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Minox B
Subminiature espionage camera · 1958-1969

Minox-B is an analogue high-quality subminiature camera that is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. It was built by Minox in Germany as the successor to the post-war Minox A. For Many years it was the worlds most famous and widely used camera for espionage photography right until the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. Production started in 1958 and ran to 1969 when it was replaced by the improved Minox C, which never surpassed the popularity of the Minox-B.

Like its predecessor, the Minox-A, the body of the camera is made of aluminum. When closed, it measures just 97 x 27 x 15 mm, allowing it to be concealed easily, e.g. in the palm of a hand or hidden somewhere in the operative's clothing.

The camera is operated by opened by pulling it outwards from both ends. When closed, the film is advanced to the next position. The image on the right shows a Minox-B camera ready for use. A chain, that also acted as a measuring device, could be attached to one side of the camera, allowing it to be affixed to the user's clothing.
  
Camera ready for use (open)

The negatives have a frame size of 8 x 11 mm. The Minox-B is fitted with a very high quality lens. When used in combination with high-grade film, it allowed black & white images with enormous detail to be obtained from the small negatives. The non-perforated film strip is 9.2 mm wide and is stored on a supply spool inside a small cartridge that can hold 50 images. In later years, colour film became available for the Minox-B, but it had significantly lower detail than the B/W film.

Minox-B was the always ready for use. It was the first subminiature camera with a built-in light meter that did not require batteries. Based on a selenium cell, it converts light into electricity, and drives the meter directly. As a result, the camera is 15 mm longer than its predecessors, the Minox Riga and Minox-A. The Minox-B was by far the most popular of all Minox subminiature cameras, with 384,327 units manufactured between 1958 and 1969 [3].

In 1969, the Minox B was succeeded by the Minox C, but in 1972 and 1973 an improved version of the Minox-B – the Minox BL – was produced in small quantities. Apart from the new exposure meter — Cadmium Sulfide rather than Selenium — the Minox-BL was identical to the Minox-B.

Closed Minox B camera (not ready for use) Camera ready for use (open) Chain detached Chain attached The camera with the chain out of the protective leather case Close-up of the front of the camera. At the centre the lens and at the right the selenium cell of the light meter. Close-up of the lens and the colour filters (green and ND) Close-up of the light meter and the connection for the external flash unit.
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Closed Minox B camera (not ready for use)
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Camera ready for use (open)
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Chain detached
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Chain attached
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The camera with the chain out of the protective leather case
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Close-up of the front of the camera. At the centre the lens and at the right the selenium cell of the light meter.
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Close-up of the lens and the colour filters (green and ND)
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Close-up of the light meter and the connection for the external flash unit.

Operation
The Minox-B has a mechanical shutter with speeds ranging from 1/2 to 1/1000 sec. The high-precision lens allows focussing from 20 cm (8 inches) to infinity. When turning the focusing dial, the viewfinder moves in tandem to correct for parallax errors. Above the viewfinder is a so-called filter bar, that allows a green or a neutral density (ND) filter to be moved in front of the lens. These filters are used to increase contrast and to reduce brightness in full daylight. The latter is needed when photographing outdoors whilst the camera is loaded with a highly sensitive film.


When photographing documents, the measuring chain comes in handy. It is 60 cm long and has small markers (bullets) at 20, 24, 30 and 40 cm, just like the markings on the focusing dial. When using the full length of the chain (i.e. 60 cm) the distance is ideal for photographing A4+ size documents. Each time a picture is taken, the frame counter increases, up to the maximum of 50 exposures. Closing the camera, also protects the lens by moving a plate in front of it. Please note that each time the camera is closed, the film is advanced to the next position, regardless whether a picture was taken or not. This mis-feature, or anomaly, was solved in later Minox models.


Opening the camera
Opening the camera in order to replace the film cartridge is simple. First extend the camera in the usual manner, as if you want to take pictures. Then turn the camera around so that the bottom is up (1). Next, extend the camera a somewhat further until a recessed rig becomes visible (2). Use the nail of your thumb to press down the recessed rig (3). This should unlock the camera. Whilst pressing down the rig, slide away the body of the camera to reveal the film cartridge (4).

If a film is present, turn the camera upside down until the film cartridge falls out (5). Take a new film (6) from its protective container (7) and place it in the camera (8). Then close the camera. Note that the first image is lost as it is already exposed. Release the shutter and close/open the camera to advance to the next position. Then release the shutter again. The camera is now ready for taking pictures. In the images below, the camera is loaded with a 36 exposure colour film.

The bottom of the camera in normal position
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Extending the camera a bit further reveals a recessed gap
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Use the nail of your thumb to press down the recessed gap
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Slide away the body of the camera to reveal the film cartridge
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Take out the film cartridge by holding the camera upside-down
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Close-up of the film cartridge
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The film outside the camera, next to an empty film container
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Placing a new film cartridge in the camera
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The bottom of the camera in normal position
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Extending the camera a bit further reveals a recessed gap
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Use the nail of your thumb to press down the recessed gap
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Slide away the body of the camera to reveal the film cartridge
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Take out the film cartridge by holding the camera upside-down
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Close-up of the film cartridge
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The film outside the camera, next to an empty film container
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Placing a new film cartridge in the camera

Black version of the Minox-B
Some Minox cameras were produced in an alternative finish. This was generally done as a limited edition or for special OEM projects. One example is the rare black variant of the Minox B shown here. As the camera is less shiny than the standard version, it's even more suitable for covert operations.

The one shown here has an original Minox lens. With serial number 983 481 it was built just before production of this model ended in 1972. More images of this camera below.
  
Minox-B open and ready for use

Black Minox-B in the palm of a hand The black Minox-B with black measuring chain unpacked from its leather carrying pouch Minox-B (closed) Minox-B open and ready for use Close-up of the light meter Selecting the green filter The clip at one end of the black measuring chain Film compartment
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Black Minox-B in the palm of a hand
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The black Minox-B with black measuring chain unpacked from its leather carrying pouch
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Minox-B (closed)
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Minox-B open and ready for use
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Close-up of the light meter
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Selecting the green filter
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The clip at one end of the black measuring chain
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Film compartment

Accessories
Minox measuring chain The famous Minox tripod Minox tripod adapter Minox Copy Stand Minox Binocular Attachment Different types of right angle viewing mirrors Minox film viewing magnifier Minox Cube Flasher
References
  1. H. Keith Melton, Ultimate spy.
    ISBN: 0-7513-4791-4, 1996-2002

  2. Wikipedia, Minox
    Description of the various Minox models and their history

  3. Minox, Serienummern - 8 x 11 mm Kameras
    Minox website. Retrieved April 2010.
Further information
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Crypto Museum. Created: Thursday 22 March 2012. Last changed: Wednesday, 09 January 2019 - 09:22 CET.
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