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A Reisekamera or chambre de voyage (German and French for 'travel camera') is a wooden bellows plate camera. Reisekameras are a subgroup of the 19th century wooden field cameras. Most collectors associate the term with a distinct kind of tailboard camera architecture, but some of these travel cameras had front panel focusing instead of the tailboard cameras' rear focusing. Originally Reisekameras were intended for professionals, as tools for applications outside the studio, for portraiture, architectural work or documentation away from the studio, in gardens, homes or museums. Most photographers didn't own a big carriage, and needed a light collapsible camera for field work. They also had to carry a tripod and, in the early years, a dark tent, chemicals and trays for preparation and development of the plates for the wet-collodion process. Of course this camera conception became more and more popular among amateurs, especially after dry plates became available.

The Reisekamera, believed to have originated in central Europe, influenced by, and to a high degree perfected in Germany from 1860[1], reached its peak popularity between 1895 and 1914. The common tailboard variant distinguishes itself from other tailboard cameras most notably by the hinged baseboard upon which the ground glass back can be moved and fixed, and which is the same width as the camera's front and back. This type was also known as continental view (meaning "continental type of view camera").

The Reisekamera was quite popular in Europe for several decades around 1900. Centres of its production were Görlitz, Dresden, Vienna and the French-German Alsace region. It was produced until the middle of the 20th century (Soviet FKD camera). The camera type stayed in use at least until the 1970s for purposes like school class photos.

In 1892 Josef Maria Eder, professor for photo chemistry at the University of Vienna, described the Reisekamera[2]:

  1. light weight, moderate dimensions
  2. sturdy construction
  3. safe-keeping of the focusing screen from moisture and dirt
  4. lens board allowing vertical shifts
  5. bellows extension at least double as long as the longest side of the maximum image format
  6. usabilty also with short bellows extension and wide angle lens

Tiltable backs and lens boards were described by Eder as extra features of expensive models. His definition of the Reisekamera fits for the common tailboard variant as well as for the front focusing models.

Later a lens plate allowing vertical and horizontal shifts plus a tiltable camera back were features of typical tailboard Reisekameras.

Reisekameras are view cameras. Thus their rear panel takes the plate holder which is interchangeable with a focusing screen back. Some even have a rotatable back. Adapters for film packs or even for roll film were available for the cameras, as well as attachable plate magazines. The cameras' light-tight bellows were made of leather or good calico[3].

The common tailboard Reisekamera

The common variant of the Reisekamera is not comparable with the modern extremely flexible light field cameras. Some more wood was used for its design, giving it more weight and making it resembling contemporary atelier cameras. But unlike studio cameras the travel cameras are foldable for portability.

The shape of the Reisekamera's common tailboard form is distinctly square, having equally sized front- and rear-panels, both attached to an equally wide baseboard. Either front and back is connected by a non-tapering bellows, or lens plate and back are connected by a narrow-throated tapering bellows. The front panel carries the movable lens plate and the tiltable rear panel takes the plate holder which is interchangeable with a (often hinged) focusing screen. Focusing is carried out by sliding the rear panel along the base plate while observing the image on the screen, usually supported by a rack and pinion mechanism. The camera folds flat, after the rear panel is brought forward to the lens panel, by folding the hinged baseboard up covering the rear panel.

This common tailboard variant of the Reisekamera may have been derived from a very early collapsible camera design by camera maker Judge[4] or similar early constructions of portable cameras. It was collapsible just for portability, not for maximum compactness. It was intended as tool for outside the studio, as camera for the advanced amateur or as start equipment for photography students. It was available in different sizes. Many travel cameras were made for the common plate sizes 18x24cm and 13x18cm, but smaller and bigger sizes were available. Student cameras were made for the smaller 9x12cm plate format. The cameras required a sturdy tripod since they were not for snapshot photography like hand cameras. Thus they were all but ideal for travelers, voyageurs, Reisende, all but what their names travel camera, chambre de voyage and Reisekamera were promising.

The Reisekamera's tailboard variant is, regardless of the maker, quite similarly built and of almost standardised design. Generally there are a number of limited movements: at the back, the film plate may be tilted and turned slightly to adjust perspective. The camera's lens plate may be mounted horizontally shiftable into another vertically shiftable board. If the bellows is fixed to the front, the lens plate may slide vertically and horizontally, without the bellows obstructing the light from the lens reaching the film, due to the non-tapering bellows, as opposed to common field cameras where the whole front is free to move as required, including the bellows. If the Reisekamera has a tapering bellows, the bellows' narrow front end follows the lens plate movements.

Usually the baseboard is extendible for close-up work and to accommodate various focal length lenses, the double extension feature. The tailboard construction is particularly favourable using wide-angle lenses and for close-up work since no part of the camera protrudes past the front panel. Many Reisekameras have a spirit level built into the baseboard.

Although the camera, when new, rarely was supplied with a shutter, the lens cap usually sufficed, some acquired an add-on shutter of one sort or another. Still, some of the most sophisticated Reisekameras were built with an integral focal plane shutter, a huge mechanism incorporated in the rear panel, only the brass controls visible on either side. Some of the less sophisticated models are equipped with a simple built-in pneumatically remote-controlled shutter behind the lens mount. Simple gravity-controlled guillotine shutters were common accessories[5]. Accessory leaf shutters were also available. A common camera upgrade was to mount a rouleau shutter between lens and lens plate.

When using the camera a black cloth is a helpful and often necessary requisite to keep stray light out while observing the image on the focusing screen. When the picture is composed and focused, the focusing screen is replaced by the plate holder. The lens is covered with its cap, and the dark slide removed from the plate holder. When all is clear, the cap is removed for the required exposure time and replaced. If an auxiliary shutter is present, it may replace the function of the lens cap. The dark slide is replaced, and the plate holder is removed and brought to the darkroom for development and copying.

Other designs

Some Reisekameras were not designed as tailboard field cameras for rear focusing. Instead their focusing and all possible shift and maybe tilt movements has to be done by moving and adjusting the lens board. The "Reisekamera" characteristics of this variant are a similar portability, rack and pinion focusing aid, and similar image formats and extendibility of bellows. Some had a similar limited set of possible movements[6] as known from the tailboard variant, others allowed tilting both, lens board and back[7]. Maybe the tailboard models of the Reisekamera became more successful because they were or just looked more sturdy. Renowned authors like Dr. E Vogel[8] recommended to choose sturdy constructions instead of more flexible ones.

Of course a few makers offered more sophisticated field camera types as "Reisekamera", "travel camera", "chambre de voyage" etc., thus going far beyond the definition given here for the Reisekamera.

Makers of the Reisekamera

  • Falz & Werner (Leipzig)
  • Annacker (Köln)
  • Voigtländer (Braunschweig)
  • Deuber & Rau (Nuremberg)
  • Hess & Sattler (Wiesbaden)
  • E. Suter (Basel)
  • Georg Faltus (Vienna)
  • Rudolf Lechner (Vienna)
  • Josef Wanaus (Vienna)
  • Felix Neumann (Vienna)
  • A. Moll (Vienna)
  • Georg Joseph (Vienna)
  • Alfred Werner (Vienna)
  • E. Mazo (Paris)

Makers of similar cameras, named "travel camera", "chambre de voyage" or else

Several makers made a different type of Reisekamera or travel camera, with a fixed rear and a smaller sliding front standard that allows shift AND often also tilt movements.

Makers of the fixed rear design

makers of more sophisticated field cameras sold as "travel camera", "Reisekamera" or "chambre de voyage"


  1. Kleffe & Langner: "Historische Kameras"
  2. Kleffe & Langner: "Historische Kameras"
  3. Dr. E. Vogels Taschenbuch der Photographie (1910)
  4. R.C.Smith: "Antique Cameras"
  5. Kleffe & Langner: "Historische Kameras"
  6. Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon (1895), picture table "Photographie II", simple front focusing model
  7. Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon (1908), picture tables "Photographische Apparate", several sophisticated front focusing Reisekameras
  8. Dr. E. Vogels Taschenbuch der Photographie (1910)
  9. Voigtländer Reisekamera of 1890 in Abring, H. D.: Von Daguerre bis heute Vol. 1, Herne 1990 , page 55 , image No. 134
  10. Vojta Reisekamera in: see links, "Josef Vojta (Prague)"
  11. Ernemann Windsor Reisekamera in: Kirsten Vincenz, Wolfgang Hesse: "Fotoindustrie und Bilderwelten"
  12. Falz&Werner camera (or similar of Ernemann) in Auktionshaus Cornwall, catalogue: "32. Photographica-Auktion"
  13. Goldmann Reisekamera Austrian Cameras site


Glossary Terms