After World War II, the Japanese camera industry continued the trend of reducing the film size to keep processing costs down. Cameras were designed to use split 35mm film (Hit / 17.5mm) cameras and 16mm film. Then, in 1951, Suzuki Optical Company designed a cigarette lighter with a built-in camera using split 16mm film.
The Echo 8 is only 1 5/8" x 2 1/8" x 1/2", just slightly larger than a regular Zippo cigarette lighter. It has a fixed-focus Echor Anastigmat 15mm lens with waterhouse stops at f/3.5, f/5.6 and f8.0 and has B (bulb) and I (1/50 sec.) shutter settings. The 8mm film strip, split 16mm film, is 8 inches long and the camera produced 20 exposures, with a 6x6mm image format.
The chrome sliding bar next to the lid is the shutter release. The serrated wheel adjacent to the shutter release is the film advance. The film advance automatically stops when the film has been wound to the next frame detected by a small lever which pushes into the perforation of the film. After the 20th exposure has been taken, the advance wheel turns freely. That is how you'll know you are at the end of the roll, as the camera does not have a frame counter. See the Echo 8 dismantled.
The camera had a built-in waist-level-type viewfinder utilised by sliding the nameplate-panel on the lighter lid and looking down to see out at 90 degrees.
The Echo 8 was marketed in the United States from1951. Initial interest was modest, but sales leapt when the camera that was used in the 1953 movie, Roman Holiday (1953, Paramount Pictures). Roman Holiday starred Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck & Eddie Albert. Eddie Albert, playing a photographer, uses an Echo 8 lighter camera to get candid shots of Audrey Hepburn (incognito princess being tailed by various heroes and villains) for a scoop story by Gregory Peck (reporter). Albert also uses a 35mm camera. There's a funny routine in which Albert and Peck work together to sneak a shot with a huge press camera. This is one of the few films that even tried to portray photographic technique.
The Echo 8's appearance in the film stimulated demand to a level that the Suzuki Optical Company could not satisfy. In response, in 1955, the company produced the more affordable and simplified Camera-Lite. It has a fixed focus 17mm f8 lens and only an instant shutter speed. The neat reflex viewfinder was also removed and you have to hold the lighter to eye level to use the sports finder. It is more easy to spot, as a camera in use, than the clandestine way of using the Echo 8.
The Camera Lite II followed on shortly after. It has a switch near the lens to select B and I (1/50) shutter speed. The Camera-Lite was available in chrome as well as an olive-green/khaki enamel finish.
Sales of the Camera Lite were so encouraging that Suzuki opted to come out with an improved version of the original Echo 8 in the following year, known as the Echo 8 (model II). This has a fully variable aperture from f3.5 to f11 which is adjusted with the same thumb nail operated lever, but instead of moving a sliding fame in front of the lens, behind the shutter it moves a wheel on the lens housing. A very neat arrangement and an elegant solution (see the Echo 8 dismantled). It has a round lens surround to accept filters and close up lens. Although it uses the same split 16mm film and has the same 6x6mm negative the cassettes are slightly larger than used with the earlier models and the lighter and camera part are also slightly larger.
The Echo 8 was also used in the 1961 Japanese movie " Mothra " aka " Mosura ", starring Frankie Sakai , Hiroshi Koizumi & Kyoko Kagawa.
The Echo 8 cameras are shown with box (green and red) and film slitter. The box is only 2.25" x 3.00" and holds all extras (film and film slitter). Case is made of brass with a brushed chrome or nickel finish. The film slitter is an accessory used to cut strips of 16mm film down to the 8mm size required by the camera. In the photo above (lower right), the lighter lid is raised and the sliding viewfinder cover is open. The camera is sited by looking down into a waist-level viewfinder that peers out of that square hole in the lid. To uncover the waist-level optical viewfinder the Echo 8 nameplate (lower left of photograph) is slid to the right. That square hole in the side of the lighter case is the only clue that this is not just an ordinary cigarette lighter. Behind the hole, a cover plate protects and conceals the camera lens. The plate retracts as the shutter release is pressed. The box on top of the camera body is the waist-level finder. With the Camera-Lite viewing has to be at eye level as there is no reflex prism.
The Echo 8 and Camera-Lite have an all too common fault. They have been used as a cigarette lighter, and over time lighter fluid has leaked into the shell and decomposed the cast metal camera body. Do not fill the lighter with fluid. Resist the urge to demonstrate the lighter to friends and family and preserve the camera as it is.
Film was sold in boxes of 10 with brass cassettes (a pair of cassettes is needed inside the camera) for 3 USD or 35cents each, and as a pair of feed and take up cassettes in a tiny circular tin. These are aluminium with one cassette plain and the other having the slot and spool for the take up of the film. To load the film, remove the lighter first and then take out the camera as one unit. The film chamber door is loose, and reveals the housing for the film.
Last updated 6th January 2008