11 Cameras Ranked From Biggest to Smallest of All Time

Prepare to be amazed by the biggest and smallest cameras ever built in the history of photography.
Christopher McFadden

The camera has been a very useful and important invention. From humble beginnings, technology has grown to become ever more sophisticated and capable. 

All well and good, but ever wondered what the biggest and smallest examples of cameras throughout history are?


What are some of the biggest and smallest cameras ever made?

And so, without further ado, here are some notable examples of the biggest and smallest cameras of all time. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. This was probably the biggest camera at the turn of the 20th-century

biggest cameras in the world 1900s
Source: Petapixel

You have probably seen pictures of this enormous camera on the internet before. This monster of a camera is truly huge and was built for the specific purpose of shooting the largest photo at the time - of a train. 

In 1899, a new train called "The Alton Limited" was built in Pullman, Illinois. The train was said to be perfectly uniform and symmetrical in design, and was described as the "most handsome train in the world". 

In order to record the train's smooth lines for posterity, the train builders decided they wanted a single panoramic photo showing the entire train. To this end, they commissioned the Chicago-based photographer George R. Lawrence to take the snap. 

After toying with taking shots of the train in sections and stitching them together, he opted instead to make a giant camera to take a single image. The camera took two and a half months to build and used a gigantic,8 by 4.5 foot (2.4 by 1.3 m) photo plate. 

2. This WW2 camera was enormous

largest cameras K-19
The Fairchild K-17 was a beast of a camera. Source: PetaPixel

The Fairchild K-17 9 x 9-inch camera might just be one of the largest cameras ever built. Designed by the Fairchild Camera and Instrument company, it was manufactured under license for the U.S. Air Force by Folmer Graflex in Rochester, New York in the 1940s.

Designed for use as an aerial reconnaissance camera, this aerial camera could take photos on a 9 and 1/2 inch (24 cm) wide roll of film. The warzone camera was very heavy and, by all accounts, pretty tricky to actually operate.

It weighed around 75 pounds (34 kg) and was available with 6-inch (15 cm), 120-inch (3 m), and 24-inch (60 cm) lenses

3. This was the smallest polaroid camera back in 1999

smallest camera popshots
Source: Camerapedia

The Polaroid PopShot was one of the world's smallest film cameras. It was first sold commercially in 1999. It is a disposable instant film camera that came preloaded with film for 10 exposures. The camera measured 6.5 x 4.25 x 2.5in (16.51 x 10.79 x 6.35cm) and weighed 9 ounces (255 g).

The PopShot camera took 4.4 x 2.5in (11.17 x 6.35cm) color photographs. When finished shooting, users sent the entire camera back to Polaroid in a postage-free mailing envelope. They would receive their photos and a voucher for another camera.

4. The Aerovironment "Black Widow" was the smallest spy plane at the turn of the Millenium

smallest camera black widow
Source: Defence Update

Back in 2000, Aerovironment of Morovia, California unveiled to the world the smallest spy plane ever built. Developed for aerial reconnaissance to support ground troops, the palm-sized "Black Widow" had a wingspan of 6 inches (15.24 cm), weighed a mere 2,8 ounces (80 g), and carried a tiny color video camera that weighed 2 g

The spy plane could reach 30mph (50 km/h) and had a maximum range of 2 km. The spy plane had both autopilot and remote manual controls and could navigate via a live video relayed from its onboard camera.

It had solid wings made of lightweight expanded polystyrene foam and propulsion was provided by a battery-powered electric motor. 

5. This was the smallest flying ornithopter camera ever built

smallest camera delfly
Source: DelFly

Back in 2008, researchers at the University of Delft, the Netherlands, showed to the world the smallest flying ornithopter camera drone. Called the DelFly Micro, it was officially recognized as such by the Guinness Book of Records.

The dragonfly-shaped prototype drone weighed just 0,1 ounces (3 grams) and had a wingspan of 4 inches (10 cm). It also came with a tiny camera that could transmit video to a controller on the ground. 

The camera and transmitter weighed a mere 0,4 grams and the drone also came with its own onboard lithium-ion battery that could keep the drone in the air for up to three minutes. 

6. This was billed as the "world' smallest camera" in 2011

smallest camera Chobi
Source: PetaPixel

The Chobi Cam One is one of the world's smallest cameras. Released in 2011, this tiny DSLR camera was capable of capturing 2-megapixel  1600-by-1200 resolution images and cost around $100 at launch. 

The digital camera came with interchangeable lenses and autofocus and could take 30 fps AVI video at 640-by-480 resolution video. It also came with a 2GB microSD internal memory and a USB port for transferring photos to a PC. 

Its tiny integrated and rechargeable battery was good for around 30 minutes of constant use. 

7. This is also one of the world's smallest cameras

smallest camera VIP
Source: Device Med

The VIP, developed by the Swiss Company CSEM certainly ranks as one of the smallest-ever digital cameras. Standing for "Vision-In-Package", the camera is actually an optical sensor chip that is just 0.03 inches (0.8mm) across. 

The chip sits on a package containing its own processor, which performs tasks like image compression and error correction. The entire package is smaller than a stock cube and even comes with its own Bluetooth transmitter.

The chip is self-contained and low power and was developed to help in a broad range of applications, including robotic surgery and drones. 

8. This could be the biggest speed camera in the world

biggest cameras long ranger
Source: PetaPixel

Gloucestershire police unveiled a very large speed camera back in 2018. The camera has a huge Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 LS camera lens and was designed to catch drivers violating traffic laws from around 3.5 of a mile (1,000 meters) away

Nicknamed "The Long Ranger", this camera can capture crystal clear video and still photos from a great distance. At the time, it was planned for deployment on the A417 to catch people speeding, tailgating, and using their phones while driving. 

The ability to be deployed from so far away means that drivers never see the camera --  a novelty for most drivers who are used to being able to see traditional speed guns and cameras. 

9. Check out this tiny drone camera

smallest camera drone

A tiny 1,5 inches (4 cm) drone was recently developed with what might be one of the world's smallest commercially-available cameras. Featuring a tiny HD camera, the drone is able to stream footage directly to a user's smartphone and can also be controlled in mid-flight.

Called the SKEYE Nano 2 Camera Drone, the entire drone weighs 0,5 ounces (17 grams). The drone also features auto-takeoff, landing, and hover modes and comes with an array of other awesome features to make the drone incredibly simple to operate. 

10. This might be the world's smallest camera

smallest camera omnivision
Source: Tweaktown

Last year the OmniVision OV6948 entered the history books as the world's smallest camera ever built. Officially recognized at the time by the Guinness Book of World Records, the camera is about the size of a grain of sand. 

Measuring in at a tiny 0.575 x 0.575 x 0.232mm, the camera can actually capture 40,000-pixel color images using an RGB Bayer back-side-illuminated chip. It is hoped that the camera will be used to help surgeons take images inside small veins in the human body in the future. 

The capture can also capture images at 30 frames-per-second over a 120-degrees super-side angle field of view.  

It has some competition though, in 2011, a research team at Berlin's Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Micro integration devised a camera measuring 1x1x1mm in size -- about the size of a grain of salt. It consisted of a tiny square substrate with a thin layer of sensors and a lens layered over one side and could send its signal through an electrical wire.

11. This monster camera can take 3,200-megapixel images

worlds biggest camera SLAC
Source: SLAC

An enormous camera at the U.S. Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory might be the biggest camera ever built. Using an extraordinary array of imaging sensors, the device recently took the world's first 3,200-megapixel digital photo. 

An image of this size is so big that it would take 378 4K ultra-high-definition TV screens to actually display it at full size. The resolution is so good that it could see a gold ball from about 15 miles (24km) away. 

The sensor array will be later installed at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory where it will produce panoramic images of the Southern Sky. Images will be taken every few nights for the next decade or so for a detailed study of the heavens. 

And that's your lot for today.

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