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The Photosphère is an unusual plate camera, designed and patented by Napoléon Conti in 1888, and made in several sizes by the Compagnie Française de Photographie in Paris. It was designed for use in tropical regions and therefore, unusually for the time, made of metal. The body is brass, with a silver-coloured plating (usually very tarnished in examples seen now). The front of the body has an unusual hemispherical shape. Within this (behind the lens) the shutter has a hemispherical blind with a hole, which swings under spring tension to make the exposure. The shutter speed is variable by changing the spring tension. About 4000 pieces (all variants together) were made. The smallest model was introduced first; notes on the camera at Constructeurs Français d'appareils photo state that this model of the Photosphère has two lugs that allow it to be attached to a bicycle.[1]

Different plate holders can be attached: double dark-slides made of mahagony[2] or steel, or a twelve-plate metal magazine,[3][4] or roll-film holder.[5]

Photosphère n°1

  • Type: 8×9cm dry plates
  • Lens: Cie. Francaise Aplanétique 92mm, or Zeiss Anastigmat 92mm
  • Shutter: hemispherical guillotine shutter
  • Viewfinder: removable Watson finder[6]

Photosphère n°2[2][7]

  • Type: 9×12cm plates (McKeown states that the 9x12 camera could also take a special back for the newly-introduced Eastman roll film)[5]
  • Lens: Cie. Francaise double symétrique 125mm, or Zeiss Anastigmat 125mm
  • Shutter: hemispherical guillotine shutter, 5 speeds
  • Viewfinder: removable Watson finder

Photosphère n°3[3][8][4]

  • Type: 13×18cm
  • Lens: Cie. Francaise double symétrique 165mm, or Zeiss Anastigmat 165mm
  • Shutter: hemispherical guillotine shutter
  • Viewfinder: 2 Watson finders, fitted inside the body, for horizontal and vertical orientation
  • Extra: bubble levels for horizontal and vertical orientation

Photosphère n°4 stéréoscopique[9][10]

  • Type: 9x18 cm plates
  • Lens: 2× Cie. Francaise Aplanétique 92mm, or Zeiss Anastigmat 92mm
  • Shutter: 2 simultaneous hemispherical guillotine shutters
  • Viewfinder: removable Watson finder


  1. Gérard Langlois' Constructeurs Français d'appareils photo (strangely, the company is given as Compagnie Generale de Photographie); very brief notes (in French) and links to three photographs.
  2. 2.0 2.1 9x12 cm Photosphère serial no. 723, with wooden stand and two wooden double dark-slides, sold at the fourteenth Westlicht Photographica Auction (30 November 2008) (now Leitz Photographica Auction).
  3. 3.0 3.1 13x18 cm Photosphère with magazine (described by the auctioneer as for roll film, but this must surely be a mistake), offered but not sold at the seventeenth Westlicht auction (29 May 2010).
  4. 4.0 4.1 13x18 cm plate magazine for Photosphère, sold at the thirteenth Westlicht auction (7 June 2008).
  5. 5.0 5.1 McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). p209-10.
  6. The finders on some examples are simply Watson finders (a reflex finder with a ground-glass screen); others also have a screen at the back, allowing eye-level use. The finders have hinged metal covers over the glass. An example of the dual eye-level/Watson viewfinder for a Photosphère was sold at the 20th Westlicht auction (12 November 2011).
  7. 9x12 cm Photosphère, serial no. 1998 in original polished silver finish, with Krauss lens, sold at the ninth Westlicht auction (20 May 2006).
  8. 13x18 cm Photosphère body with 180 mm f/8 Rectilinear lens, sold at the fourth Westlicht auction (22 November 2003).
  9. 9x18 cm stereo Photosphère, serial no. 182, with Extra-Rapid Rectilinear lenses, three wooden double dark-slides and focusing screen, sold at the seventh Westlicht auction (21 May 2005).
  10. 9x18 cm stereo Photosphère in the September 2006 auction by Auction Team Breker, shown with a contemporary cartoon relying on an obvious visual joke.