1935: The Compass

The Compass was one of the most unusual and complicated miniature cameras ever made. It was designed by an English entrepreneur named Noel Pemberton-Billing and built by Swiss watch manufacturer LeCoultre et Cie. The camera measures only 6.5x2.5x5.5cm, but into those trim dimensions, it packs three built-in filters, a collapsible lens hood, spirit level, rangefinder, special heads for panoramic and stereo photography, an Anastigmat 35mm f/3.5 focusing lens, shutter speeds from 4.5 - 1/500 second, a  ground-glass focusing screen under a hood on the back, right-angle viewfinder, depth of field scale and an internal exposure meter.

 

On the base of the body a short lever folds out to turn through 180° in five click-stopped positions. Screwed into compartments on each side of the body are two more devices for use in conjunction with this lever. One is the panoramic head, the other is the stereo head. Each is screwed into the pivoting arm beneath the body and then attached to a tripod. The panoramic head allows the camera to be turned through the five click-stopped positions to shoot a series of pictures for joining after development to make a panorama. The stereo head allows the camera, to be laterally shifted between two exposures to give a stereo pair.

 

Exposure is measured and set by a complicated system

of numbers deduced from the extinction meter, aperture settings and filter factors, which are added together

and set on the shutter speed dial. The camera takes pictures on single sheets of film, one at a time, or on Compass rollfilm in a special accessory film back, also made by LeCoultre. A second film back, made in London by Cubitt, was also available to take 828 size rollfilm. Because it was so small and had so many features, the Compass proved difficult to operate and it was on the market for no more than three years.

The Compass, unfolded

ready to shoot.

View from the back, showing the extinction meter sliding control and the magnifier over the ground-glass screen

Roll film back and a roll of Compass film

The camera with the lens folded away.

The Compass on its unfolded tripod

Sheet film in its individual sheaths for use in the Compass

How the tripod folds into a tube the size and shape of a fountain pen

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