Go up a levelIntroduction & contents

In 1892, the American, William V. Esmond, patented his Kombi camera in England. The camera is all brass with the surface oxidized with diagonal stripes on the outside. Basically a tiny box camera with a simple lens and either instant or timed exposures.

The back of the camera is fitted with a circular cover. When removed and loaded with the developed transparency film it becomes a film viewer - a graphoscope. The dual function of the camera provided it's name being a combined "Camera and Graphoscope" and the words engraved on the front of the camera.

The camera was manufactured and sold by Alfred C. Kemper of Chicago, Illinois USA. Esmond assigned one half of the patent right to Kemper. Kemper's advertisements proclaimed '50,000 sold in one year' and was sold by the tens of thousands for a number of years.

There was a story regarding the making of several gold plated Kombi cameras as special presentation pieces for the 1893 Columbian Exposition where the Kombi was formally announced and featured for sale. [David Silver IDCC]

It took 25 exposures on specially made Kodak film 1 1/2" wide film giving a 1 1/8" square (or round) negative. The negatives were printed on a roll of transparency film and viewed through the lens.

It came packaged with roll film, instruction book and a sample photograph that could be viewed. It was sold for $3.00 and said to have been sold door to door through out the Mid-Western United States.

Historic Firsts of The Kombi Camera and Graphoscope

  • The world's first miniature roll film camera
  • The first camera to use film manufactured by Kodak solely for use in a non-Kodak camera 
  • The first camera to combine the taking and viewing of photographs in the same instrument.
  • The first metal-bodied roll film camera
  • The first interchangeable back for roll-film cameras

(from Scott's Photographica Collection)

The small size of the camera and film meant that, top get acceptable images, the maximum aperture was small. The Kombi requires good light conditions to work with snap-shoot exposures. The recommended method was to use timed exposures. The disc in front of the lens can be pulled off and replaced by one with a different aperture. See below. These are sometimes missing from the camera.

Only two companies produced roll film, Eastman Kodak and Blair Camera Company. Kodak must have been curious about the diminutive Kombi and manufactured film specially for it. Following the huge success of the Kombi Kodak manufactured the slightly larger Pocket Kodak 2 years later. This gave a 1 1/2 x 2  inch image and allowed for true instantaneous capability in a miniature camera.

The dial seen at the top centre of the camera is used to arm the shutter. The curved piece of metal is notched with the centre position for timed exposures and the farthest position for instantaneous exposures.  A spring lever behind is is the shutter release. The lens had to be covered when arming the shutter as it was not self capping.

The Kombi has two winding knobs to allow the transparency film to be centred correctly. The rollers have no spool core making them harder to load with film in the dark.

A strip of brass or gun metal was called the Kombi clasp. This was sold as an accessory for 10 cents. It has the word "loaded" stamped onto the side  as a reminder that the camera has film loaded. The precision in the fit of the front and back of the cameras (both stamped with the same serial number) means that the clasp had no use to clamp the two parts together.


The three discs are the two aperture settings "caps" and the lens barrel onto which they clip onto. The cap with the smaller opening was used for time exposures.  The cap with the larger opening was used for snap-shots in very bright light.  When taking snap-shots in normal daylight, the lens was used without a cap.

The square frame masks the image area. A round 1 1/8" frame was also available for 20 cents.

The two rollers are not identical. The one used to advance the film has a small pin on it that makes a clicking sound with each complete turn, the third click indicating that the film has been advanced sufficient for the next frame. There is no counter and users would have to note separately how many exposures had been taken

Film was processed by sending the whole camera back to Kemper. The camera was returned loaded with fresh film. The roll film could be posted, allowing the camera to be used with a second magazine (the back of the camera, loaded with film and had to be fitted to the front in the dark). This was the first time that interchangeable film holder was offered for a roll-film camera. Kemper also sold complete outfits to develop the film at home.


Lothrop, Eaton S., Jr. --A Century of Cameras from the Collection of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House.-- Dobbs Ferry, NY: Morgan & Morgan, 1973. pp 80.//
Hasbroeck, Paul-Henry van. --150 Classic Cameras: From 1839 to the Present.-- London: Sotheby's Publications, 1989. pp 78.//

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Go up a levelLast updated 28th July 2008