This ugly duckling is an Ernemann Ermanox camera, manufactured from 1924. It has an f2 lens, huge for its day, and there was even an f1.8 version. The Ermanox, along with the Leica, revolutionized candid photography in the 1920s, but the Ermanox lens, two stops faster than the Leica, permitted low light shooting with relatively fast shutter speeds.
The film format was 6×4.5 cm, familiar in more recent times from the Mamiya 645 cameras so popular with wedding photographers. But that was with 120 roll film, and the Ermanox used cut film, you had film holders with single shots, not a roll of film with 16 shots.
Its extreme compactness and light-gathering power meant that photojournalists could use it discretely and without a tripod. One such was Erich Salomon, famous for his semi-secret photos of politicians at meetings. Salomon would dress up and look well-groomed – see the portrait below – and he would not be noticed in a room of high-ranking diplomats (despite that strange staring expression). Then, without fuss, he would take his revealing photos of the powerful people of Europe in their smoke-filled salons. It was a first and the newspapers snatched them up.
In the long run though, it didn’t help him. After years in the company of the high and mighty, he ended up in Auschwitz where they killed him in 1944.
For $3200, you can own an Ermanox and take photos like Erich Salomon. Find it here on ebay.
Erich Salomon with his Ermanox.
Erich Salomon photo. Mussolini on the left talking with a delegation of German diplomats in 1931.