The world's smallest subminiature photo camera
The PETAL is the smallest
subminiature photographic camera in the world.
It was manufactured in 1947 or 1948 by the PETAL Optical Company of Japan
(St. Peter Optical Company)  and was intended for inconspicious photography.
The camera can take six exposures onto a film disc that could be inserted
in daylight, but was difficult to operate due to its size and fixed
The PETAL camera was introduced in late 1947 or early 1948.
Being slightly larger than a 2 Euro coin,
it was the smallest camera in the world at the time, and this is
still the case today.
It can take six circular exposures of 6 mm each onto
a 25 mm film disc which is pre-loaded in a special cassette
that can be inserted in full daylight.
The image on the right shows a typical round PETAL. As the
it was made shortly after WWII,
during the occupation of Japan (1945-1852) . The camera fits
the palm of a hand
and is smaller
than the Minox Riga.
The camera has a fixed focus 12 mm (f/5.6) lens.
The required exposure (1 of 6) can be selected by rotating the rear half
of the body of the camera. The numbers 1 to 6 are
engraved in the rear half, and should be lined
up with a dot on the front half, where it 'clicks' into place.
When shooting pictures, the small viewfinder at the top can be used
as an aid.
The complete PETAL kit consists of the camera,
usually with a red ribbon through a hole aside the viewfinder,
an instruction sheet, a leather storage case,
a film cartridge and a wooden box. In most cases, the manual
and the wooden box have been lost over time. In additon, there were some
nice accessories, such as the (rare) film cutter and a film holder that
was used for handling the film in a developing tank.
A good description of the camera is given by
In the late 1940s and the 1950s, the PETAL camera became a hot item
for Private Investigators (PI) in the United States. Having a PETAL,
raised your profile as a successful PI . At the time, the PETAL
was sold for approx. US$ 10, which was about a week's pay back then.
Operating the PETAL must have been a real nightmare. First of all
getting and loading the film was difficult. If original film
cartridges could not be obtained, it was possible to use a special (rare)
film cutter to make the 25 mm film discs needed for the camera.
Once the film was loaded, a very steady hand was needed to shoot a picture
as the camera has a fixed shutter speed.
The camera has two shutter settings that can be selected with a small
rigged dial at the front. It can be set to I (instant) or B (bulb). In the
latter case the shutter is open for as long as the release button is
depressed. The latter needs an even more stable hand that the 'I' setting.
The camera can be opened by unscrewing the rear panel
after which the film cartridge becomes visible. After
removing the cartridge,
the interior of the camera becomes visible.
The cartridge itself has the shape of a coin and can be
unscrewed itself, after which it can be loaded with fresh film.
A novel shutter, at the front side of the cartridge,
protects the film against daylight.
A pre-loaded PETAL film cartridge could be loaded easily this way in full
daylight. It was loaded with panchromatic film by the manufacturer.
If pre-loaded film cartridges were not available,
it was possible to load them yourself,
by stamping a 25 mm circular disc out of a piece of standard film,
using a separately available film cutter.
As loading the cartridge with panchromatic film had to be done in complete
darkness (the film is sensitive to any light), one would commonly use
orthochromatic film, as it can be handled under red light (the film is
insensitive to red light) .
Once the film is loaded and the back of the camera is closed again,
the exposure selector (i.e. the rear half of the camera) should be turned
one or two full revoltions clockwise, until the number '1' is lined up
with the red dot. This is necessary in order to guarantee that the window
of the film cartridge is lined up with the camera's lens, and that the
shutter of the film cartridge is open.
When all six images have been taken, the exposure selector will be
at '6'. Before opening the rear of the camera, the exposure selector
needs to be turned back (i.e. counter clockwise) two positions in order
to close the shutter of the film cartridge again. When the selector is
at '4' again, it is safe to open the rear of the camera and remove
the film cartridge.
The following PETAL models are currently known:
- Round PETAL
This is the original version of the PETAL. It has a circular (round) shape
and is the most common version found today. The camera was first introduced
in late 1947 or early 1948 and was made in occupied Japan by the PETAL
Optical Company (St. Peter Optical Company of Japan).
- Sakura PETAL
This version appeared shortly after the round Petal.
It has an octogonal shape and was manufactuered by the Sakura Seiki Company.
At the front the words Sakure and PETAL are engraved. Apart from its shape,
this version is identical to the round PETAL.
- Everax A
This version was introduced approx. one year after the initial model.
It has the octogonal shape of the Sakura, but was made by the PETAL
Optical Company again. At the front it has the words Evarax. A. and
PATENTS, plus the image of a flower engraved. Apart from these differences
it is identical to the previous two versions.
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