Make like James Bond with this late Cold War miniature camera, readily available on eBay
When you hear the name Minox, you probably think of the shady world of Cold War spying, or the glamorous escapades of James Bond. Indeed, these superbly made miniature cameras were extensively used by agents on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The first Minox cameras were made in Riga, Latvia in the 1930s, but after the Second World War the factory reopened in West Germany.
Late arrival at the ball
I’ve got a Minox B, dating from the 1960s. It’s a little marvel of mechanical engineering. It has a full range of shutter speeds, apertures and a built-in exposure meter. The Minox EC is a different kettle of fish altogether.
Launched in 1981 it was very much a late arrival at the Cold War ball. Gone are all the manual features of its predecessors; instead, we are presented with a fully automatic camera with nothing, not even focusing, for the user to set.
Other than its size and shape, it bears little resemblance to the company’s earlier precision cameras, and is of little interest to a true Minox enthusiast. The EC was on the market for 16 years, with more than 150,000 sold, and as a result is pretty easy to come by. A quick look on eBay shows ‘buy it now’ prices from around £35, with sold listings sometimes being lower still. To put this in context, the common late mechanical models, such as the Minox B, tend to fetch £120.
The specifications of the EC are similar to many consumer compacts of the era. The exposure system is fully automatic and can cope with a wide range of lighting conditions. The 15mm lens has a fixed aperture of f/5.6 and is focus-free.
As far as I'm aware, no camera case was made for the Minox EC. There really wasn’t any need for one since when the camera is closed, all the controls, and the lens, are completely covered and protected.
Given the extinction of several lesser- used film formats in recent years, I was surprised to find that Minox film is still available to buy. I decided to go down the cheaper, and rather fiddly, route of cutting 35mm film down to 9.2mm and reloading the cartridges myself.
The advantage of this is that you have a whole range of emulsions to choose from. The very real downside is that tinkering with razor blades in the dark is a risky business and although the cuts I sustained have since healed, my first self-loaded film cartridges were streaked with blood.
There’s not much point in having a spy camera and using it for family snapshots, of course, so although I generally follow the rules, I thought I’d live a little dangerously by taking some surreptitious photographs in places where cameras are most certainly not allowed.
As a law-abiding conformist, for me this was a transgression akin to Theresa May running through a cornfield, although in her case all she had to fear was the farmer’s wrath. In contrast, I could have been swallowed by Damien Hirst’s pickled shark!
‘ There’s no point having a spy camera and using it for family snaps, so I took some surreptitious photos…’
The Minox EC is fully automatic but a poor relation of its smarter siblings
What’s a spy camera for, if not to take sneaky shots of a pickled shark?