Minox Riga: A Subminiature Spy Camera from the 1930s


In 1938, after many prototypes, the first 8x11mm subminiature camera was brought to market by German inventor Walter Zapp. It was called the Minox Riga, and the tiny camera actually saw espionage action in both WWII and the Cold War.

Ironically, Zapp originally invented the subminiature camera as an easy-to-use alternative to more complicated cameras. Instead, it became well-known as a spy cam. Even after WWII ended and the camera was redesigned, production costs made Minox subminiature cameras a luxury item that continued to be used by intelligence agencies on both sides during the Cold War.


The film used in the Minox Riga is 8x11mm, the smallest size of subminiature film and the same size that was later used in the Kodak disc. The film is about the size of the nail on your pinky. To understand how significant that was at the time, you should know that 35mm was considered “miniature” or “super compact” film back then.

The lens built into the original stainless steel Riga — later models switched to aluminum to save weight — was a 15mm f/3.5 that was known for its macro capabilities. It’s no wonder British and American intelligence agencies loved it for taking photos of documents.


Once you loaded one of the tiny film canisters into the Riga, using it was as simple as pulling it open to reveal the lens and viewfinder and clicking away. To advance the film, you simply closed and reopened the camera, kind of like a pump-action shotgun that does a completely different kind of “shooting.”

These days you can pick up a Riga for yourself off of eBay, but don’t expect time to have dropped the price out of “luxury” status. An original model Minox Riga subminiature camera is considered a collectible item, and the majority of the ones we found on eBay are going for $1,000+.

(via ISO50 Blog)

Image credits: Minox IIIs by Hustvedt and Original Rīga Minox by Pēters J. Vecrumba

  • bob cooley

    I’ve got one of these with the full kit (flash bulbs and all) – the ironic thing is that film and developing of a single roll costs more than you can buy one of the camera on eBay. :(

  • Spongebob Nopants

    Found a minox in a camera shop around Wall St. A coincedence I yam sure.

    In fact the Sony u20 was smaller than a minox. Way way smaller when you realize the u20 had the flash on the body and the flash for the minox was a seperate add on about the same size as the camera itself.

    Minox now makes a digital version of this (for fun only) but unfortunately it sucks messy monkey chunks in the image quality department – just like all their other digital cameras.

  • olafs_osh

    note to the author:
    Zapp was a german by nationality, but was born and lived in Riga, the capital of Latvia. The cameras in Germany were manufactured only after WWII, but till that it was made in Riga, in VEF factory. “Minox Riga” is NOT the name of the camera. It’s just “Minox”. Riga is there as a place of manufacturing.

  • ToreTigu

    And first prototype was made in Estonia.

  • Alan Dove

    There is an equally cleverly designed daylight developing tank for Minox film, and it’s worth picking up if you have one of these little beasts. When you see how Zapp handled the film loading, you’ll immediately wonder why all other daylight tanks aren’t built the same way.

  • Mark Penrice

    So that’s why you see 007 repeatedly opening and closing his mini camera when taking pictures of documents in the old films… I thought in my youthful naivety that’s actually how the shutter was triggered, like an old plate camera…