Introduction and contents

Picture from Pacific Rim Cameras

The Tessina is probably the smallest half-frame 35mm camera being a diminutive 2 1/2 x 2 x 1 inch (69 x 56 x 27mm) and weighing only 5 oz (166g). It uses 16.5" (41cm) lengths of standard 35mm film and so film options are extensive. It produces a frame size of 14x21 mm, larger than most other subminiature formats but in a camera smaller than most 16mm camera. 

It is a twin-lens reflex with pop-up viewfinder and a clock-work motor drive designed for waist-level inconspicuous photography. It has been in production since the 1960. It was designed and patented by Dr. Rudolph Steineck who was also the designer and patentee of the ABC wristwatch camera, several other miniature cameras, accessories and devices in the photographic and other fields. He has German, Swiss and US patents. Some of the Tessina related patents are:

US Pat. 2,949,833  (filed Dec 1, 1954)  "Twin-Lens Mirror-Reflex Camera."
US Pat. 2,940,682  (filed Jan 25, 1956)
"Spring Mechanism for Automatically Transporting Roll Film".

Swiss Patents:-
CH325484
Applied for March 25, 1954. "Zweiäugige Kleinbild-Spiegelreflexkamera" 1957-11-15 (Twin lens mirror reflex small-format camera).

CH340412 Applied for January 30, 1956. "Rollfilm-Aufzugvorrichtung mit Federwerk" 1959-08-15 (Winding device for roll film with spring mechanism).

CH359027 Applied for April 30,1958. "Filmspule" 1961-12-15 (Film spool).

US Pat. 2,625,087  (filed  May 12, 1949)
"Construction for cameras" is the US pat. for the ABC wristwatch camera.

As usual, most patents were granted several years after the application. The drawings for the layout of the camera are rather generic, but those for the spring motor and the spool (film cassette) are detailed.

{US & Swiss  Pat information and above details supplied by John Mourikis}

Some sources credit the design to Paul Nagel, the designer of the Kodak Retina. Two patents name Paul Nagal as co-inventor of the rewind and shutter and film transport mechanisms.

DE1037842 Rueckspulvorrichtung fuer photographische Film-Hohlspulen 1958-08-28
DE1041351 Verschluss- und Transportvorrichtung fuer photographische Kameras mit automatischem Filmtransport 1958-10-16

New Tessina cameras were available from Heitz Service, subject to several month's wait until 2005. The cameras were never made in Lugano, Switzerland. That was just where the inventor lived. Concava was only the worldwide distributor and when the inventor died Concava closed their doors. The cameras have always been made in Grenchen, Switzerland by Siegrist1 and are still in production. That is now their headquarters, and the manufacturer's name has replaced Concava. The film cartridge is boxed with "Concava Ltd., Lugano/Switzerland" and some include "Cut, respooled and packaged by Karl Heitz Inc. New York.

The almost 400 parts used in making the Tessina are manufactured to the same standards as for Swiss watches. Indeed, ruby jewels are used to reduce friction and wear, just as in the finest watches. The Tessina is an elegant camera, built with the precision of a fine watch. 

There are three models of Tessina; the original '35', the 'L' and the Automatic. The original has X, F, and M synch; the L and the Automatic have X and M synchronization, and a standard PC flash connector. The other differences is that the L has larger groves on the shutter wheel to mate to the extremely hard to find meter.

Most are finished in bright 'chrome' stainless steel or brushed aluminium, but a few are finished in red, gold or black. Two versions of the black finish are found. One has a soft finish and the front and back are brushed aluminium. The other has a crackle surface including front and back. These coloured versions fetch a healthy premium in price. Even rarer is the "silent" Tessina, intended for spy work, with special nylon gears to reduce the noise of the built-in spring drive. For complete silence a noise free version without spring drive is available.

  • 162g (35 automatic, #63557)
  • 166g (35 automatic, brushed aluminium, #65401)
  • 166g (35 automatic, black, #363012)
  • 165g (? black , #363113)
  • 143g (? red, #464802)
  • 180g (35 brushed aluminium, #765598)
  • 154g (L gold, silent gears, #785033)
  • 168g (? black crinkle, #865106)

In the Watergate, Washington DC, the capital of the United States, when the Plumbers were taken into custody a black Tessina was sized as evidence. This noise reduced version of the production Tessina used nylon gears to almost eliminate the tell-tale whirr of the automatic film advance.

Specification

  • 14 x 21 exposures in special cassettes
  • one lens reflects upwards to the ground glass,
  • additional folding finder,
  • Spring motor advance
  • Tessinon 2,8/25 lens
  • Shutter 1/2 - 1/500 sec.
  • Versions in chrome, gold, red (above, picture  from www.pacificrimcamera.com) and black 

It has a waist level finder, as well as an optional 6 power prism finder and 8 power magnifying finder. Also available are slip on meters, a wrist strap, the obligatory daylight film loader, neck chain, pentaprism finder, noise reduction, filters, magnifier and a watch face to disguise your Tessina as the world's clumsiest looking watch. 

Advantages?  Wonderful precision, large negative to camera size, uses standard 35mm film stock, versatile with different accessories.

Disadvantages?  With a built in miniature mechanical spring wound motor drive, most users have not found it a rugged camera - treat it gently.  Another problem can be the focusing mirror out of alignment.  It is also expensive, hard to find, harder to get fixed or serviced,  has  no tripod socket, no TTL metering or AE exposure,  and a fixed lens.  Yet, it's still a great little camera. 

Today the Tessina  remains an outstanding shooter subminiature and classic collectible.

Articles

The material in the following articles has been sourced from :-

Tessina Links

  • Links for Tessina cameras.

Tips

For the most detailed information on using subminiature cameras visit the link page. There have been however a number of tips posted in the usenet, list and forums that are not otherwise available.

 

1. Die TESSINA ist ein Schweizer Präzisionsprodukt,
gestellt in Zusammenarbeit mit der Uhren-Präzisionst
fakrik W.SIEGRIST & CIE. AG. In Grenchen
CONCAVA A.G., Lugano (Schweiz) see Life Size

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