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James Bond and his cameras

Advanced gadgets have often played a critical role in ensuring the success of James Bond's missions. Imaging devices feature prominently among this exotic gear, and spy cameras are generally handed to the agent by Q, the MI6 quartermaster, in person. While it has to be admitted that other types of shooting dominate in the adventures of special agent 007, the more than 50 years of Mr. Bond's movie existence makes it worthwhile to also take stock on his use of cameras in saving the world from villains of various provenance, association and inclination.

James Bond with camera
Sean Connery shooting & imitator (Pierce Brosnan)[telegraph.co.uk]

For a start, author Ian Fleming has been rather precise about the imaging gear his protagonist was using. In chapter 4 of "Goldfinger" he wrote that Bond "...went to his suitcase and extracted an M3 Leica, an MC exposure meter, a K2 filter and a flash holder." As a spy camera, the M3 had several advantages, notably its solid build, compact size and relatively silent shutter. Sean Connery, who impersonated Bond in the 1964-movie, uses his camera to document the malicious practices of Auric Goldfinger, who planned an attack on the US gold reserves in Fort Knox. While the M3 became a golden success for Leica and launched the legendary M-series of rangefinder cameras that is alive and well till today, Sean Connery was clearly playing around with a bigger Single Lens Reflex camera when captured during a relaxing break on the movie set.

James Bond with Minox A III
George Lazenby with Minox[mgm.com]

George Lazenby, the next Bond, only starred in one movie, that is "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" of 1969. Yet, he introduced the audience to the ultimate "spy-camera", the tiny Minox A III. This fully mechanical camera weighs merely 70g, measures little more than a 35mm film cassette (82x28x16mm), and takes pictures in miniscule 8x11mm format. Bond uses the camera to secretly take snap shots of maps that show the target areas for biological contamination by the "Angels of Death". - It might seem surprising that Bond chose the Minox A III over its successor model, the Minox B, which was available by the time the movie was produced. Yet, the Minox B had a built-in light metering system that added 15mm in width to the camera, so the agent seems to have opted for portability over exposure fidelity. Also, it is interesting to note that Bond holds his Minox upside down and that he is capable of operating the tiny buttons with his thick ski-gloves...

Agent 007 with Nikon F
Roger Moore with Nikon F[theguardian.com]

In many Bond-episodes, cameras become multifunctional and assume capabilities beyond image taking. Sometimes, the cameras might even serve primarily as mere shells for hidden weapons. For example, in the 1974 "The Man with the Golden Gun", Q provides Roger Moore with a modified Nikon F. This version has a miniature rocket launcher hidden inside. When tested at MI6 headquarters, it proved capable of blowing a hole into a brick wall. Perhaps the Nikon F was chosen for the scene, because the camera had since its launch in 1959 succeed in blowing holes into the balance sheets of Nikon's competitors. It was the first SLR that offered a 100 percent viewfinder image and combined all the major recent advances of other cameras in one solid body, so that it quickly became the imaging tool of choice for professional photographers. It stayed in production for no less than fourteen years, and inspired the design of all subsequent Nikon cameras. Naturally, such a hallmark of modern camera technology could not be overlooked by Q when thinking of powerful yet portable supplies for Mr. Bond.

Timothy Dalton with camera gun
Timothy Dalton with Camera-Gun[cineplex.com]

At times, the gadgets Bond uses were highly customized. This personalization of technology was highlighted in the 1989 "Licence to Kill", when Timothy Dalton received a camera gun from Q that could only be triggered by Bond, as the camera's handgrip was capable of scanning the fingerprints of its user. This property proved to be life-saving, as one of Bond's Chinese adversaries, who had gotten hold of the camera-gun, was unable to shoot with it.

The opening credits of the same movie showcased a more conventional spy-camera, the Olympus OM-4Ti. The OM-4 was the SLR flagship from Olympus at the time, and the Ti version was distinguished by adding ultra-durable titanium top and bottom plates. For an SLR, it was also a relatively compact camera. Its role in Mr. Bond's adventures remains mysterious, though, as the lady photographer and her camera do only appear in the opening sequence and not in the movie itself.

Olympus OM4
Bond girl with OM-4Ti[youtube.com]

The 1990s brought the advent of digital imaging, and James Bond was again at the forefront of gadget development. In the 1995 movie "Golden Eye", Pierce Brosnan uses a monocular autofocus camera with zoom lens to capture what evil Xenia Onatopp was up to in the harbor of Monaco. Later in the car, he uploaded the images from the device via satellite link.

Pierce Brosnan
Pierce Brosnan in action[mgm.com]

Similarly, the 2008 movie "Quantum of Solace" saw Daniel Craig using a digital camcorder for reconnaissance in his pursuit of an MI6 traitor. Moreover, the Craig-Bond has generally shown a fondness for Sony camera phones. He used a K800 with a 3.2MP imaging sensor in "Casino Royal" (2006), a C902 with 5MP resolution in "Quantum of Solace", an Xperia T, which features a 13MP sensor, in "Skyfall" (2012), and the Xperia Z5 with 23MP and fingerprint sensor in "Spectre" (2015).

Ms. Moneypenny
Moneypenny with Sony RX100 IV[jamesbondlifestyle.com]

Sony launched a special "made for Bond" edition of the Z5 with dedicated extras just before the Spectre-opening. The company also released a Bond-themed commercial that shows Ms. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) not only delivering the cameraphone to Bond under hazardous circumstances, but also filming street action in slow motion with the Sony RX100 IV. This 4K-capable, pocketable compact camera with its relatively large 1" sensor seems just the right tool for undercover missions that require reliable capture under dim lighting conditions. – When not on Bond duty, however, Daniel Craig is known to take his private photographs with a Leica M9, the digital grandchild of the M3, so to say. We can assume that Bond-author Ian Fleming would have approved this choice...

Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig off duty[lavidaleica.com]

So what have we learned from the above synopsis of James Bond's imaging gadgetery? Well, Mr. Bond turned out to be a regular photographer who has stayed on top of the trends of his time and used the latest available camera technology to capture those critical images. Indeed, all the six James Bond impersonations – Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig – have been seen holding a camera in their hands. Sometimes, their camera use was rather unconventional, rushed, or explosive, and it seems fair to say that Bond's picture-taking never assumed any artistic aspirations. In any case, James' photography career is bound to continue. Snapping reconnaissance pics of blueprints, strategic locations, and evil adversaries is surely among the core duties of every secret service agent. Hence, we may assume that as long as James Bond receives new mandates for adventurous missions, a piece of photo gear will accompany him – or to put it into heroic Bond title language: "Cameras are Forever".

Further Reading

Another set of imaging tools that could have proved useful in some of Mr. Bond's adventures are the high-powered Leica APO-Telyt lenses, such as the 1600mm f/5.6. The latter can be combined with a 2x teleconverter to yield 3200mm of focal length, and hence appropriate reach for remote reconnaissance operations. It is a bit bulky, though, so that a mirror lens solution, such as the APO-Telyt 600mm f/5, might have been more to Mr. Bond's liking.