Williamson L-type camera

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The Williamson L-type aerial camera is a 4x5-inch plate camera made for the Royal Flying Corps (predecessor of the Royal Air Force) during the First World War. It was patented by Major Frederic Laws of the RFC,[1] and made by the Williamson Kinematograph Company of Denmark Street, London.[2] The wording of Laws' patent suggests that this was a development of cameras already in use by the RFC.[1]

Plates are loaded in a magazine behind the taking position, and after exposure are discharged into a receiving box to the side of it. The camera is not for hand-held use, but would be mounted on the aircraft.[3] The shutter could be released using a cable release, and an air-screw powered the plate-changer and re-tensioned the shutter.[1]

Colin Williamson also held patents for designs of mechanically-operated roll-film aerial cameras,[4] and a machine-gun training camera,[5][6] and was made CBE in 1920 for 'valuable services to the RAF in connection with photography'.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 British Patent 124225, Improvements in and relating to photographic cameras of the type employed on aircraft, filed 20 April 1917 and granted 27 March 1919 to Major Frederick Charles Victor Laws, describing the provision of both a manual lever for plate-changing, and connection to an air-screw, with a locking pin so that one or other of these mechanisms is always enabled and the other disabled, to prevent unintended exposures. Archived at Espacenet, the patent search facility of the European Patent Office.
  2. British Patent 130684, Improvements in photographic cameras, filed 14 March 1918 and granted 14 August 1919 to Colin Martin Williamson, describing improvements in the connection between the plate-changing mechanism and an air-screw drive; also at Espacenet.
  3. Photographs of L-type camera ready for mounting, and mounted on an aircraft, showing the plate magazines, the air-screw on a flexible drive-shaft, and the cable release; in the collection of the Imperial War Museums.
  4. British Patent 123998, Improvements in photographic cameras, filed 13 May 1916 and granted 20 March 1919 to the Williamson Kinematograph Company Ltd and Colin Martin Williamson, describing a film-feed mechanism using a reciprocating feed-claw to feed the film as in many cinema cameras and projectors, and a punch which makes each edge perforation in the film immediately before the claw needs it. Archived at Espacenet.
  5. British Patent 123999, Improvements in and relating to automatic cameras for use in connection with machine guns, filed 26 May 1917 and granted 20 March 1919 to Major Charles Duncan Miles Campbell and Colin Martin Williamson; at Espacenet.
  6. British Patent 127381, Improvements in motor driven cameras, filed 22 May 1918 and granted 5 June 1919 to Colin Martin Williamson, describing a clockwork mechanism for intermittent film feed. This moves the film intermittently by controlling the rotation of the feed and uptake spools (not by a feed-claw as in Patent 123998). A machine-gun training camera is described as one application for the design. Archived at Espacenet
  7. Williamson's CBE reported in Flight 15 April 1920, p415 (archived).


  • Films in the collection of the Imperial War Museums:
    • How to Prepare an L-type Camera; Royal Flying Corps training film; 5 min 53 sec.
    • Photography - the Eye of the Aeroplane; film, about 1919 by Gaumont, showing training of RAF personnel in aerial photography using Williamson C- and L-type cameras, and processing plates (film not available to play when last retrieved, but description still available).