TechFlesh Blog

15 of the World’s Weirdest Low-Tech Film Cameras

A pistol that shoots photos instead of bullets, a harness for pigeons, a cane and a human skull are among the unexpected objects that have been turned into film cameras since the dawn of photography in the 19th century. Here are 15 strange and unusual cameras, including historic collector’s items and new experiments in low-tech techniques like pinhole photography.

Miniature Pigeon Camera

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Inventor Julius Neubronner’s tiny harnesses fitted with cameras were received with understandable skepticism when he first unveiled the idea in the early 20th century, but once he put the photos taken by pigeons on display, his idea took off, and even the military took interest. But it wasn’t long before the invention of the airplane made the need for pigeon photographers null and void for reconnaissance purposes. Each pigeon was trained to wear the harness and fly to a specific location, and a timer in the camera took care of the rest.

Skull Camera

Photographs taken from inside a human skull are suitably eerie and nightmarish. The Third Eye Camera by Wayne Martin Belger is made from the 150-year-old skull of a 13-year-old girl. It’s a pinhole camera, with a hole drilled between the eyes letting light hit a piece of photo paper placed inside.

900-Pound Camera from 1900

The world’s largest camera at the time, this monster made by Chicago camera builder J.A. Anderson weighed 900 pounds and required 15 men to load it onto a horse-drawn van for transport. And it’s all because the Chicago & Alton Railway company wanted to show off their new train to the world. The camera had a 8-by-4.5-foot glass plate to take the largest possible photo of the train, which was displayed at the Paris Exposition in the year 1900.

Turtle Shell Camera

Virtually any hollow object can be turned into a pinhole camera, as demonstrated by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs in their two-volume series of books, “As Long as It Photographs” and “It Must Be a Camera.” The pair found their turtle shells, taxidermy animals and other objects at flea markets.

Cane Handle Camera, 1903

Made in 1903, the Ben Akiba cane handle camera features a shutter released by pulling a knob below the handle. When a roll of film is exposed, you just remove the side face of the handle to pull it out, and a new roll pops up from a storage area inside the cane. Both originals and replicas of this odd camera are in demand these days, with one selling for $27,000 in 2002.

Book Camera

This one-of-a-kind pinhole camera from Etsy seller Engrained is made from a 1920s hardcover copy of “The Man in the Forest”, and features a magnetic shutter made of leather and wood.

Watch Camera

Before his pigeon camera experiment, Julius Neubronner had a minor success with the Ticka Watch Camera. The camera resembles an ordinary pocket watch; the false watch face constantly displayed a time of seven minutes past 10 o’clock, which indicated the viewing angle.

Clockwork Movie Camera

This key-wind movie camera has a clockwork mechanism was designed in various styles, including an ornate ‘watch-thin’ camera made to appeal to ladies.

Propeller-Powered Airplane Camera

The Williamson Aeroplane Camera, introduced in 1915, can’t fly by itself, despite its appearance. It was made to be attached to the bottom of airplanes to take aerial photographs. The movement of the propeller advances the film.

Binocular Spy Camera

With the Nicca Nicnon Binocular Spy Camera, wannabe spies could pretend like they were merely checking out the landscape with a pair of binoculars when they were really taking photos.

Delivery Truck Pinhole Camera

An ordinary delivery truck was turned into a massive portable pinhole camera for photographer Ian Ruhter’s project, Silver & Light. Ruhter took the truck around the U.S. to take photos of passersby and the streets on large-format film plates. The resulting images are stunning, but expensive: each one costs about $500 to create.

French Revolver Camera

Pull out this little gold revolver and point it at someone, and you’re likely to be taken down – even though the only thing it shoots is photographs. The Photo-Revolver de Poche is a French camera from 1882 that closely resembles a pistol, with its cylinder containing a magazine mechanism for 10 photo plates.

Stereo Photosphere Camera

Among the earliest all-metal cameras, the Stereo Photosphere is the most rare and valuable of all Photosphere cameras dating back to the late 1800s. It has two separate lenses with individual image sensors to simulate human binocular vision, making the resulting photos look three-dimensional.

Demon Detective Camera

Weighing just three ounces, the (comparatively) tiny Demon Detective Camera takes single-round exposures on dry plates and features a funnel-shaped front with a flat stamped back. The advertising slogan for this 1880s camera was “In daylight, gaslight, sunshine, rain, Each faithfully Demon works the same, And, fills with life the album page; While five guinea cameras groan with rage.”

Trash Cam

Who would have thought that dumpsters could take such stunning photographs? The Trashcam Project turned ordinary dumpsters into large pinhole cameras that were rolled around the city of Hamburg, Germany to take striking images of the scenery.

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