Design influences of Leica on Minox

Introduction | A brief history | 60 years | Key Events | Minox is an eye | Seeing with the Minox | Minox Focusing Tips  | The Mysterious Door ... | Design Influences of Leica on Minox | Die MINOX ist Mein Leben | Walter Zapp 1905-2003

© December, 2000 by D. Scott Young, All rights reserved.  D. Scott Young.  

"Some good questions have been raised about the possibilities of the Leica design perhaps having influenced Minox design, particularly due to the time frames involved. There is compelling evidence that Walter Zapp first became fired with the idea of a miniature camera as early as 1922 or 23, approximately 7 years before he would actually see one of the first Leica cameras in the hands of his (later) life long friend, Nixi Nylander (in 1929). There is little doubt that seeing the comparatively small (for the time) Leica, inspired Zapp with the “rightness” of his original concept for a smaller camera, confirming it in his mind, as it were, although there is little evidence that any design elements of the Minox were drawn directly from any design features of the Leica. I say this because Zapp had already been working the idea around in his mind and on paper for several years before seeing the Leica; on seeing it, and being so impressed with it, he actually went so far as to send his design sketches on to Oscar Barnack for review. I think he looked up to Barnack at the time and sought his approval; in any event, he never heard back from the man.

I should clarify that the mechanical works were pretty far along in the design process by the time Zapp saw the Leica; however, there is at least a little design influence in the fact that when designing the lens system/film size, he did begin with the size of the 35mm negative as a starting point in his calculations, presumably scaling down from there. The first working prototype Minox (the Ur-Minox, still in his possession after all these years) had a larger negative than the standard production Minox cameras that followed as a result of this, being incompatible with the 8x11mm film cartridges of today. The film size was corrected to the present 9.2mm, 8mmx11mm size with the introduction of the Riga Minox.

In correspondence, and later in an interview, he made it very clear to me that every aspect of the function and design of his camera had been painstakingly worked out from scratch, going so far as to say that he would never have been free to design the camera as well as he did had he begun by using other cameras as a model. This was also spelled out in an article he had written in response to a question regarding design influences: he was very conscious of speculation that he may have borrowed some ideas for the Minox from Russian spy cameras he was supposed to have worked on designing during WWII. This was false: he fled to Germany during the war to avoid being taken by the Russians and forced to work for them; the idea that he had worked on their spy cameras, or taken ideas from their designs, has always pained him." 

Last Updated on 18th July 2003