Glossary of Terms

This is a list of terms I use in describing cameras. Many of you may be familiar with all of them, some of you with part of them, and quite a few with none of them. Some of you may have different definitions for them. If you are in need of a definition that isn't shown, please E-mail me. Not only will I be happy to help you, but you will be helping me find the holes in this so that I can make it complete.


A hole through which light passes within a lens, restricting light from the edges which both reduces the intensity of light transmitted, and increases the depth of field (how deep of an area is in focus)

Automatic Exposure

Cameras that measure the amount of light available, and automatically make adjustments to their settings to achieve a proper exposure.

Automatic Lens

A lens which stops down to the shooting aperture while the film is being exposed, then automatically returns to the wide open position for ease in focusing. See also Preset lens and manual lens.

Barrel Lens

A large format lens not mounted in a leaf shutter.


Similar to the bellows used at a fireplace, it is a flexable bag, usually made from leather, with cardboard inserts to form pleats, that allow the lens to move away from the camera body while keeping stray light out.

Bellows Misfold

When the above mentioned bellows are folded up incorrectly, and a crease appears other than where a crease should be.

Box Camera

The simplest of cameras, shaped as their name suggests, like a box. They can be found made out of wood, cardboard, plastic or metal, many times with leather or cloth covering..


Wear of the finish down to the base metal, which is usually brass. Most frequently seen on black paint finish and on nickel plating, but can be found on chrome subject to heavy wear, or in some cases, really poor chrome plating.

Bumps, or "Zeiss bumps"

Bumps seen under leather covering. These are caused when brass is placed in contact with steel, and that turquoise corrosion appears, and it is trapped under the leather. Nicknamed Zeiss bumps, because many Zeiss cameras seem prone to this condtion.

Cleaning Marks

Marks in the lens coating due to grit on the surface of the lens during cleaning with lens paper or cloth. Always blow off your lens first. Some softer coatings are more prone to this than others. The early Leitz 50/2 Summicron lenses, for example, got cleaning marks if you looked at them when they were dirty. Just kidding. But their coating was exceptionally soft.

Cloudy Lens

A lens that if you hold it up to the light, does not appear clear. May be caused by a fungus, or a breakdown in the cement in the lens sets.

Coated Lens

A lens that has had the glass covered with a layer of "coating" that reduces flare, particularly from stray light from outside the angle of view. Improves contrast.

Coupled Rangefinder

A rangefinder that is coupled to the taking lens of the camera. As you focus the lens, it adjusts the rangefinder. If you're not sure what a rangefinder is, please read that section now.


When the glue that binds two cemented elements breaks apart. You will see hunreds of little cracks inside your lens.

Cut Film

Refers to cameras that use sheet film rather than rollfilm. The film is held in holders that are referred to as cut film holders, or CFH


The first form of photography, exposing a silver plated sheet of copper, that has been senstized. The resulting image is called a Daguerreotype after it's inventor. The cameras that made these re called Daguerreotype cameras, and are highly prized as collectables. Most are of abox that slides within a box design, with no shutter (with the long exposures, removing and replacing the lens cap acted as a shutter)

Dents and Dings

What is the difference between a ding and a dent? Well, what is the difference between a mountain and a hill? A dent is bigger and nastier looking than a ding.

Detective Camera

A camera popular before the turn of the century that was designed to look something other than a camera. Most were box cameras designed to look like parcels. Others were desguised as watches, purses, hats or even the handle on a cane. A couple of models were also designed to be worn underneath your vest, with the lens peaking out through a buttonhole! Most are difficult to find, and are valuable.


Used to control the amount of light passing through a lens by variably changing the size of the aperture, usually marked in f/ stop numbers. See also aperture, f/stop.

Drop Bed Camera

A camera whose front door drops down to provide the rail for the lens to run out on.


When used in the context of my descriptions, it means that a name or identifying number has been etched into the metal or plastic of an item. This always reduces the value to a collector, and to a lessor extent, to a user. How much this lowers the price is dependant on the location, size and neatness with which the evgraving was done. Light professional engraving on the baseplateis much less objectional than large, crudely engraved characters that look like they were engraved with a can opener on the front of the camera.

f/ Stop

Considered by many to be an almost mystical number. Actually a formula relating the width of the aperture to the focal length of the lens. It is a ratio expressed, for example, as 1:2.8. Most often this gets shortened down to f/2.8. See also aperture and focal length.

Exposure Meter

A device used to measure the amount of light available to expose a photo.

Flash Synch

Short for flash synchronization, it is a feature that fires your flash when the shutter is completely open. Many early cameras did not have this feature, and it was added later by an independent repairman. This, like most any other modification, lowers the value of the camera to a collector.

Focal Length

The physical length a lens would be for the angle of view it provides, if it were a simple lens. This would be measured from the optical center of the lens to the focal plane (which hopefully would also be the film plane). It should be noted that some lenses are physically longer or shorter than their focal length.

Focal Plane Shutter

A shutter that is close to the "focal plane", or where the lens focuses (the film), as opposed to in between the lens elements, or in front of the lens. Usually, this typeof shutter exposes the film by having two shutter curtains, with a small space between them. The smaller the gap between them, the shorter the exposure any particular spot on the film recieves. For many years the drawback to this type of shutter was that long shutter speeds (usually longer than 1/25) could not be accomplished. This was solved with the advent of a device that delayed release of the second curtain for a preset amount of time. This resulted in a second, or slow speed dial on some early cameras.

Folding Camera ( or "Folder")

A camera that folds up to a more compact shape for ease in carrying.


The growth of fungus inside a lens. It can be seen as many thin lines, like spiderwebs, or looking like little snowflakes. Sometimes lenses can be disassembled, and the fungus removed. But other times, it will etch the glass, and this cannot be fixed.

Ground Glass Back, or GG Back

A back used to replace the film holding back, for the purpose of being able to compose and focus.


A camera whose format is 18x24 on 35mm film. This is the original format of 35mm film as movie stock. When the 24x36 format was promoted by the Leica, it was originally known as double-frame, and half-frame was known as single-frame.

Hazy Lens

See Cloudy Lens

Instant Return Mirror

A SLR whose mirror returns to the viewing position immediately after the exposure has been made.

Large Format

Generally, any camera that uses cut film 4x5 or bigger. 3-1/4 x 4-1/4? Don't know, that's a tough call.

Leaf Shutter

This style of shutter uses a bunch of little shutter blades that open and close kinda like the iris of a lens. They are located between the lens elements.

Leica Copy

A camera that is a copy of one of the models of the Leica. There has been much discussion about where to draw the line as to what to consider a copy, and what not. Some people seem to feel most any 35mm camera with a top mounted rangefinder qualifies. Others feel this classification shouldonly include cameras with a definite resemblence cosmetically, that accept Leica mount lenses. I tend to side more toward the later, accepting some deviation from the cosmetic styling.

Medium Format

Generally any rollfilm camera larger than 35mm.

Miniture Camera

What they used to call 35mm cameras in the good old days.

Panoramic Camera

A camera that produces a short wide photo. Some use extremely wide angle lenses with a narrow film. Others use a normal focal length lens that swings, exposing the film in a sweep on a curved flm plane. The Kodak Circut Camera has a geared tripod head on which the entire camera rotates, the film moving at the same speed from one spool to the other.


Short for pentaprism, it refers to a finder which provides and upright, non-mirror image for viewing through a lens and mirror.

Press Camera

A style of camera popular with the press from the middle 1910's until the late 1940's. The most popular was the Speed Graphic. These were drop bed cameras ranging in size from 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 up to 5 x 7, although 4 x 5 tended to become the most standard. They were fitted with rangefinders for quick focus, and usually had a large, side mounted flash unit. With a large coat pocket full of double sidd film holders, a press photographer was able to capture enough of the right pictures, on large negatives, to get the job done. If you want to see an example, watch any old movie (1930-40"s) were someone is being photographed by the press. They always use flash in the movies.


A device that measures distance through two little windows on the front of the camera. As you look though the finder, you see two images of the same scene( actually, it's usually only the center area of the scene). When you get an image superimposed in the finder, that object is in focus. For those of you with inquiring minds that want to know, the principle behind the rangefinder is one of those theorys of geometery that you thought you'd never ever use; side-angle side. If you've forgotten, that is where you can determine the lengths of all sides of a triangle if you know the length of one of it's sides, and the angles on both ends of that side. The side you know the length of is the base of the rangefinder, the angle at the viewfinder end is fixed (usually 90degrees), the other angle adjusts as you focus. The adjusting angle supplys the information needed to determine the length of the longest side, which is the distance to the subject. Yes, there will be a test.


A lens that renders straight lines straight.


A lens design for wide angle lenses allowing them to be physically longer than their focal length. Made necessary by the SLR camera design, where room is needed behind the rear element of the lens for the swinging mirror.

Rise and Fall

A movement of the lensboard allowing you to raise or lower it out of the standard centered position it normally has in relation to the film. Most useful in photographing tall buildings without tilting the camera (which causes the building to look as if it's leaning back)


Film that comes in rolls, rather than in sheets.

Rollfilm Cameras

Cameras designed to use rollfilm, rather than sheet film.

Rollfilm Back or Rollback

Backs that are designed to replace the normal back on a cut film camera, adapting it to use rollfilm.


Whent he glue that binds two elements of a lens or prism together fails, the two elements create what appears like oil upon water, kind of feddish and mirror-like, usually appearing at the edges.


Refers to what is now the 645 format, 16 exposures 4.5 x 6 cm on 120 film.

SLR (Single Lens Reflex)

A camera in which the lens you view through is the same lens used to take the photo. A mirror directs the image up onto a focusing screen the exact same distance from the lens as the film is. As the exposure is made, the mirror swings out of the way, and then the shutter fires.

Slow Speed Dial

Some early focal plane shutters had two shutter speed dials, one that controled the gap between the curtains (fast speeds) and one that controled a delay in releasing the second curtain (slow speeds). On many cameras, this dial was located on the front of the camera, on others, it was a second ring under the fast speed dial

Slow Speeds Stick

Slow speeds on both the focal plane shutters, as well as on leaf shutters, are timed by a spring who's release is slowed by the drag of some gears. Or something like that. Anyway, the mechanism is extremely delecate, and with time (and usually from a lack of use) the lubrication gets stiff, lubrication gets onto the wrong parts and/or dirt gets inside. It can often seem to effect the slowest speeds only, but actually I think that's only because it's most noticable at those speeds. It can sometimes be improved just by winding and firing the camera repeatedly, although occasionally this only makes it worse. If it's bad enough, sometimes it will cause the shutter to stop functioning altogether. In any rate, the real way to fix it is to have shutter cleaned.

Subminiture (or Submini)

As 35mm cameras became referred to as miniture cameras, those cameras whose film was smaller than 35mm are referred to as subminitures. However, the Tessina is considered a subminiture, even though it is 35mm. Of couse, it IS really small. So, I guess, is the Compass.


A type of lens design that allows a lens to be physically shorter than it's focal length. Routinely (and sometimes wrongly) used to describe any lens with a focal length longer than what is considered normal.

TLR (Twin Lens Reflex)

A style of camera using two matched lenses, usually on above the other, that share a common focusing device. Most often the focusing lens will be faster than the taking lens to aid in easier and more precise focus, while the taking lens will be much sharper.

Uncoupled Rangefinder

A rangefinder that is not coupled to the taking lens, the focus must be taken off of a scale on the rangefinder, and transfered to the focus on the lens. A real pain, and not very accurate. See also rangefinder.

View Camera

A camera with movements designed to allow the photographer control over perspective, distortion and the plane of focus. Usually large format, although one company marketed a 35mm model.

Viewfinder Camera

The second simplest style of viewfinder, you just look through a optical finder, or a sportsfinder, with no way to check focus. (The simpelst finder is a set of lines inscribed upon the top of some box cameras that allowed you to estimate what you were photographing)

Waterhouse Stops

Before the advent of a diaphram, a slot was cut into the barrel of a lens, and washers, or sometimes metal arms with holes of different sizes were inserted into the lens to change the size of the aperture. These are called waterhouse stops.

Wet Plate Camera

A camera designed to use the very first glass plates, that had to be coated immediately prior to use, and exposed while still wet. They are usually identifed by heavy staining, and a trough for the chemical to run off on while in the camera.