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1899: The Nodark

While-You-Wait cameras were used by photographers in the street, on the beach, at fairs and carnivals and in specialised studios to offer ferrotype or tintype portraits to people within five minutes or so of exposure. The Nodark was one of the earliest.


Made by the Popular Photograph Company of New York in 1899, the Nodark took the form of a long, wooden box with a 5in f/10 meniscus lens and a simple sector shutter fired by a knob on the side. In a darkroom, 26 ferrotype plates were loaded into a rack which was slid into the rear of the camera. The back was closed and everything else was carried out in daylight.


A small flat tank was filled with developer and attached to the base of the body. After the exposure a lever was pulled from the side of the body to open slides in the base of the camera and across the top of the tank, allowing the exposed plate to fall into the developer. The slides were closed, the tank removed and, after a few minutes, the developer was poured out of the tank and replaced with water, then fixer. The developed ferrotype was removed from the tank, which was washed, refilled with developer and slid back into place on the camera. An extremely ornate knob on the side of the body was turned  to advance the rack of plates and bring the next one into position for the following exposure.

According to advertisements of the day, a finished picture could be produced in a minute. ‘No muss, no darkroom, clean, complete, convenient,’ claimed the advertisement.


Given that no darkroom was needed for processing the ferrotype plates, the name Nodark was a good one for the camera. Unfortunately, Kodak thought the name sounded too much like their own, sued for infringement of trademark and won. And that was the end of the Nodark.


The ornate knob that advanced the Nodark’s rack of plates ready for the

next exposure and, below it, the lever that released the plate to fall into the developing tank.

The Nodark camera that delivered fully developped ferrotype plates within five minutes of exposure.

The plate rack was loaded into the back of the Nodark inverted with the open side down to allow the plates to fall into the tank below.

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