Copyright ©2003 by Rob Niederman - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The first successful commercial use of bellows in 1851
was a milestone in camera design. It provided a
lightweight method of extending body sections. The
original bellows pattern was "square," implying that the
sides were parallel to each other. Before using a bellows,
makers created heavy wood "sliding box" cameras.
In 1857, the Scottish photographer C.G.H. Kinnear
invented a camera that influenced the design pattern for
all future bellows apparatus. Kinnear's new camera used
a tapered bellows, which enabled it to fold into a very
compact form because each pleat nested into the next,
The newly designed wood body was also innovative. A
lens panel was mounted on the front of a sliding base
that could be extended or retracting (for focusing) by an
endless screw. A handle at the back of the base was
used to focus the camera.
To ensure portability, Kinnear designed the camera so it
could be completely disassembled and stored inside the
Collapsing the camera for storage was relatively straight
forward. The front of the bellows was removed from the
lensboard and pushed into the rear standard. The rear
standard was then unbolted from the base. Supporting
rods locking the lensboard were unlocked, which allowed
the lensboard to be folded flat against the camera base.
The entire camera base (including lensboard) was flipped
over and put on top of the rear standard. Small sliding
brass latches would lock the base to the rear standard.
In a sense, the Kinnear pattern camera could be
considered one of the earliest "self-contained" designs.
By 1859, English makers such as W.W. Rouch and Thomas Ottewill copied Kinnear's landmark camera and improved on the design. All
Kinnear-pattern cameras made in the 1860s and 1870s are top loading wetplate designs and relatively rare. Dry-plate versions were made in the
Improved Kinnear Camera, 1860s
Ottewill Collis & Company, London
This particular camera is an 8 x 10 inch example with an "Ottewill Collis & Co., Manufacturers"
maker's label. It is believed that Thomas Ottewill teamed with Collis from 1864 to 1868.
Ottewill's Improved Kinnear camera is an early top loading design with a reversible back and a
red Kinnear bellows. Unlike modern cameras, Kinnear bellows do not have chamfered corners
and are constructed with a corner seam.
An early and important British maker, Thomas Ottewill first started making cameras in 1851.
He is best known for his "Double Folding Camera" (1853) that could be folded once the front
and rear standards were removed. Two of the most famous English builders, George Hare and
Patrick Meagher, worked for Ottewill before going into business for themselves.
Rear view showing the a collapsible focusing crank. A
second set of mounting holes (on the right) secure the
entire rear assembly when it is reversed for portrait work.
Collapsing the camera is done by removing the bellows
from the lensboard and unbolting the rear standard from
the base. The lensboard is folded against the base after
the supports are unlocked. A curved notch in the rear
standard accommodates the brass focusing handle when
the camera base is inserted into the rear standard.