| Extremely small, or sub-miniature, cameras are highly collectable and in this article I will concentrate on the Hit type camera. Even though these were actually made for the general public, they are often referred to by antique dealers and others outside the camera world as spy cameras, but no self-respecting spy would be seen dead with a camera of such inferior quality. So why are they called Hit type cameras? Well, probably because one of the first of this style, and the model most often encountered is simply called the Hit camera.
|First introduced in the 1950s by the Japanese Tougodo factory, the original Hit camera has spanned dozens, maybe even hundreds of copies over the years. At barely two inches (50mm) across, these tiny cameras are amongst the most popular sub-miniatures to collect. They are quite easy to find and unlike many collectable cameras of today are very reasonably priced, usually between 25 and 35 for the basic common models. Even this reasonable price is a huge increase over the cost of these cameras when new. Reproduced here is a photograph from a mid 1950s book on photography showing a shop window crammed full of Hit type cameras at the bargain price of just 52 cents each!
Being so small these cameras don't take up much room if you have limited space in which to display a collection and there are lots of different versions to look out for. Some collectors look for as many different name variations as possible (even different printing styles of the same name), others look for the differences in design of the top plate, and to brighten up their collections some just go for examples of the many body colours that were also marketed.
Although to the untrained eye these little cameras may look quite sophisticated, they are actually very poorly made. The body is little more than just very thin pressed metal with a paper covering, although the paper is sometimes embossed to make it look a little smarter. Most Hit cameras have very simple shutters, usually just a single speed, but you sometimes find them with the addition of a B-setting for long exposures! If your budget runs to it, there are some less common versions with focussing lenses, as well as some with a wider ranger of shutter speeds.
Some examples of these cameras had versions with a choice of lens apertures and one or two even had interchangeable lenses.
Extra features such as these can easily double or treble the asking price of a camera and sometimes even more. Be careful though, if you venture far outside the range of the basic Hit camera you will soon find several much more advanced miniature cameras and you are soon into models likely to set you back several hundred, even thousands of pounds!
If you are very lucky you may even find a roll or two of the actual film designed use in these cameras but I am sure that the vast majority of these cameras have never been used to actually take a photograph. Apart from the fact that they are incredibly fiddly to use, the tiny negatives and a poor lens, which is usually plastic, means that the results often leave a lot to be desired.
As can clearly be seen when the camera back is open, a Hit type is loaded very much like a normal camera. All Hit types are designed to take tiny rolls of film, normally with 10 shots per roll and return negatives just 14x14mm. The film, usually wrapped in silver foil or some other protective covering, is placed in a tiny pressed tin holder, often missing from these cameras, and placed in the right hand the right-hand chamber. The film is carefully unrolled across the film plane and on to the tiny take-up spool. Any slack in the film is then taken up, but be careful not to over tighten the backing paper, as after 50 years it may have become brittle and liable to tear.
The back of the camera is then closed and the film wound on until the first number appears in the rear window, which is normally either red or green. Wind-on is a bit of a hit and miss affair as the take-up spool is not so much wound as forced round by a bar under the rewind knob. There are at least two different designs of film roll made for these cameras and they do not appear to be interchangeable. As I managed to ruin two of the scarce rolls of film trying to load one of my cameras I have decided that it is not going to be possible to provide examples of pictures taken with a Hit camera.
Some Hit manufactures decided to use thicker metal for the camera's inside, this gave the camera a better feel and the increase in weight made it appear to be of higher quality than it really was. The Hit camera shown here at the top for instance weighs around twice that of the Mini Camera below it, while the Crystar at the bottom weighs in somewhere between the two.
To compete the illusion of being a quality item, these cameras were originally supplied with their very own carry cases which in turn were marked with the cameras name, just like you would find on a 'real' camera. Some manufactures even marketed their cameras as a complete outfit comprising of a camera, case and film.
Most good books on collectable cameras, such as the McKeown's Guide will have a full list of all the name variations that may be found, as well as individual entries for those with less common names and for models with the more advanced features.
Collecting Hit type and accessories such as filters or lens hoods for these little cameras offers a fascinating insight into the world of the extremely small camera and is an ideal staring point for a collection if space or funds (or both) are limited.
Made by the Coronet Camera Company of Birmingham, England the Midget was introduced in the mid 1930s and cost around 5/- (five shillings). The Coronet Midget must be one of the most popular of all small cameras to collect. Unlike many other cameras made from Bakelite, the Midget was not only available in black but also brown, green, red and blue (in order of rarity and value). Like the Hit types, having different colours to look out for increases their popularity, but there are also subtle differences in the body design to look out for. Some for example have a folding handle as part of their wind-on mechanism, while others have a simple domed knob. There are also small differences in the faceplates and also the rear doors. In order to have a complete set most collectors like to have all versions the same, but this is much easier said than done as some of the rarer colours such as blue don't often turn up. In fact if you do find a blue Coronet Midget in good condition and at a reasonable price, then the best advice is to buy it even if it not quite the exact style as the rest of your collection. A blue Midget is as good as money in the bank and can always be exchanged at a later date should you happen upon another.
According to the original instruction leaflet that came with the camera, for an extra 1/9d (one shilling and ninepence) you could buy a tiny Morocco grained leather case to protect your camera. Interestingly, these cases were available in a colour co-ordinated range matched to the actual cameras. There can't have been many manufacturers who offered such a choice of colours for their camera cases, in fact I can't think of any that offered more than two!
Once you had your camera and case, you obviously needed film before you could start taking pictures and the Coronet company marketed their own 6-exposure film specifically for the Midget. As the negatives produced by this camera were very small, just 17x12mm, to make viewing small prints the camera produced easier to view Coronet also made a pocket print viewer/magnifier called the Scope. If you preferred your photographs a bit bigger you could ask your camera shop or chemist to produce large prints measuring 2 1/4ix3 1/4in, although these would have cost you whopping 2d (tuppence) each!
Picture taking with a Midget was a straightforward affair as there are no camera adjustments available. In fact apart from the shutter release, the only control is a lock to prevent the camera being fired accidentally. The photographer's only real choice is whether to take the picture in landscape or portrait format. The claimed shutter speed is 1/30 of a second and the lens has an effective aperture of f/10.
Due to the relatively slow film speeds of the day there probably weren t many photographers who regularly used this camera but today they are very much sought after. At a big camera fair recently I was talking about the Midget range to a dealer who had been in the photographic trade for over 40 years. He told me how in the late 1960s, when you literally could not give this type of camera away, he actually burned over a dozen boxes of Coronet Midgets! If only he had know how collectable they were to become.
Just after the end of the Second World War the Coronet company tried to revive the Midget concept and produced a more modern version called the Cameo. This camera, only available in black, used identical film to the Midget which was now re-packaged in the new Cameo livery. The Cameo also shared a very similar protective case as its older brother and even the wording in the original instruction books are almost identical. One improvement over the Midget however was the much larger viewfinder arrangement and both the front and rear sections of the finder folded down inside the camera body making for a more compact shape when closed. Although as mentioned the Cameo was only produced in black, lovers of photographic minutiae will be pleased to hear that I have noted at least three different designs of the wording on the cameras faceplate.
So let me end this quick look at some extremely small cameras by saying that collecting these little gems is one of the most addictive areas in camera collecting and one that can quickly turn from a passion to an obsession. And I should know, for I am that obsessive!