From the first unwieldy wet-plate models of the 19th century to the dawn of digital technology, the changing face of cameras can make for a fascinating collection.

Photographer John Wade has been a collector for 40 years and has around 600 cameras from 1892 to the late 1960s. He has written a number of books on cameras, with his latest being Daguerre to Digital: 150 Years of Classic Cameras.

His collection has some rarities including the Compass, one of the most unusual and complex cameras ever made... rather like its designer Noel Pemberton Billing MP, inventor and entrepreneur, notorious during the First World War for his homophobic conspiracy theories, which included the idea that the Germans planned to exterminate "the manhood of Britain by luring men into homosexual acts".

The Compass, built by the Swiss firm Le Coultre, was tiny, at 2½in (6.5cm) diameter, but into this small frame was crammed filters, a collapsible lens, special heads for panoramic and stereo and many other features.

It went on sale in 1936 but was too complex and difficult to use and never made another appearance after the war. This is today a much sought-after collectors' item, says John, and he values it at around £1000.

Another rarity is the Petal, made in occupied Japan and recognised as the smallest production camera ever made at just 1in (3cm) in diameter with the circular-shaped film in a metal container being dropped into the back of the camera.

And the camera that John would never part with? That's the Wrayflex pre-production prototype, the English-made 35mm SLR, first produced in 1951, with John's prize being made in 1950 for display at exhibitions in London and Toronto.

Daguerre to Digital: 150 Years of Classic Cameras is published by Schiffer, distributed in the UK by Bushwood Books at £49.50 (ISBN 978O76434026O)

The Camera Market

Peter Loy has been dealing in classic and collectable cameras for 27 years from his shop near the British Museum and he feels the current market is pretty healthy.

"It is very strong at the moment for higher-value collectable cameras (£500 and up) and, as always, quality items in top condition are much easier to sell," he said.

"The market for certain older lenses is extremely buoyant, with some prices increasing dramatically in the last few years. I would advise anybody starting to collect to go for the best possible quality in the best possible condition."

Peter added: "Wood and brass cameras are relatively cheap and many were made in very small quantities, so it's often possible to find something interesting and unusual. They are also more interesting because there is little written information available about wooden cameras, whereas there are many books available for the classic camera makes such as Leica, Rolleiflex, Nikon etc."

Camera Fairs

• The daddy of the camera fairs in the UK is the annual Photographica Fair, organised by the Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain, and run by Wally Morley for nearly 30 years. He said: "The 135 dealers standing at this fair offer thousands of collectable cameras, from wood and brass to modern classics and early digital. You can find anything you want here related to cameras."

The next Photographica is on Sunday, May 19, at the Royal Horticultural Society, Vincent Square, Victoria, London SWl.

Tel: Wally Horley on 01684 594526 or visit

• Patrick Archer has run his South London Photographic Fairs for 26 years, held five times a year at the Kemnal Technicology College in Sidcup with the next on April 21. Prices range from £2 to £2000 for cameras, books and accessories on offer from 30 dealers.

Tel: 01322 224964.

• One of the three venues for Peter Levinson's specialist camera fairs is in Guildford, where he and his standholders see a number of students from the university's photographic courses who come to buy and ask advice from the dealers standing at the fairs, most of whom have been passionate dealers or collectors for many years.

Peter's next fair is in Guildford at St Peter's Catholic School, Horseshoe Lane, Merrow, on Sunday, March 17. 

Tel: 020 8205 1518.

• Russell Friend and Paul Wrede run camera fairs with some 40-50 standholders at two racecourses: Wolverhampton and Brighton. Five are held at Wolverhampton, which has been going for 30 years, with the event last October the biggest and busiest for a long time.

Russell will be returning to Brighton Racecourse for the first of two annual fairs at the course on Sunday, March 10.