The GaMi 16 (for Galileo Milan) was manufactured by Officine Galileo of Milan, Italy who where renown for manufacturing fine optics. Launched in 1953, production creased in 1965.
The GaMi 16 has a satin glossy finish with large dials, a rectangular shape (116 x 31 x 56 mm) and weighs 288 g (284g for the early version, without film). It is both smooth and deceivingly heavy; which might explain the large number seen now with dings. The dials, for adjusting focus, shutter speed and aperture have a serrated edge. The edges are sharp enough that if carried without it’s leather case it will damage the lining on clothes. The surround for the flash socket, shutter release, button to release the handle/cover, the hinge and coin slot to open the back all have sharp edges all belying the clean visual appearance.
The lens has a projective cover which hinges open and provides a hand grip to steady the camera. It also primes the film transport mechanism which will automatically wind on the next three exposures taken before needing to prime the mechanism again. The guillotine shutter and the spring mechanism make a loud sound when operated. The film counter automatically resets when the film door is opened and is a forward-counting type. The automatic wind mechanism prevents double exposures.
The shutter should not be released without a film in the camera as the power of the spring is too strong and the shutter may not be correctly set. It is hard to get the camera fixed because the construction of the camera is so complicated.
The six-element Esamitar Anastigmatic f1.9/25mm fully corrected lens, coated on all surfaces has one of the widest apertures fitted to any subminiature camera. The iris diaphragm has click stop aperture settings of f/1.9, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8 and 11. The shutter speeds are B and ½ to 1/1000th. Close focusing to 50cm (20 inches) and parallax compensation in the viewfinder.
The large viewfinder includes a superimposed image range finder and extinction exposure meter. The meter is not as accurate as a selenium meter and unlike most old extinction meters, the GaMi’s does not seem to fade or darken over time and most remain usable. The viewfinder is also fitted with dioptre correction between -3 and +3. Additional small correcting lens can augment the compensation up to +6 to -6. The film range on the dial is 6-100 ASA for BW and 10-80 for Color film. After about Serial number 340000 this was changed to 12-200 and 20-150. The fast lens permits the use of slower film even when shooting action.
The shutter release button has provision for a cable release with Leica thread.
The built in yellow filter slides into place by rotating a lever on the front of the camera. Additional filters include yellow, orange, red, green, pale blue (for tungsten light), U.V. for colour and day light conversion N.11. The filters where supplied in a tiny tin cases, and clipped into place with a retaining spring.
The two telephoto lens slide onto the front of the camera in front of the normal lens and include a pop up viewfinder to restrict the image area seen through the viewfinder. The x4 telephoto is equivalent to 200mm on a normal 35mm and the x8 telephoto to a 400mm lens on a 35mm. These are heavier than the camera, and so include their own tripod mount socket. The negative area is restricted to 12x12mm instead of the usual 12x17mm. The x4 telephoto has acceptable light transmission but the x8 telephoto results in soft images.
X-synchronization permits the use of bulbs as well as electronic flash. Flash contact is a tripod socket (3/8”) so a flash adapter must be used if hooked up with a flash unit.
The double cartridge is made of metal and holds up to 30 exposures of the 12x17mm negatives on un-perforated 16mm film. With perforated film the image is reduced to 10x17mm.
A small window next to the shutter release show if a film is present in the camera. If the film chamber is empty is shows red otherwise white. When inserting a cartridge the film advance peg swings out allowing easy and fool prove access. Design touches like this make the camera a delight to handle and use.
The GaMi 16 is one of the largest ranges of accessories of any subminiature camera.
The leather cases are of soft hide in blue, green, light brown or black with red braded edges. Some are lined with smooth fawn leather. No provision is made for the wrist strap or chain which has to be removed if the case is to be zipped up. As alternative there was a case with carry strap.
Foto Club Antiquario Italiano has documented the serial numbers 338554-342788 indicating that less than 5000 cameras where made between 1953 and 1965, making it one of the rarer production cameras made.
It was universally acclaimed and has subsequently been recognised as the camera with the best subminiature lens made (Subminiature Photography by William White Ph.D).
Features and hence price put it in a league of it’s own costing £175 in 1956 in the Wallace Heatons price list, 297.50USD in 1958, more than double the price of a Minox A (139.50USD) or Minicord (139.50USD). It has been reported to have taken over 20 hours (Mario Malavolti le Fotocamere delle Officine Galileo) to assemble. Only 5 or 6 workers, led by Mr. Aldo Nicola. 80% of the total production was exported to the USA. Today it justifiably retains a high price at auction, typically reaching 600-1000USD. Truly a Roll-Royce of subminiature cameras that retains a timeless elegance.
Instruction manual 2004/11/30 36USD, 2004/12/08 8.90USD (photocopy)
Instruction manual in French 2005/07/28 24.50USD
GAMI 16 SPY CAMERA & ACCESSORY OWNERS BOOK! 2002/04/29 4.99USD (photocopy), 2003/04/28 36.80USD , 2003/06/18 57.70USD (Italian), 2004/06/19 1.99GBP (photocopy), 2004/06/27 12EUR (Italian), 2004/09/07 11USD (English), 2006/03/09 4.99USD
Brochure GaMi 16 2007/04/17 9.99USD
Brochures 1 to 8 2002/06/26 112.50USD
1 Daylight Developing Tank
Mario Malavolti le Fotocamere delle Officine Galileo with Italian and English test and 140 pictures 1997 includes the history of the the company and pages 59-114 are dedicated to exploring the cameras and accessories for the Gami 16 subminiature camera.
Guide to Classic cameras http://www.mediajoy.com/en/cla_came/gami16/ gives a detailed explanation of how to use the GaMi 16.
Foto Club Antiquario Italiano - Firenze http://digilander.libero.it/fotoantiquaria/Gami%20list.htm list the variations found in the GaMi 16 and their documentation of the serial numbers of the cameras found.
"The only site completely dedicated to GaMi16 camera" http://www.gami16.it/default%20english.htm
Last updated 18th January 2008