Photorevolver - (Konrad Brandel)

Design included in patent documentation Design included in patent documentation

Konrad Brandel's photorevolver  - "brandlówka"  (1883)

Konrad Brandel was first among Poles, and one of the first in the world to built his own design hand-held camera. His „photorevolver” was also one of the first camera in the world to use small - 6 x 9 cm film plates - in that times cameras used bigger glass plates.

The exact year when it was constructed is unknown. 1883 is considered to be year when it was built and 1880 as a date when Brandel started his camera development.
1883 is the year when Konrad Brandel’s camera entered the market - it is conventionally regarded as the birth year of the photo-optic industry in Poland.
For Brandel to build his hand-held camera two other contraptions had to be invented - invention of lightweight gelatin dry plates by Richard Maddox in 1871 (dry glass plate coated with a gelatin silver-bromide emulsion) and the invention of the photographic shutter.

Brandel’s photorevolver was a lightweight, glass plate camera - used for taking news photography (without use of a tripod). It looked like a rectangular box, which was equipped with a lens with a short focal length, initially made by Steinheil (Germany), and later by François (France).
Camera lens moved inside the objective provided with a scale used for setting focus - about 7 meters (ten steps) to infinity.

Cameras were equipped with an internal shutter blade, closing rate of about 1/50 sec., and aperture. Camera sights consisted of a frame with crosshair, and the board with the hole. In some cameras there was a bi-convex glass instead of the frame. Camera had a leather strap attached to it, which made it more convenient to carry it around.
Brandel cameras were made of wood; initially there were only single plate models, then a double, then installed with a cartridge of 12 and 20, and after 1889 cartridge contained 25 plates.

"Kurier Poranny" in 1891 under the rubric "What's new? (Co słychać nowego?)" put a reference to Brandel’s camera: "The new photographic tool. (...) Brandel tested his self-built “photographic device.” This instrument is much more convenient than earlier model, because camera and plates fit into one box; previously it was necessary to hold plates separately. Camera holds 12 plates, additional peephole allows you to see if all the plates already were used without opening the casing. Photographs obtained with this camera are of considerably bigger size than in a previous model, and format of which is called "cabinet card."

Magazine – plate cartridge - was part of the camera set, it was held in the upper part of the light-tight, flexible leather bag.
Plates were stored in the vertical position, one behind the other. Individual plates were placed in special frames. After exposure the first plate could be moved inside light-tight changing bag to the back, thus moving all the plates forward. This way, second plate moved up and was ready for exposure. After exposure, plates had to be taken out and loaded again in a darkroom.

The picture shows cassette magazine with bag changer - invented by Arthur Newman - probably similar to the one used by Konrad Brandel in his first models of photorevolvers.
This illustration was included in Wyposażenie i akcesoria (cz. 4) - Paweł Paciorkiewicz, published in the magazine FOTO No.5/1988. Author kindly gave us permission to use this illustration.

 Probably none of the cameras produced by Brandel survived to this day.

It is highly probable that his first cameras looked very alike to those shown below. 

Changing bag cameras - STIRN - Detective Magazine camera - 1891 - (above, on the left) photo included in the Mc Keown's Camera catalog 2005-2006, and the camera whose producer  is unknown 1892 (above, on the right) – photo included in Wielki rozwój ręcznych aparatów fotograficznych na płyty wynikiem wynalazku Maddoxa - Paul Paciorkiewicz, published in the magazine FOTO No. 7-8/1987.

Both pictures show cameras similar to Brandel’s photorevolver  produced  10 years later.

Brandel’s camera differed from the above-described cameras in two ways:  it had lens placed at the camera front and it was equipped with frame viewfinder.

The information contained in camera specification tells that later models manufactured by Brandel did not have light-tight changing bag. It was replaced with the magazine which now was ejected by a spring mechanism.


Camera in designers hands

Konrad Brandel holding photorevolver - Wladyslaw Podkowiński drawing made in 1885 during the Exhibition of Agriculture and Industry in Warsaw - the picture comes from the weekly Wędrowiec 1885 - collection of the Digital Library of the University of Łódź.


 His cousin August produced all parts for his cameras, except lenses that Konrad had to buy.
August Brandel was a carpenter-mechanic, he was involved in production of various photographic cameras, however his cameras were made in relatively small number because of the necessity to import expensive foreign parts and lack of any workers. [K.Lejko. Warszawa w obiektywie ...]

Throughout the period of the camera production Konrad Brandel worked on their improvement, as reported in the newspaper Kurier Warszawski in 1891: "my camera, which I am working on since 1883 is the fifth improved model, and yet I intent to improve it even further".

Konrad Brandel’s photorevolver was protected by patent law.
As he told the Kurier Warszawski: "On March 24, 1889, I filed an application to the Department of Industry and Trade on obtaining a patent for photorevolver (camera  housing 25 film), which I was granted on October 16, 1889 (Patent No. 11515 )."

Camera draft - "patent No. 11515 granted  K. Brandel for the revolver  hand camera"

L. Anders described Brandel’s camera in an article published by the Fotograf Warszawski, in 1905: "first inventor who constructed camera out of wooden cigar box. His first photorevolver had built in separate veneer film cassettes, later he changed material and used ebony and added thin steel shutter".

Camera patented by Konrad Brandel differed significantly from earlier models. Patent documentation describes camera, as a lightweight construction without "rollers and the entire mechanism connected to it". Camera consisted of cardboard boxes, which contained 25 film holding metal plates, and on top of that light-tight bag with two sleeves. Thanks to the existence of the bag the reloading of camera could be done outside of the darkroom - "while traveling".


Brandel's photorevolvers were produced in three sizes
6 x 9 cm No:  BK / 10
9 x 12 cm  No:  BK / 20
12 x 16,5 cm No:  BK / 30
Improved versions of earlier models No: BK / 40 and No BK / 50

Konrad Brandel has produced more than 100 camera pieces. Cameras were ordered by domestic and foreign customers.

 For the invention of the camera Konrad Brandel was awarded with the medal by Emperor Francis Joseph.
Western Camera produced (photorevolver took 15 years to be fully developed) a magazine camera, very similar in design to the one patented by Konrad Brandel.

 Original manual and instructions on exposing film were included with every camera piece sold.

The camera is barely visible on pages of the instruction manual: "Sposób postępowania z fotorewolwerem wynalazku Konrada Brandla Fotografa Cesarskiego Warszawskiego Uniwersytetu "

As mentioned above, first of Brandel photorevolvers were equipped with lenses produced by the German company Steinheil (Optische Werke CA Steinheil Söhne GmbH. Munich, Germany).

Steinheil Lens (aplanat) – sketch included in Podręcznik Fotografii dla Amatorów  by J. Bohdanowicz, Warsaw 1891.

In 1890, the company introduced Detective Camera - which was essentially a carbon copy of Brandel’s photorevolver. The main difference was it contained 12 glass plates 9 x 12 or 10 x 15 cm size, and a leather bag magazine.


Camera with magazine bag produced by Steinheil - photo included in the catalog of Mc Keown's Camera 2005 – 2006

Steinheil camera did not differ much from Brandel’s model, apart from that it was equipped in mirror viewfinder.
Was Steinheil engineers work on "their" camera caused by termination of cooperation with Brandel? Did Steinhel  engineers copy and modernize his design, or did their work was just parallel? Whatever the reason, the fact is that Brandel’s camera design was 10 years ahead of German company project.

Konrad Brandel used his camera mostly for shooting reporter photography. Below you can find one of his photos published in Weekly Kłosy, in 1874.


1.  Brandel Konrad (1838-1920) Fotograf, konstruktor aparatów fotograficznych. Wacław Żdżarski, Zbigniew Skoczyński w Inżynierowie Polscy w XIX i XX wieku pod red. Józefa Piłatowicza, tom VII, Warszawa, 2001.

2. Przyczynek do historii polskiego przemysłu fotograficznego, Stanisław Sommer, FOTOGRAFIA nr 2 z 1958 roku.

3. Brandel Konrad - Wacław Żdżarski - Słownik Polskich pionierów Techniki, pod red. Bolesława Orłowskiego, Wydawnictwo Śląsk 1984.

4. Warszawa w obiektywie Konrada Brandla, Krystyną Lejko, Warszawa 1985,

5. Historia fotografii warszawskiej, W. Żdżarski, Warszawa 1974

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