Even though digital cameras can be made virtually microscopic, the title of “the smallest full-frame camera ever made” still belongs* to Minox 35s. Produced in the 1980s, these cameras were only slightly larger than a film roll and they packed a sharp 35mm 𝒇2.8 lens with a 1/500s shutter.
✱ — Minox 35 GT is slightly taller and wider (though still lighter) than Minolta TC-1 — another camera that claimed this title in the ‘90s. Tessina Automatic 35 is even smaller, but it does not work with regular 35mm film cassettes. All of the above are significantly smaller and lighter than the current smallest digital full-frame camera.
A brief history of the Minox 35 camera series.
Nearly ten years after the first Rollei 35 rolled off the factory belt, it finally got beat for the title of the smallest full-frame film camera.
Back in 1966, Heinz Waaske — the man who invented Rollei 35 — did the impossible: he convinced a major manufacturer to build luxury pocketable cameras. This was in the years when many 35mm shooters weighed well over a pound, and none could ever dream of fitting in a pocket comfortably.
But the technology progressed swiftly since the ‘60s. In just ten years, stronger, lighter plastics, new optical formulas, and electronically-controlled shutters gave other brands a chance at making even tinier devices. Some came close in terms of size, but instead of trying to fit more into less space, they opted to add a rangefinder, use an ultra-light plastic shell, or a clever advance lever.
Finally, in 1975, Minox, the brand that’s been famous for its finger-sized 110 film cameras, entered the arena with a full-frame 35mm film offering: Minox 35 EL. It was smaller and lighter than Rollei 35, and it also featured auto-exposure along with better controls. No longer was the photographer forced to perform a film advance sequence and a lens locking ritual just to take a photo. And there was no need for a lens cap either.
The prize for having manufactured the newly-smallest 35mm film camera was an incredible commercial success. Nearly two million Minox 35s were shipped in 22 variants. And the GT version, reviewed here, was the most popular one.
Minox 35’s controls and ergonomics.
Minox 35 is thicker but otherwise a lot smaller than an iPhone. This makes it easy to slip into a shirt pocket or even certain jean pockets. This camera is very compact.
Thankfully, despite its small size, the controls are well laid-out in places you’d expect them to be. The only two unmarked switches on the top plate that I had to research were the tiny black battery check button, a timer switch in front of the hot shoe and the backlight compensation switch.
Checking the battery level on Minox 35 GT requires holding down the black button on the top plate and looking through the viewfinder — while the shutter is cocked. You want the exposure needle to stop at 125, which indicates a full charge. This camera was made for PX27 5.6v batteries that are no more. Instead, you can use an S27PX 6v battery, a PX27 battery, a set of four button batteries (LR44), or two 2L76 (or CR-1/3N) batteries. Lots of options and easy to replace — the compartment is behind the round plastic door that you can unscrew with a coin (on the front of the camera).
Unfortunately, the battery on Minox 35 will drain if you keep it open — even if you aren’t using it in any way. I found out the hard way, having kept it on my shelf with its less extended. I later confirmed this after reading the manual.
The timer switch, when flipped, reveals a red “T.” Once you press the shutter button with that turned on, the camera will fire after a 10-second delay.
The backlight compensation switch, when flipped, reveals a red “2x.” Very useful when you want to add an extra stop of light to your exposures.
On the bottom plate, you’ll find an ISO dial where you can set your film speed between 25 and 800. With the backlight compensation switch on, you can load an ISO 12 film — if you’ve got one. Unfortunately, this piece is worn out on most copies and will likely require a replacement — which isn’t too hard to find on eBay.
Loading the film requires completely taking off the back cover held in place by a black lever — next to the “Made in Germany” lettering. The film rewinder crank is back on the top plate, but it’ll need to be unlocked with a small black button at the bottom.
The film advance winder on Minox 35 is a two-stroke mechanism. It’s short, made of metal and is very easy to use. The double-exposure preventing mechanism will block you from pressing the shutter button unless the film is advanced. However, you will still be able to wind the film without a battery; this may cause some lost frames as the shutter will not fire without power.
The shutter button is small but comfortable. I had no trouble finding the exact travel spot where it would trigger the camera. It’s well-balanced for minimum camera shake — and it has a remote trigger port right next to it.
The shutter will fire between 1/500s and 1s but with expended longest times for low-iso films. So an ISO 25 film will have Minox hold the shutter open for up to 30 seconds. But the best thing about it is that the shutter is incredibly quiet and completely vibration-free.
The viewfinder is fairly comfortable, despite its small size. It’s bright, although the lines and the shutter speed indicator can be hard to see in the dark or if you’re wearing glasses — as is the case with almost all film cameras.
Lens operation and image quality.
Minox 35 is an aperture-priority, zone-focus camera. You will need to set the focus distance and an aperture for it to expose your film properly.
I like aperture priority cameras because they make controlling bokeh and many other in-camera effects easy. However, this means that you’ll need to pay attention to the shutter speed indicator within the viewfinder to make sure that the film isn’t overexposed — when the shutter speed exceeds 500 — or that you don’t introduce unwanted motion blur with shutter speeds below 60.
Controlling the aperture on Minox 35 is fairly easy despite its small size. The ring around the lens is extra thick — although there are no clicks.
If you know how to zone focus, using this tiny camera is no trouble at all. Again, despite its small size, the ring is comfortable to twist, and it is not fiddly.
Minox’ Color-Minotar 35mm lens is sharp with few to no noticeable aberrations. I haven’t found any soft spots in the corners. Even the bokeh appears to be decent — although, on a wide-ish 𝒇2.8 lens, you’d have to focus pretty close to get a decent amount of background separation.
When you shoot Minotar wide-open, you may notice some distortion in the corners. But I wouldn’t say this is nearly as noticeable as the blurring from the much more popular and expensive Olympus Infinity Stylus cameras.
Interestingly, the kinds of images I am getting from my Minox 35 remind me of the results I’ve seen with Rollei 35s. Sharp and mostly neutral in character.
A camera with a plastic shell will almost always be lighter than a metal one. Minox 35 GT is a lot easier to carry than Rollei 35s, but it doesn’t feel as “expensive” since the latter features more metal components. Nevertheless, it’s a well-built camera with some heft of its own. You may also notice that the plastic shell is coated in black spray paint to prevent light leaks and reflections. You can tell that the GT’s resin material was a choice based on weight rather than cost reduction.
Where to buy your Minox 35 GT camera.
Minox 35s aren’t hard to find on eBay. Even your local camera store may have one — if they deal with film stuff. These cameras are numerous and fairly reliable.
As of this writing, Minox 35 GTs can be bought anywhere between $100 and $400, depending on their condition and the seller. Some variants of this camera will cost you more — like the Sport version or GTX that uses a slightly different lens, takes higher-ISO film speeds, and can read film’s DX codes.
As with any other used camera purchase, it’s best to get one guaranteed to work by the seller. Mine had a broken hinge that made closing the cover a little wobbly — so make sure to ask if there are any issues with this camera before buying.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Minox 35 GT camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!