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From 1938 to the onset of digital photography, this tiny camera was the secret agent's dream notebook. Newly-added CIA declassified documents provide insight as to how the cameras were used.
The VEF Minox was the first of an extraordinary camera range that was so futuristic in 1938. it is not surprising that the we still these cameras and their descendants today. As most other submin. formats have fallen into disuse.
Until the late 1990's the camera system was actively used by most government services.
Why was this camera from an obscure Latvian company, [VEF] so unique then and now,, and why was it so utterly suitable for the task of coying documents.
Of those features, the size, and the close focus capability were revolutionary. Remember, this was 1938: when a Leica camera was considered small. The Minox can photograph documents down to A6 size with no focus aids or supplementary viewfinders. In 1938, this was science fiction. Ever since, even now, people do not believe something that small can produce images that sharp.
The Minox 15mm lens and 8x11mm negative size were chosen with deep intent. The VEF metric focus scale on the lens lines up precisely with A6, A5, A4 and A3 document sizes. This means, set the focus size, then fill the frame with the document: click, and the image will be sharp. No time wasted focusing the lens.
This is the camera that had all the classic features of a MINOX. Later models added exposure meter, electronically timed shutters, lens/shutter interlocks, marginally better lenses, but no major new design features.
There many references to list, or that I am allowed to list, but it known that the original MINOX was used by most sides in world war two 1939-1945. The USSR sourced its Riga cameras from the USA before the Soviets occupied the Riga factory in 1944.
Japan is an unknown entity. I simply have not found anything out yet.
Cold War & Beyond
Most secret agencies and most police agencies used MINOX equipment. The KGB, MI5/6, OSS, CIA and FBI handed them out to agents and traitors. If you were caught in possession of a MINOX in then USSR and from anecdotal experience, Libya, you were would be arrested as a suspected spy.. See our download section to see actual CIA reports.
Even today, passing VEF MINOX through airport security causes inspection and questions: under X-RAY, the camera is a sold black image. Tip: unload your film from the camera first.
From the 1940's onwards the CIA wrote some useful articles evaluating the Minox
Also, unusual users include Lee Harvey Oswald and his Minox II. How did someone like Oswald even afford a Minox II that was never sold in the USA?