RAF WW2 Camera Systems
Main RAF Photographic Reconnaissance
Camera Systems

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The objective of photographic reconnaissance was to take and then bring back images that showed information about the enemy that commanders needed to know and then act upon . This means taking images with the maximum clarity and with a scale that Photographic Interpreters (PIs) can indentify the required details.

The longer the focal length of the camera lens, the larger the scale of the image; the larger the scale of the image, more detail and information for the PI to extract. An example would be, a scale of 1:10000 would enable the PIs to see a man on a bicycle if the image was taken at 30,000 feet.

Another element that would also effect the information on the image would be the size of the film negative, the bigger the better, however, this had its drawbacks. The larger the negative, the larger the camera and the fewer image exposures in the camera magazine.

Another factor was, the longer the focal-length of the lens the smaller area covered by the image negative and the last problem being, the lower that the reconnaissance aircraft flow to obtain the larger scaled imagery, the more dangerous it became for the pilot from enemy flak and fighter aircraft.

So to overcome these problems and obtain the best possible photograph of the target,  they used various types of cameras fitted with various lenses of different focal-lengths.

Below I have listed the main three RAF camera systems, however, both the RAF and the USAAF reconnaissance squadrons interchanges their cameras with each other.

To see how the various camera systems fitted into reconnaissance aircraft, follow this link to camera installations

F8 camera F.8 Camera

Designed as daytime vertical and oblique camera the F.8 first entered service in 1919. It was later adopted as the standard RAF camera.

At first the camera was driven by a propeller contacted to a flexible drive system, later this was replaced by a motor. Designed to use 9" wide film but to have a 7" X 7" image format, this allowed for instrument recording to be exposed along the side of the film. Later this was removed and the image format was increased.
Camera Details:
Image Format:
Mk I - 7" x 7"
Later Mks - 8" x 7.5"
Shutter: focal plane with three interchangeable blinds.
Mk I & II - 20" focal-length f/6.3
Mk IIA - 20" focal-length f/5.6
Mk III - 36" focal-length f/6.3
Mk IV - 40" focal-length f/8
Film magazine:
Mk I - 100 exposures - 65ft
Mk II to IV - 250 exposures - 155ft
F-8 Camera Line diagram
Click image for an enlargement

F24 Camera on display F.24 Camera

The Williamson F.24 camera was the main air reconnaissance camera at the start of World War 2. It could be mounted in the wings of a Spitfire for low-level vertical imagery and also mounted in the rear fuselage for vertical and oblique imagery.

However, it was clear that the F.24 with its small 5" x 5" format and when fitted with the smaller of the full-length lenses, was as too small for detailed photo interpretation, especially as the camera-carrying aircraft were then having to fly much higher.

The F.24 was also fitted into a centre lined "slipper" tank for forward facing oblique imagery.
Another use of the camera was by Bomber Command who installed the camera into their aircraft for the taking of Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) imagery.

The F.24 Camera was later built and used by the USAAF as the K-24, some parts were interchangeable between the two..

Camera Details
Image Format: 5"x5" image
Shutter: Cloth focal plane.
5" Focal-length
8" Focal-length
14" Focal-length
20" Focal-length.
Camera weight: Approximate 21 pounds.
F.24 camera
Click image for an enlargement

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F52 Camera F.52 Camera

The F.52 camera was similar to the F.24 in operation but was equipped with a large image format, larger film magazine and lenses with longer focal-lengths.
It was fitted in the vertical position and could be mounted in the Mosquito in the forward facing position in the noise when fitted with the 14" lens.

Another development of this camera was the
F.63. In the Mosquito during flight various exposure settings of the camera could be changed. However, with the Spitfire once the camera was set on the ground nothing could be changed and this could lead to blurred imagery at low-level. To overcome this the F.52 was modified with Image Movement Compensation or IMC. A separate motor was used to drive the film backwards relative to the forward velocity of the aircraft, so this held the target "still" for the exposure.
Camera Details:
Image Format: 8.5"x 7".
Shutter: Focal plane with interchangeable blinds.
Lenses: 5", 8", 14", 20",  36" & 40"
Magazine: 500 exposures.
Weight (camera complete with loaded magazine):
Mk1 74.5 pounds, Mk3 84.5 pounds & Mk6 57.5 pounds.

To see a diagram of how to load a F.52 film magazine, follow the link
Magazine loading

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Ground crew showing F24 and F52 Cameras Fitting a F24 Camera to a Spitfire

Ground crew displaying 3 F24 and 2 F52 Cameras

Fitting a F-8 camera into a Spitfire PR 1G