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Minox Riga
Subminiature espionage camera

The Minox Riga is the first and the smallest subminiature camera ever sold commercially by Minox. It dates back to WWII and was in production from 1938 to 1943. With a casing made of stainless steel, it is way heavier than the other Minox cameras, but it is a few millimetres smaller than its successor, the Minox A. The Minox Riga is sometimes referred to as the Minox I.
 
The image on the right shows a typical Minox Riga, fully extended and ready for use. Although it was designed before WWII (1938) it already has all the features that have made Minox famous, such as the automatic winder, the speed dial (1/2 to 1/1000th second) and the viewfinder with parallax correction.

As the body is made of stainless steel, the camera is very robust but weights quite bit more that its successors that had a body of aluminium. The stainless steel also makes this camera the most shiny one.
  
Easily fits in the palm of a hand

The Minox Riga was designed by Walter Zapp and was built by VEF in Riga (Latvia). It was in production from 1938 to 1943, right through WWII. Initially autonomous, then briefly under Russian control, followed by German occupation and finally under Russian control again. After WWII, production was moved to German and the company name was changed to Minox GmbH.

Minox Riga cameras are extremely rare these days and the ones that have survived are often in deteriorated condition. Minox Riga cameras are sometimes offered on Ebay, but one has to be cautious for post-war remakes, especially when offered from countries such as Latvia. Such cameras are often built from post-war spare part finds.
 
Easily fits in the palm of a hand Closed Minox Riga. The smallest subminiature camera from Minox. The opened Minox Riga, ready for use. Comparison between the Minox Riga (front) and the Minox A (rear) showing that the Riga is a few mm shorter. Speed dial Minox Riga logo Patent notice A range of Minox subminiature cameras

 
Operation
The Minox Riga is a fully mechanical camera. The shutter is operated by an internal clockwork that allows exposure times between 1/2 and 1/1000 sec to be selected with the speed dial. Longer exposure times are possible by opening the shutter manually (B). The high-presision lens allows focussing from 20 cm to infinity. At close range, the viewfinder is moved in tandem with the focussing dial, in order to eliminate parallax errors. Above the viewfinder, at the front of the camera, is the so-called filter bar, that allows a yellow filter to be moved in front of the lens. A yellow filter was generally used to improve contrast when using black & white film.


Unlike the later Minox subminiature cameras, the Riga does not have provisions for a measuring chain to be attached. The first camera with that feature was the Minox A. Each time a picture is taken, the frame counter is decreased, showing the number of exposures left. This counter always counts down from 50. Note that each time the camera is closed, the film is advanced to the next position, regardless whether a picture was taken or not. Later cameras, such as the Minox A and the Minox B, suffered from the same problem. It was fixed in the Minox C and later models.
 
Closed Minox Riga Film compartment Shifting the yellow filter in position Speed dial View finder (rear) Patent notice A range of Minox subminiature cameras

 
Opening the camera
Opening the camera in order to replace the film cartridge is rather easy. First open the camera in the usual manner, as if you want to take pictures. Then turn the camera around so that the underside becomes visible (image #1) and stretch the camera a little bit further. This should reveal a small recessed rig (image #2). Use the nail of your thumb to press down the recessed rig (image #3). This should unlock the camera. Whilst pressing down the rig, slide away the body of the camera to reveal the film cartridge compartment (image #4).

If there is a film present, turn the camera upside down until the film cartridge falls out. Take a new film from its protective container and place it in the camera. Then close the camera. Please note that the first image is lost as it is already exposed. Release the shutter and close/open the camera to advance to the next position. Then release the shutter again. The camera is now ready for use. In the pictures below, the camera is loaded with a 36 exposure colour film.
 
The bottom of the camera in normal position Extending the camera a bit further reveals a recessed gap Use the nail of your thumb to press down the recessed gap Slide away the body of the camera to reveal the film cartridge Take out the film cartridge by holding the camera upside-down Close-up of the film cartridge The film outside the camera, next to an empty film container Placing a new film cartridge in the camera

 
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