Box Cameras  –  Vintage Camera Type

Typical Box Camera Traits

Construction: cardboard / wood / plastic / metal
Lens Quality: low
User Controls: minimal

Box Camera Characteristics

Box Cameras are the oldest and simplest type of camera and were very popular from the late 1800s to the 1950s. As the name suggests, most box cameras have a simple rectangular shape and are commonly made of leatherette-clad cardboard or wood although many are also made of plastic or metal. The vast majority of box cameras feature relatively primitive, integrated lenses which are usually mated to simple rotary shutters. Most box cameras use some type of medium format rollfilm.

Operation is often extremely simple with minimal controls available to the user. Composing is typically done by peering through a brilliant finder or a simple optical finder. Box camera lenses typically have no aperture or focus control and the shutters are usually locked to a single shutter speed although many also feature a Bulb mode. Advancing to the next frame is commonly done with a winding knob.

Creation of the box camera is generally credited to the Eastman Kodak Company with the 1888 debut of the original “Kodak” camera. This camera was not only revolutionary for its user-friendliness but also because Kodak offered to process film on behalf of the consumer. Its commercial success not only helped popularize rollfilm in an industry still heavily reliant on cumbersome plate film, but also effectively kickstarted amateur photography in general.

While most box cameras such as the Agfa B-2 Cadet are no-frills photographic devices, there are some that attempt to stand out from the ordinary. One of the more common box cameras in disguise are a subclass called “pseudo TLRs” which include examples like the Spartus Six Twenty. With two lenses—one for composition and one for taking pictures—these models strongly resemble twin lens reflex cameras but cannot be classified as such because they lack coupled, focusable lenses. Other box cameras set themselves apart by using high-end construction materials like the Hunter Gilbert, featuring adjustable focus and aperture settings like the Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor, and featuring a built-in flash like the Spartus Press Flash

Interested in starting or growing your own collection of box cameras?
Check eBay to see what’s available.

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, WI, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), p 107, 320.

“Kodak and the Rise of Amateur Photography,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

Vintage Camera Lab