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First World War Cameras

Although the earliest war photography dates back to the Mexican War of 1846, the First World War (1914-18) was the first major conflict to follow the widespread availability of cheap photography.  Many cameras were still bulky with slow shutter speeds restricting their use to posed shots on tripods.  The war popularised smaller cameras, whose publicity trumpeted the fact that they could be fitted into a tunic pocket (the most famous being the Kodak Vest Pocket ). Nonetheless, Box Brownies are also known to have been taken to the front. At first the use of photography by British forces was unregulated  but unofficial photography was banned in December 1914 and possession of an unauthorised  camera became a military crime in March 1915.  Enforcement was patchy, especially in the case of officers, and the Australian forces ignored the ban at Gallipoli. The resulting photographs provide a unique, candid, vision of the war a from the perspective of the ordinary participants as it progressed through the stages of initial euphoria to weariness and misery.


Goerz Ango Anschutz c.1911

1896 - 1922


Compact strut camera. 9x12 cm plate film with Dogmar F3,5/15 cm lens.


Popular pre-war press camera. Used at Gallipoli and by Ernest Brooks, first and longest-servng of the Great War official photographers. It was also the official  War Office issue until the formation of the AFPU in 1941.


ICA Minimum Palmos


Popular with professional photographers and was used by British official photographers on the Western Front  during the First World War. It was also used by Horace Nicholls, British Home Front Official photographer.


It used 9 X 12 cm plates and was equipped with a Tessar f4.5/150mm lens and focal plane shutter.

(IWM photograph)


Houghton Ensignette  



Launched in time for Christmas 1909. It was a milestone camera, for the first time offering a compact camera at an affordable price for a mass market.  Made of brass, the Ensignette No.1 took six exposures on 1 1/2 x 2 1/4 inches film whilst the slightly larger and heavier  No.2 took six exposures on 2 x 3 inch negatives and measured 5 x 2 3/8 x 7/8in. Although an excellent camera, it was overshadowed by the successful marketing campaign of Kodak for its smaller and lighter rival, the Vest Pocket Camera.


Kodak Vest Pocket



Inspired by the Ensignette and first introduced in 1912.  This camera was commonly taken into the Battlefields during WW1 and was successfully marketed as 'the soldier's camera'. It was small and light enough  enough to carry in a tunic pocket and, if necessary, to conceal.  It was made of aluminium  and measured  1 x 2 3/8 x 4 3/4in.  An 'Autograph' version (illustrated) was introduced in 1915 and allowed a brief note to be written on the negative. It weighed 316gm.

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Kodak No.1A Autographic Junior


Type used by JB Milburn, ASC, in Mesopotamia.

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Kodak No.2 Box Brownie 

1907 - 24

The No.2 Box Brownie was extremely popular before the First World War and after. It used a 116 size film that produced a postcard-sized negative  perfect for contact printing.   Royal Engineer  sapper Hubert Berry Ottaway used a similar camera to document his service on the Western Front between 1914 and 1917.  His negatives were found c.2000 and published in 2014.


Richard Verascope 


Commerically-produced stereo photographs showing scenes of the First World War became very popular in the domestic markets. Whilst difficult in the British army,  other troops could produce their own stereoviews, using the compact French Verascope stereo camera. This had a compact design and was simple to operate, using a fixed focus lens. Its disadvantage was its weight and reliance on glass slides. The camera was  not only used by French troops to create souvenirs. Among others, US Army engineer, Conrad Goddard used one to record his army service. Staff Sergeant Arthur Whiting, Lt  Col.Fenwick and Colonel Ryan of the Australian Army Medical Corps all recorded events at Gallipoli in 1915 on a Verascope. A  removeable plate box forms ithe back of the camera and holds twelve glass negatives, measuring 45 × 107 mm, in a light-proof magazine. The glass slides are protected in a  metal holder and are advanced by a sliding action using the hinged handle. The magazine of the illustrated camera contained nine glass negatives dating to 1917. Examples are shown HERE. In 2012 a Verascope of the same type was found  in its case with two bundles of glass slides showing French soldiers in the trenches and a peace parade.  Details of that find and scans of the slides can be seen HERE

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