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The Steineck ABC wrist watch camera made by Steineck Kamerawerke orignally in Tutzing and later in Papenheim (see instructions). It was sold from 1948 until 1951 but remains perhaps the best of it's kind. There are no watch parts or watch face and no attempt to disguise it's form as a camera. The back does resemble a wrist watch and has standard fitments for a wrist strap.

Invented by Dr. Rudolph Steineck, later associated with the Tessina and patented it; U.S. patent 2,949,833, filed 1 December 1954, "Twin-Lens Mirror-Reflex Camera." He lived at Via Morcucco 2, Lugano, Switzerland at the time.

Sold in a quality presentation case with an expensive leather wrist strap. The camera, with strap, weights 42 grams and is 42.5mm long and 35mm across, including the shutter release button. It is fitted with a fixed focus 12.5mm f/2.5 lens. The shutter is 1/125th second and it has two aperture settings for bright and dim light.

It has eight exposures, 5.5mm  diameter on a film disc 24mm across  The hole in the film holder and from behind the lens shutter is 6mm. This difference in diameter allows a +/- 0.25mm error in the positioning accuracy of the automatic film-advance. The above measurements have been confirmed directly from the film carousel. Steineck was optimistic in not having an index-stop for the film-carousel. The carousel is allowed to float free, and there are many opportunities to lose registration as the thing is flung into position. Mechanical tolerances must be maintained at watch-mechanics levels, and the drag coefficients in the cassette are critical. Without film in the cassette, to establish the thickness of the carousel, the carousel will not index properly. The carousel has the exposure number displayed through the magnified frame counter window.

A special punch was used to make the film blanks from ordinary 35mm film. These look like washers with a small cut on the outer edge to be position in the film carousel (see film). Film loading is difficult as the disc needs to be placed accurately. The film is clamped into place by locking the plates together with the disc holder and exposure counter in the middle. The film carousel is placed with the green dot aligned with the green dot on the watch strap arm and rotated clockwise so that the red dot aligns with the red dot on the other side of the wrist strap. 

The viewfinder is a reflex concave mirror with a sharp centre line pointer, which permits sighting from above when the camera when worn on the wrist in picture-taking position. The lens is just below the this viewfinder.  The right hand is then used from below the camera to press the shutter with the thumb and steadied with the index finger. On the right hand wrist the index finger is used to release the shutter.

Through the centre of the camera is a hole, an alternative direct-vision viewfinder which is used off the wrist. Holding the camera by the wrist straps or held top and bottom by the index finger and thumb, one thumb is then used to the to press the shutter release from below. The strap disappears in your hand and gives added security to hold.

Photo courtsey of Jerry Friedman

The lens is fixed focus and sharp from 1.5 m (5ft) to infinity. Some cameras have a red dot on the thumb wheel section (photography left) which sets the aperture between the blue (dim light) and yellow (bright light) dots.

Once the shutter is released the disc is rotated 45 degrees to position for the next exposure. At the end of the 8 exposures the film will not advance further and the release button does not spring back into place. The window near the lens then shows a red dot and the counter is on 0.

The best description of the Steineck A-B-C is Steineck's U.S. patent, no. 2,625,087. It contains detailed mechanical drawings of every component and how they are put together, as well as descriptions of the never-seen accessories. It's impossible to dismantle and lubricate a Steineck without the information in the patent, as there is a concealed fastener under the film-drive plate that holds the thing together. After 50 years of inactivity, a Steineck will invariably require careful lubrication. The mechanism is surprisingly complicated.

There seem to have been three series - A, B, and C, each starting over at a low serial number with no detectable differences among cameras built in the three series. The highest A series number so far found is in the 900's, the highest B series number is in the 900's, and the highest C series number below 500. The serial number is hidden. You have to take off the strap to see it on the camera, but it's penned onto the warranty card.

There are few known variations in Steineck construction, aside from that of the watch-band:

1) The lens may be a Steineck 12.5mm or a Steinheil 12.5mm. The Steineck is a three-element lens, in three groups. The Steinheil is a three-element lens, in two groups with lens elements 1 and 2 cemented together. Steinheil is a well-known European lens-maker, and the 12.5mm lens used in the Steineck A-B-C is still in the catalogue, and is available for sale.

2) The coloured vinyl dots on the front, indicating exposure values, may be imprinted D (dark) and L (light).

3) The first few Steinecks built had a slightly different spring (part no. 46a) behind the film-drive plate. The first springs had a square-cut end, acting as a cam for the film-drive pawl. This was modified to a pointed, ground end.

The original accessories included clip on filters, close-up lenses, and a special enlarger. The eye-level viewfinder has a screw thread and a tripod adapter was planned. The original patent also included a M-sync flash in the original patent where two pin holes on the side of the camera provided electrical contact and a disc containing three filters that was to fit in front of the aperture control.

Camera Ebay 2003/01/04 782EUR (red strap), 2003/05/07 616EUR (light brown strap), 2003/05/14 919EUR (brown strap), 2004/10/04 771EUR (green strap, box), 2004/01/18 828EUR (light brown strap), 200310/05 706EUR (brown strap, brown box). 2004/04/15 1531USD (packing box), 2004/04/21 598USD (no strap), 2004/06/24 450USD (no strap), 2004/09/05 1125.50USD (box),  2004/09/24 1635USD (box), 2005/02/26 1125USD (brown strap, red box), 2005/06/04 220GBP (light brown strap), 2005/10/23 754EUR (light brown strap, box), 2005/11/27 438.78EUR (dark brown strap), 2005/11/27 1300EUR (light cream strap, + commission), 2006/05/20 800EUR + commission (box, instructions), 2006/06/19 780USD (red box), 2007/02/04 410GBP (red strap), 2007/02/13 356USD (red strap, but a replacement), 2007/07/12 362.89GBP (light brown strap), 2008/01/07 706EUR (light brown strap, snap box), 2008/01/21 1800USD (light brown strap), 2008/01/28 1291USD (box, light brown strap), 2008/02/10 806EUR (light brown strap, hard red case), 2008/04/06 900EUR (light brown strap, hard brown case), 2008/05/03 554EUR (light brown strap, hard red case)

case only Ebay 2003/01/07 128EUR , 2003/05/02 53EUR, *2003/08/27 49.50EUR, 2003/09/27 42.72EUR, 2003/10/03 40.50EUR, 2003/01/25 99EUR (brown), 2008/05/06 27.50EUR (red)

direct purchase * 2002/10/01 1420USD (486C shown above)

enlarger Ebay 2003/07/10 1276.76USD

film processing holder Ebay 2004/01/30 132.49USD, 2004/01/30 132.49USD

film magazine holder Ebay 2004/01/30 132.49USD

film magazine Ebay 2004/01/30 132.49USD, 2004/04/04 48USD


Spy Camera http://www.indexstock.com/content/spy/spy13.asp


With additional notes and assistance of Jim Mahaffrey

Go to the main index Last updated 10th May 2008