Sub Miniature Film Photography
by Leslie Lazenby
Way back on March 1, 2013, on FPP’s podcast #77, that I talked about miniature and sub miniature cameras. Basically it breaks down to anything smaller than 120/127 were called miniature and miniature film referred to 35mm. Anything smaller than 35mm is sub-miniature, also known at SubMins. Disc, 110, and 16mm are common formats for sub-miniature.
There were many sub-miniature cameras. Minox being one of the most popular along with others like Tessina, GaMi, Rollei, Yashica, Mamiya and Minolta. This is not a complete list but most of the most common ones are noted here. A few were still in production up to 2006 but by 2011, Minox TLX model was lone survivor.
above: Prof Jeff / University of Findlay / Leslie writes: "Images taken with the Megahouse Rolleiflex 2.8F. It is a subminiature camera taking a Minox 8x11 cassette. The camera came packaged with one roll of 15 exposure film. I loaded the camera up one day and Mat Marrash started the roll and somewhere in between I finished it. / Top Photo: George Lazenby as Bond, James Bond shooting Sub Min in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"
The cameras are plentiful. but getting film and processing for most of these smaller cameras are a challenge. Film is available right here at The FPP and Blue Moon Camera and Machine is a great source for processing. If you have a 110 reel and can process film that size and can process it - you can processes any cut lengths of 16mm films. As for film, most of it came to you in a cassette rather than little mini rolls. Today most people reload those cassettes. Minolta type in particular are very easy to reload yourself. If your camera takes a version of 16mm you will need to buy some film. Yes 16mm, the same format in which movies are shot on, is available in the FPP store.Don't worry it's in smaller rolls than what is used for cinematic ventures. If it is smaller, like Minox films, you will have find the exact size or slit down larger films to fit.
The sub-miniature films are not interchangeable, sometimes it’s the actual size of the film which is different and sometimes it’s the same film but the cassette are different. For example some of the best known sub-miniature formats are—in increasing size—Minox and some Yashica (8×11 mm), Kodak disc (8×10 mm), 16 mm (10×14 mm), Super 16 mm (12×17 mm), 110 film (13×17 mm), 17.5mm for HIT cameras (for example the Hit and TONE cameras) and the Advanced Photo System (APS) with different aspect ratios on 24 mm film. Sub-minatures are confusing as cameras, such as older Minoltas 16 & 16II use 10x14 on double perforated 16mm film, yet a newer Minolta were able to expand the image area to 12x17 by using single perforated 16mm film. Before 1971 16mm double perf was the norm, modern16mm film uses only a single side of perforations thus allowing for more image area. Here are a few of examples of submin images sizes and some of the cameras that used the format. Some are 16mm, others are rolls or even 15 exposures on a wheel that spins a new frame into place for every new image taken.
11.5x14.7mm -- Mikroma cameras
14x14mm -- numerous 17.5mm cameras
10x14mm -- This is referred to as the standard 16mm format and was used by numerous cameras
10x10mm -- used in several 16mm cameras Minicord and Stylophot
8x11mm -- Used by Minox and others using the Minox cassette
8x10mm -- Used by the Kodak disc and others
6x6mm -- Echo 8 cameras
16x16mm -- Robot SC
above: Minolta 16 camera / Lomography Purple 16mm Film / Home processed in FPP C-41 Kit / Epson v700 scan - Photo by Michael Raso / Loch Haven Park, MD
You may already have a submin camera or are just interested in trying one out, they are not hard to locate. Most importantly it will save you a lot of headaches if it takes a cassette rather than a roll and has at least one with it. Minox, Tessina, Kiev, were the most recent in production so they are the easiest to find cassettes for. As mentioned above, do not expect the cassettes to be interchangeable. Research the camera model before investing in a cassette if you need to track one down. Even if the film size is common those cassettes are not. One of the first places we search for items like this is eBay but a better source with more knowledge behind it is the SWAPMEET section at SUBCLUB.ORG. Individuals who have cassettes for sale post there. You can also place an ad for free if you are in search of some. SUBCLUB.ORG is a fantastic resource for information about all things sub-miniature. They also have a source for film slitters so that you can cut your own film, not only miniature but sizes like 120 to 127.
Remember you only need one cassette (or a cassette pair) to use the camera as they can be reloaded. Just do not forget to request to have them returned if you send out your film for processing. Remember, when you have someone else do the film processing the cassette can be damaged or you may forget to ask for it’s return. I recommend removing the film in the dark and keep your cassette. Put your film in a full black 35mm film can for safe transport, tape it closed and mark it clearly. And for heavens sake, if you find submin cassettes that you don't need -- ANY cassettes, of ANY type (assuming they are genuine) keep them and move them on to someone who needs them.
While many sub-miniature cameras were inexpensive and poorly manufactured (thus giving the format a bad name), Minox, GaMi, Edixa, Rollei, Pentax, Mamiya and Minolta, made quality cameras and lenses and were capable of producing fine results—even when enlarged.
Now go out and get yourself a fedora, a empty pack of smokes to hide your camera in and have some fun with sub miniature cameras!
Leslie Lazenby is one of the co-hosts of The Film Photography Podcast. She fell in love with photography when she was given her first camera, a GAF 126, at the age of 10. Her first job in a camera shop with a custom and commercial photo lab turned into a 20-year adventure in film; leading to positions in darkrooms, customer relations, and as head of purchasing. For the past 15 years, Leslie has owned her own business, Imagine That, retailing traditional photography products, photographic restoration, custom printing and video conversions.