Introduction and contents

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The Tessina is probably the smallest half-frame 35mm camera being a diminutive 2 1/2 x 2 x 1 inch (69 x 56 x 27mm) and weighing only 5 oz (166g). It uses 16.5" (41cm) lengths of standard 35mm film and so film options are extensive. It produces a frame size of 14x21 mm, larger than most other subminiature formats but in a camera smaller than most 16mm camera. 

It is a twin-lens reflex with pop-up viewfinder and a clock-work motor drive designed for waist-level inconspicuous photography. It has been in production since the 1960s4. It was designed and patented by Dr. Rudolph Steineck who was also the designer and patentee of the ABC wristwatch camera, several other miniature cameras, accessories and devices in the photographic and other fields. He has German, Swiss and US patents. Some of the Tessina related patents are:

US Pat. 2,949,833  (filed Dec 1, 1954)  "Twin-Lens Mirror-Reflex Camera."
US Pat. 2,940,682  (filed Jan 25, 1956)
"Spring Mechanism for Automatically Transporting Roll Film".

Swiss Patents:-
Applied for March 25, 1954. "Zweiäugige Kleinbild-Spiegelreflexkamera" 1957-11-15 (Twin lens mirror reflex small-format camera).

CH340412 Applied for January 30, 1956. "Rollfilm-Aufzugvorrichtung mit Federwerk" 1959-08-15 (Winding device for roll film with spring mechanism).

CH359027 Applied for April 30,1958. "Filmspule" 1961-12-15 (Film spool).

US Pat. 2,625,087  (filed  May 12, 1949)
"Construction for cameras" is the US pat. for the ABC wristwatch camera.

As usual, most patents were granted several years after the application. The drawings for the layout of the camera are rather generic, but those for the spring motor and the spool (film cassette) are detailed.

{US & Swiss  Pat information and above details supplied by John Mourikis}

The initial Swiss patent of 25th March 1954 gives the application and inventor as Steineck Dr.Rudolf ING CHEM (CH)3. Some sources credit the design to Paul Nagel, brother of Dr. August Nagel, the designer of the Kodak Retina, director of Nagel Camerawerks and inventor of the 35mm film cartridge2. Two patents name Paul Nagal as co-inventor of the rewind and shutter and film transport mechanisms.

DE1037842 Rueckspulvorrichtung fuer photographische Film-Hohlspulen 1958-08-28
DE1041351 Verschluss- und Transportvorrichtung fuer photographische Kameras mit automatischem Filmtransport 1958-10-16

The patents date the design as 18th February 1955, Inventors Nagel, Paul; Steineck Dr.Rudolf, application by Rosemarie Amado born Steineck (daughter perhaps).

The other name associated with the design of the Tessina is Arthur Siegrist. The Tessina was manufactured by W.SIEGRIST & CIE. AG.

New Tessina cameras were available from Heitz Service, subject to several month's wait until 20055. The cameras were never made in Lugano, Switzerland. That was just where the inventor lived. Concava S.A. was only the worldwide distributor and when the inventor died Concava closed their doors. The cameras have always been made in Grenchen, Switzerland by Siegrist1 and still in production in 19965. That is now their headquarters, and the manufacturer's name has replaced Concava. The film cartridge is boxed with "Concava Ltd., Lugano/Switzerland" and some include "Cut, respooled and packaged by Karl Heitz Inc. New York.

The almost 400 parts used in making the Tessina are manufactured to the same standards as for Swiss watches. Indeed, ruby jewels are used to reduce friction and wear, just as in the finest watches. The Tessina is an elegant camera, built with the precision of a fine watch. 

There are three models of Tessina; the "Automatic 35 mm", "35", the 'L' . The "Automatic 35 mm" has X, F, and M synch; the "35" and the "L" have X and M synchronization all three with a standard PC flash connector. The L has a slot in the frame where the light meter slides into so that the cog on the light meter can be engaged by the aperture dial. The "Automatic 35 mm" and "35" may have been updated with this simple modification. The engraving "Made in Switzerland" is revealed when moving the lens cover on "Automatic 35 mm" and "35" models but moved to the cover itself on the "L" model.

During the production of the "Automatic 35 mm" the focal distance dial layout was redrawn.

Most are finished in bright 'chrome' stainless steel or brushed aluminium, but a few are finished in red, gold or black. There are two versions of the black finish. One has a soft finish and the front and back are brushed aluminium. The other has a crackle surface including front and back. The coloured versions fetch a healthy premium in price.

Even rarer is the "silent" Tessina, intended for spy work, with special nylon gears to reduce the noise of the built-in spring drive. For complete silence a noise free version without spring drive was available.

See also models compared.

  • 162g (35 automatic, #63557)
  • 166g (35 automatic, brushed aluminium, #65401)
  • 166g (35 automatic, black, #363012)
  • 165g (? black , #363113)
  • 143g (? red, #464802, 159.5g with plates and pop-up finder)
  • 180g (35 brushed aluminium, #765598)
  • 176g (L aluminium, #768921, 184g with bottom plate and pop-up finder)
  • 154g (L gold, silent gears, #785033)
  • 161.5g (L gold, #802056)
  • 168g (? black crinkle, #865106)

In the Watergate, Washington DC, the capital of the United States, when the Plumbers were taken into custody a black Tessina was sized as evidence. This noise reduced version of the production Tessina used nylon gears to almost eliminate the tell-tale whirr of the automatic film advance.


  • 14 x 21 exposures in special cassettes
  • one lens reflects upwards to the ground glass,
  • additional folding finder,
  • Spring motor advance
  • Tessinon 2,8/25 lens
  • Shutter 1/2 - 1/500 sec.
  • Versions in chrome, gold, red (above, picture  from and black 

It has a waist level finder, as well as an optional 6 power prism finder and 8 power magnifying finder. Also available are slip on meters, a wrist strap, the obligatory daylight film loader, neck chain, pentaprism finder, noise reduction, filters, magnifier and a watch face to disguise your Tessina as the world's clumsiest looking watch. 

Advantages?  Wonderful precision, large negative to camera size, uses standard 35mm film stock, versatile with different accessories.

Disadvantages?  With a built in miniature mechanical spring wound motor drive, most users have not found it a rugged camera - treat it gently.  Another problem can be the focusing mirror out of alignment.  It is also expensive, hard to find, harder to get fixed or serviced,  has  no tripod socket, no TTL metering or AE exposure, a fixed lens and the ground glass viewfinder shows the image reversed.  Yet, it's still a great little camera. 

The Tessina  remains an outstanding shooter subminiature and classic collectible.


Tessina Automatic 35 mm

Tessina 35

Tessina L


The material in the following articles has been sourced from :-


Tessina Links

  • Links for Tessina cameras.


For the most detailed information on using subminiature cameras visit the link page. There have been however a number of tips posted in the usenet, list and forums that are not otherwise available.


1. Die TESSINA ist ein Schweizer Präzisionsprodukt, gestellt in Zusammenarbeit mit der Uhren-Präzisionst fakrik W.SIEGRIST & CIE. AG. In Grenchen CONCAVA A.G., Lugano (Schweiz) see Life Size

2. Nagel Camerawek, Stuttgard, Germany was founded by Dr August Nagel (1884-1943) in 1928, when he left Zeiss Ikon. Sold to Kodak A.G in 1932. Earlier in his career Nagel was supposedly embarassed in the Zeiss Ikon board room by his lack of academic qualifications. He was given an honorary degree by the University of Freiburg in 1918.McKeown's Cameras 12th Edition p.706

3. The actual story of the man calling himself Dr. Rudolph Steineck may never be known. He was born around 1905 and apparently came from Dresden. He was involved in long standing litigation with his financial backers when his Steineck A.B.C. company folded in 1950. However, he reappeared in Switzerland with the design and rights to what later became the Tessina, which had been designed and made by Paul Nagel (who had designed the Retina models of the 1930s). p.48.On p.216 White refers to "Dr" Rudolph Steineck questions if he did design the A.B.C. and credits the Tessina to Paul Nagel as designer and builder. William White, Ph.D. "Subminiature Photography" 1990. This account is inaccurate. a) Steineck is credited on the Patent as inventor on both the A.B.C. and Tessina. b) Paul Nagal did not design the Retina models but is credited as co-inventor on two of the Tessina patents. c) Nagal did not build or manufacturer the Tessina, that was W.Siegrist & CIE in Grenchen. d) Some sources claim that Steineck was Austrian.

4. In the brochures handed out by Karl Heitz is a short history on the Tessina. This page is dated March 2003 and is sub titled "More than 45 years of Tessina World's smallest 35mm camera". "The ingenious camera gem of Swiss chronometer precision has been developed, manufactured and continuously upgraded since 1955 by a small most efficient company in Switzerland ..." Further claimed that camera has been sold in the USA for over 45 years, i.e. before 1958. However the September 1985 only claims 25 years so from 1960. quotes from the letter dated November 1960 apologising for the delay in supplying the instruction book which was due to translation difficulties. Further support of the 1960 date is seen in the books written by Joseph D.Cooper "Ultra-miniature photography" 1958 and "The New ultra-miniature photography" 1961. The first book has no mention of the Tessina, the second extensive coverage.

The claims of William White are repeated by Jerry Friedman in  Camera Shopper September 1995 article "The Nagel/Steinneck/Seigrist/Concava of Lugano Tessina" and republished in Photographica World March 1996 "The Concava Tessina Camera". The article also states distribution began in 1961.

5. Most accounts suggest production continued until 1996. McKeown, James M. and Joan C.  McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). Page 210 gives "1960 to present".  Wikipedia quotes a date range of 1957-96, but this is unreferenced. Concava S.A. closed when the inventor died. Production remained with W.Seigrist & CIE and eventually remaining stocks taken by Karl Heitz Inc, New York with a small number assembled new until 2004/2005.

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