Meet the Minox Riga, the first true, subminature spy camera that saw actual use for espionage throughout the WWII and the cold war.
Invented in 1936 by Walter Zapp, it was the first to use itty bitty 8x11mm film (a little smaller than your pinky’s fingernail), making it tiny enough to hide in the palm of your hand, but powerful enough to take high resolution photographs of your enemy’s top secret documents.
The Riga was a true marvel of design & miniaturization in it’s day, a time when even 35mm, then a newer format, was widely considered “super compact” in comparison to the 6×9 & 120mm type cameras people were more accustomed to. Holding it up to a normal sized camera then would be like comparing an iPod Shuffle to a vinyl record today. And boy is it a dream to hold. Small, heavy, and perfectly smooth. Later versions, made of aluminum instead of the original brushed steel, even included a built in light meter. Bond-worthy for sure.
Operating the camera
To make this thing go, simply pop in a film canister, pull the camera open to arm the shutter, and click. Advancing to the next photo is as easy as collapsing the camera, then reopening it in a shotgun-like fashion, making a strangely satisfying sound as the gears spin and click into place.
You can apparently still find these cameras in working order on eBay… that is, if you’ve got 1000 bucks laying around. Regardless, it’s a wonderful example of industrial design to feed your camera nostalgia.