Accessories,  General,  Technique

Loading a subminiature spy camera – the Kiev 30

The day has come, you have been recruited by a secret agency and given a mission to capture a photograph of the evil organisation’s plans, preparing to take over the world.  The leader of which is likely to have a fluffy cat.  To expose them and stop them in their tracks, the world is depending on you.

But wait, the camera does not have film in it, so you have to quickly get it ready.  How do you do this, how do you load a subminiature spy camera?  Luckily there is this article on loading a subminiature spy camera and you quickly read up while you are flying to your destination in the stealth plane at supersonic speeds.

These instructions are based on loading a Kiev 30 subminiature camera, but the instructions are very similar for loading a Minolta 16 or Minox camera cartridge with a few small changes.

A follow up review of the Kiev 30 will be published soon, with the results from the loaded film.


Subminiature cameras have been around for many decades.  They were made famous by Bond and countless other spy movies.  The very distinctive sound these cigar shaped cameras make as they are pushed closed and pulled open has had school children day dreaming of adventures for many years.  Of-course, there are other shaped subminiature cameras, but today we are specifically looking at these.

The subminiature description generally refers to film formats smaller than 35mm.  Formats like 16mm fall into this category, but it also covers 110 film, 17mm and 9.5mm.  Even the ill-fated disc film falls into this category.

These days you have to custom splice the film to get the 16mm size in this example, or possibly pull apart and extract from a 110 film cartridge.  I ordered my film from an online vendor on eBay, and they slit it from 120 rolls. They had quite a few options in film types too.

The film will not come in a cartridge, so you need to find a subminiature camera that came with one so that you can reload.  These are getting harder to find and are getting more and more expensive.  The cartridges can be more expensive than some of the cameras.

How to

To load a subminiature camera you will need the following items:

  • A subminiature camera, in this case a Kiev 30
  • A subminiature film cartridge
  • 16mm film
  • Black electrical tape (optional for Kiev, but recommended for Minolta 16)
  • A dark bag or dark room
  • Cotton gloves, to avoid handling the film and leaving fingerprints

Step 1

Pull the camera apart to be able to access the internal film cartridge.

Step 2

Open up and pull out the cartridge from the camera.

Step 3

The film cartridge has removable tops and an insert used as a film take up spool.  Pull these off.

Step 4

The next few steps have to be done in darkness or the dark bag.  Lay out the film cartridge, the film and top for the smaller side of the cartridge so that you can access them in the dark.

Step 5

Roll the film into as small a roll as possible and put it into the smaller side of the cartridge. Thread the film through the slit on that side.  Only about 20mm leading out is required.

Step 6

Put the cap on the smaller side of the cartridge.  You can now take it out of the dark bag, but if possible keep in very low light.

Step 7

I like to put a small piece of black and thin electrical tape on the side to hold the top on.  This is not needed for the Kiev 30 but recommended for the Minolta 16, as the top does not click into place.  I prefer to do it anyway just to make sure I do not knock it off.

Step 8

Next you have to clip the film to the take up spool.  On the Kiev 30 it is a strong metal ring which slots over the film leader.  On the Minolta 16 it requires some tape to hold it rather than the ring.

Take the film, put it against the take up spool and push the metal ring around it trapping the film leader in it.

Step 9

Place the take up spool with the attached film leader into the larger compartment of the film cartridge.

Step 10

Place the cover back on the larger compartment of the film cartridge and if preferred, add some electrical tape to hold it on more securely.

Step 11

The cartridge is ready to go back into the camera now.  Slot it in, close the cover and don’t forget to reset the counter (I always forget!).

Final Step

Put the camera back together and you are now ready to go take the photo exposing those evil plans!

If you ever wondered how it feels to break into an office and shoot photos of secret plans and documents, don’t.  It is illegal!  But you can see how it feels like to use a spy camera, it is a bit of fun and once you get used to this process, it can be done very quickly.  Give it go!


  • Chris

    How long is the 16mm film roll you are using? If they cut it from a 120 spool is this the right lenght, ormore or less is needed? Thanks!

    • Theo

      It was from 120, but each strip lasted two loads into the camera. I might have been a bit conservative, but seemed to be about right. It did mean I cut it in half.

  • Adrian

    That was the best ever how to on loading film. I have Minox’ s but just got 16 ll and 7 cassettes and was worried as hell how to load the things. Now I have no fear. Many thanks