In the early and mid-1970s, I often prowled the various neighborhoods of my native Brooklyn with my camera in tow. Coney Island was one of my favorite haunts and, despite the fact Coney wasn’t the safest of places at the time, I managed to wander the boardwalk and alleyways with a 4 x 5 field camera and a bag of Nikons slung over my shoulder without incident.
In a bid to lower my visual profile—and maybe shake up my shooting habits in the process—I started looking for a camera that was smaller and stealthier than the gear I was currently using. I wanted a camera that offered some degree of exposure control, a camera that took good pictures, and equally important—a camera that didn’t look in any way threatening. And that’s when the Minox 35 caught my eye.
Photographs © Allan Weitz 2020
The Minox brand is most commonly associated with the tiny 8mm still cameras that showed up in James Bond spy thrillers. Unlike the Minox spy camera, which had a form factor similar to a dwarfed Pez dispenser, the Minox 35 was quite unlike any compact camera available at the time. And yes, the Minox 35 took very good pictures.
Designed by Professor Richard Fischer of the University of Vienna and manufactured in West Germany, the Minox 35 featured a smooth-cornered, modern-minimalist design that is as striking today as it was when originally introduced, in 1974.
Branded as the smallest 35mm camera in the world, the Minox 35 stole the title from the venerable Rollei 35, which though only slightly larger than the Minox 35, was notably heavier than the new kid on the block. Smaller than many of the compact 35mm and 110 “Instamatic” point-and-shoot cameras that were available at the time, the Minox 35 held the title as smallest full-frame 35mm camera in the world for 22 years until the limited-production Minolta TC-1 was introduced, in 1996.
Unlike the Rollei 35, which was constructed of metal alloys, the 2-piece body of the Minox 35 was made from fiberglass-reinforced Makrolon, a lighter-weight, black polymer material with an anti-reflective flat-black lacquer outer coating. Aside from the white stenciled “Minox” on the front of the camera, the only other visual break from the camera’s matte-black finish was a bright orange shutter release button situated prominently on the top deck. With few exceptions, the orange shutter button was a signature stylistic cue that appeared on all 30 versions of the Minox 35.
When not in use, the Minox 35 measures 4 x 2.3 x 1.25", which is about the size of a pack of unfiltered cigarettes. It weighs 4.2 ounces. To use the Minox, you lower the hinged, drawbridge-like lens cover that protects the camera’s 35mm f/2.8 Minotar lens when not in use. As you lower the cover, the lens—a 4-element, 3-group Tessar design—slowly slides forth from within the camera body and clicks into position.
Focus is strictly by zone, or as it’s more commonly known, “guesstimating,” but once you stop down, the depth-of-field keeps the scene in sharp focus. The viewfinder, which is located directly over the lens in an SLR-like prism bump, is bright with superimposed frame lines that outline the field of view of the camera’s 35mm lens. Over- and underexposure indicators, along with shutter speeds, are displayed along the edges of the viewfinder.
The minimum focus of the camera’s 35mm f/2.8 Minotar lens is about 35.4" (0.9m). The camera features an extremely accurate aperture-priority metering system that also allows for setting exposures manually. There’s also a handy 2x exposure-compensation button for adjusting for backlit exposures. The camera’s electronic leaf-shutter goes from 30 seconds to 1/500-second, steplessly.
Dedicated TTL flashes were available that mounted on the camera's accessory shoe and synced at all speeds. (One version of the camera—the Minox 35 PE—had a permanent TTL flash built into the right side of the camera body.) Film speed (ISO 25 – 800) is set manually using the ISO setting dial located on the base of the camera.
To load film, you have to remove the back of the camera, similar to the film-loading sequencing of the original Nikon F. The film advance requires a double stroke each time you want to advance to the next frame. It’s annoying having to flip the lever twice, but you get used to it. If you need a reminder of how small the Minox 35 really is, you get one each time you hold a roll of film next to it. The camera is small. Real small.
The original batteries for the Minox 35 were PX 27 button batteries (or PX 27a batteries with an adapter). Alternatively, 2 CR-1/3N or 4 LR44 batteries can also be used to power the camera.
The following are photographs I took with a Minox 35 while wandering around Coney Island over the course of several days, in April 1976. Everybody was a stranger, and almost every one of them perked up when they noticed the camera I was using. It was an icebreaker if there ever was one.
The Minox 35 had a terrific run. Between 1974 and 2003 there were about 30 variations of the Minox 35 including special editions for corporations, organizations, and special edition swag models for automobile manufacturers, including Mercedes Benz.
Though no longer manufactured, working Minox 35s are readily available online on eBay, and even the Used Department at B&H Photo. Depending on the model and condition, clean working cameras can be had for well under $100, and my guess is they will draw the same level of curiosity from anybody at whom you point one, and no doubt, a smile too!
Have you ever used a Minox 35? How about a Rollei 35 or a Minolta TC-1? If so, let us know about it in the Comments field, below.
A few years ago a friend and I did a studio shoot where I posed as Andy Warhol and pretended to take photos of a model. I have naturally white hair and an appropriate black shirt but I wanted to find Andy's camera. I read that the Minox 35 was his favorite because it was easy to carry around. During my research I learned that Russia made a copy called the киев 35A so I bought one on Etsy. I've shot 2 rolls with it. It's ok except sometimes the shutter fails.
Allan, I enjoyed reading your insightful review of the Minox 35mm film camera. I have had three versions of the camera to date and I still possess the 35PL and a GT-E modes together with the FC-35 and FC-E flashes. With the lens extended and the camera turned upside down you have a marvelous lens shade which I have used on many occasions. With the camera the right side up you have a very stable base which obviates the need for a tripod. While in Singapore I ran a furniture exhibition and after the show I brought back some of the furniture to an apartment for studio type photography with my first Minox camera. The pictures came out stunning and we used them for further promotions. A few weeks ago I sold my Bronica GS-1 medium format camera system. With the case from B&H I shipped this to Florida. The outfit before shipping was around 55 lbs. Would I rather travel with my Bronica or the Minox? The answer is obvious!
Thanks for writing about this camera, Allan. I read it out of nostalgia for my Minox 35GT, which served me well on travels from the Arctic to Mexico, until it was stolen. It was my only camera at the time, after I had stopped using 35-mm SLRs, which were too big and heavy (even my Olympus OM-1) for my purposes. Although it had developed a light leak by the end, I treasure the photos even with the streaks.
I still have the Minox tripod, machined from aluminum, which collapses to the size of a pencil and contains a cable release - a small engineering marvel.
Thank you for the excellent article on the Minox 35 it brought back many delightful memories. Since I predate you by an decade or more my "street camera" from the mid 50s to the mid 60s was a Zeiss Ikonta 35 with a 50mm F2.8 Tessar lens. It is a 35mm folding camera of about the same size as the Minox 35, but with a heavier metal body. I used this during high school and college to take lots of candid pictures of fellow students and teachers. I became very skilled at cocking the shutter, taking a picture and winding the film one handed all at waist level. Most pictures were B&W on Kodak Plus-X film, but also shot some Highspeed (ASA 100) Ektachrome.
I had someone pick up a Minox 35PE in Germany for me at the time of their production & have it to this day. I was always fond of it though I never used it properly, probably. I appreciated the "tech" at the time as I had the 8 mm spy camera in 2 different versions at one point previously. Battery sourcing was an issue. Was nice to see this article & learn a bit more about this camera.
Robert, It's never to late to start shooting with your Minox again. Film is plentiful and batteries are available at B&H (wouldn't you know).
Go ahead - give it another go-around.
I bought my Minox 35 in San Francisco the first year it was available. It was my constant companion for over a decade. In addition to taking great photos in all sorts of environments and conditions, it felt good in my hand. You're so right about it being an icebreaker—the camera itself was the best advertising and promotion that Minox had. Folks always wanted to know about it and hold it. I can still hear the diminutive click of the shutter when I'd press down that little orange button. My camera, for some reason, actually had a cherry-red shutter release. Thanks for the great memories, Allan. Reading your review made me smile!
Hi, thanks for your review about this little but great camera. I purchased one in 2002 and sometime took with me for traveling. I should spend more time with it as I do still very keen on films not digital to take pictures. Hope you have more reviews to share in the coming future.
Chris C, Hong Kong
I still have the one I purchased for my Mother, which I inherited later. She traveled the world with it and loved every shot from it. A very fun camera at a time before cell phone cameras, this was easy to always have with you. Occasionally I load it up and still use it for street photography. Great quality. Thanks for the nice review. Nice shots of Coney Island Allan.
Thanks Ann, and make sure you always keep the camera on the ready 'cause you never know when you might want to go out and shoot a few frames.
Purchased mine around 1982 and could not believe the quality of that Tessar lens. It became my constant companion - never an excuse for not having a camera with me. My job consequently had me doing a lot of international travel and having this inconspicuous little camera with me allowed me to take wonderful pictures wherever I went. Around 2005 I dropped it over the edge of a dock at a friends lakeside cottage - the only camera that I have lost. I still have the Minox flash designed to fit around the hump - it too was powerful and accurately exposed the scene. I do miss that little gem of a camera even though I am now totally digital.
I once dropped a lens cap for a 15mm NIKKOR into the drink while photographing a boat dockside. Out of all of the lens caps I own I had to lose the one that cost $95 in 1995 dollars to replace. But you lost your Minox so I'll never again complain.
Allan, thanks for the stroll down memory lane. The Minox's were a great little camera. Slide film was my favourite and great slides resulted. I purchased three, one for wife, father and myself. What surprised me was that and serial numbers are in sequence. I still have them.
And don't ever let them go! You had me thinking - I don't think I ever shot color with the camera... ever.
When this camera came out it was my favorite companion while I was working in the field as a news photographer....
No doubt - it was afr from a novelty toy - it was a real-deal camera that took terrific images.
How is that a camera review? It just goes over the functionality and size. Doesn’t give an opinion on how well it works, how it compares to rivals such as the Olympus XA, how sharp the lens is, etc.
Sorry if my review of the Minox 35 was a disappointment to you - I try to keep my readers satisfied and happy. As for not offering any opinions of how the camera works, it's a simple camera that's simple to work as I described in the text. More importantly, the pictures that emerge from the camera are the true vehicles that indicate the picture-taking abilities of the camera. As for comparing the Minox 35 to the Olympus XA, I cannot comment about it because the only other camera systems I owned at the time were a pair of Nikon FMs with a half-dozen lenses and a 4x5 field camera with a few lenses. The Minox was my sole experience of a pocket camera at the time and I'm still happy I had the opportunity to own one and use it . And thanks for airing your thoughts -the fact you took the time to write us is much appreciated.
Thanks a lot for sharing this beautiful story and experience with the Minox 35s Camera. Your shots are briliant and i was wondering witch b&w film type you used back them to take them?
I glad to hear you enjoyed my Minox 35 review - it's a sweet camera.
As for your question - it's all shot on Tri-X.
And thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.