subject for discreet photography. Nothing less can be expected of a man who designed and created his own prosthetic leg. The Taschenbuch was just plain crafty.
GF81 Ring Camera
This camera offers a little bit of stealth and showmanship all at the same time. The GF81 ring camera was made by Italian camera maker Gian Paulo Ferro and was said to belong to a limited edition run. An estimated ten GF81s were made. Discreet and flashy, this beautifully crafted ring camera can take pictures and attract photography enthusiasts in a snap.
Size isn’t a factor for the GF81. It was still able to capture images despite its 25mm diameter, thanks to its 10mm f/2 lens and shutter speeds of 1/30 and 1/500th of a second. Slipping it into your finger and taking a photo can be the least of your concern with the GF81, finding a unit in good condition will be. Not to mention that this kind of ring camera has a heavy price tag — starting at upwards of USD 2,500. Espionage and style do come at a price.
Mamiya Pistol Camera
This camera gives a whole meaning to the term “shooting”. The Mamiya Pistol Camera (also known as the Fast Action camera) was a pistol shaped camera used by police forces in Japan for surveillance purposes. They were meant to be used by law enforcement officers to capture photographs of suspects during encounters.
It is said that the development of the Fast Action camera was sparked by a bloody protest in Tokyo in 1954 wherein two people were killed and hundreds were injured. Police officers requested a camera that they can instinctively use when dealing with suspects on the field. Regular cameras didn’t suffice as it hindered their line of sight, placing them in way of serious harm as they couldn’t see the line of attack.
The result of Mamiya’s research and development led to the Fast Action camera that featured a pistol grip, bottom lug mount (for lanyard attachment), two side plates that accommodated different controls, and film loading.