When you hear the name Minox, you probably think of of the shady world of cold war spying, or the glamourous escapades of James Bond, and 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 world war two the factory was re-established in West Germany.
I’ve got a Minox B, dating from the 1960s, which is 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 focussing, for the user to set.
Other than their size and shape, they bear little resemblance to the earlier precision cameras, and are of little interest to a true Minox enthusiast. The EC was on the market for 16 years, with over 150,000 being sold, and as a result they are pretty easy to come by. A quick look on eBay shows “buy it now” prices from around £35, with sold listings sometimes being even lower. To put this in context, the common late mechanical models, such as the Minox B tend to fetch around £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 f5.6 and is focus free. As far as I am aware, no case was made for the Minox EC, there really wasn’t any need for one, as when the is camera 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, but 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 downside is that tinkering with razor blades in the dark is a risky business, and although the scars have now healed, my first self loaded cartridges were streaked with blood!
There’s not much point in having a spy camera and using it for family snapshots, so although I generally follow the rules, I thought I’d live a little dangerously, and take some surreptitious photos where cameras were not allowed. As a law abiding conformist, for me this was a transgression akin to Theresa May’s running through a cornfield, though in her case all she had to fear was the farmer’s wrath, I could have been swallowed by Damien Hirst’s pickled shark!