RAF WW2 Camera Systems
Luftwaffe Reconnaissance
Camera Systems


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The German Luftwaffe used a very simple way in which to identify their cameras systems, all reconnaissance cameras had either a two or three letter code followed by two numbers, a diagonal slash and then a further two numbers.

The letters stood for the type of role the camera was to be used in and could be from the following, Rb - Reihenbilder, shorten of the original name - Reihenbildmesskammer - series-picture, topographic camera, NRb this indicated that the camera was used for night photography and HK - Hankammer - Hand camera , it was also known as Fliegerkammer  - flyer's camera. The first number would be the focal-length of the lens in centimetres and the second set of digits would be the film format size, again in centimetres.

So for example, Rb 50/30 would be a topographic camera with 50cm (19.69 in) focal length lens and a film width 32cm (12.60 in)


Below find a list of Luftwaffe cameras as listed in Luftwaffe Photographic Equipment Schedule L.Dv.488/6
Hand Held Cameras
HKS, HK 13, HK 19
Aerial Cameras
Rb 10/12, Rb 10/18, Rb 12/7.5, Rb 12.5/9x9, Rb 20/12, Rb 20/30, Rb 21/18, Rb 30/18,
Rb 32/7x9, Rb 40/12, Rb 50/18, Rb 75/18, Rb 50/30, Rb 75/30, Rb 100/30, Rb 150/30
Aerial Night Cameras
NRb 30/18, NRb 35/25, NRb 40/25
Aerial Fighter Cameras
SMK 16, SAK 35, ROBOT I & ROBOT II

HK-19
HK-19 Hand Held Camera

HK-12.5/7x9 Hand Held Camera

HK-19 Hand Held Camera
The Luftwaffe handheld cameras were extensively used before and during the early stages of the war. They were mainly used from an open cockpit reconnaissance aircraft. Later they were also used for ad hoc imagery collection from fighter and bomber aircraft.  One example being is the HK 19 which came into service in the mid 1930's, another being the HK 12.5/7x9.

The three images above display the Rb **/30 camera.
By far the most widely used reconnaissance camera operated by the Luftwaffe was the Rb 30 series. This camera was first introduced in 1938 It was a large format camera designed mainly for task of carrying  out photo-mapping work. At the beginning of the World War 2, the Rb 20/30 was in general use throughout the Luftwaffe, however, as Allied aircraft slowly forced the Luftwaffe to fly at greater higher heights, the focal length of the lenses had to increased and to this end, the Rb 75/30 became more widely used. These camera were generally mounted mostly in the vertical position, as a single camera or set up as a split pair. It was also known that they were occasions used in the oblique position.

The camera was fitted with an iris shutter within the lens and when fitted with a full magazine of film (210ft) and all attachments, its approximately weight was 160lb. Using a large film format, 32cm wide perforated film, this would give a frame size of nearly one foot square. During the exposing of the imagery, the film itself was held flat within the camera by means of "dynamic" air pressure that was supplied by the camera motor drive.
The above image gives a comparison of Luftwaffe and RAF cameras.
Luftwaffe cameras were removed from a "downed" Do 17 and compared with RAF F.24s. The analysis from the cameras found that they approximately produced imagery of the same scale.
(L to R) Rb50/30, F.24 with 14" Lens, Rb 20/30, F.24 with 3.25" Lens

As the war continued the Luftwaffe looked at developing smaller and lighter reconnaissance cameras, mostly on the lines of the USAAF and the RAF, these cameras evolved from the hand-held versions of the pre-war systems. Captured RAF cameras may have also helped in some way towards the development. The Luftwaffe looked at a number of smaller size film formats for these camera, 25cm (10 inches), 7.5cm (3 inches) and the most generally used 18cm (7 inches).
These cameras were primarily used in aircraft that could not carry the bulky Rb 30 series.
With the 7x9cm format two focal length lenses were used, the 32cm and the 12.5cm, both these cameras used a focal plane shutter suggesting that they may have been a copy of the RAF F.24 or the USAAF K-24.
Rb 12.5/7x9 in Ju290 Rb 12/7.5 camera
Rb 12.5/7x9 in a Ju290 A pair of Rb 12/7.5 in a Fw 190A-3/U4 Fitting into a Bf 109

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