Video of this item:
This is an original, fully functioning Ajax-12 (or F-21) subminiature camera and "coat button" disguise, produced by Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod (KMZ) for the Russian government from 1951 until 1995.
The Ajax-12 was an incredibly versatile camera that was used by the KGB (the Soviet equivalent to the CIA) and other Warsaw Pact nations for covert photography. Its small size meant that it was easy to conceal within everyday objects, including umbrellas, handbags, a pack of cigarettes, and most famously under one's coat.
The "coat button" apparatus shown here was used to accomplish this. The camera would be carefully positioned to shoot from behind the button holes, and was activated with a remote shutter switch hidden in the operative's coat pocket. Often the center of the button was split and would act as a pair of shutters, opening up when a photo was taken.
For a detailed Ajax-12 spec sheet, check out Crypto Museum:
A Certificate of Authenticity accompanies this item.
Using the camera:
The Ajax-12 was originally designed to use 21mm unperforated film, which is unfortunately very hard to come by today. However, usable film can be obtained by either cutting down standard 35mm film or purchasing unperforated 16mm film! Though a small portion of the image will be lost with a smaller film size, we find it to be the easiest option. 16mm film is available from the Film Photography Project here:
Be aware that finding a service to develop 16mm film may also be tricky, and again it may be easier to do it yourself. The link above contains information on how to do this as well!
Below are a few images that we shot and developed using the Ajax-12. Don't mind the poor resolution, unfortunately we aren't the best at developing and scanning film!
This camera is fully functional, and has been restored using parts obtained at auction from the former collection of the KGB Espionage Museum! We obtained these Ajax-12 cameras from a camera collector in Russia, and restored each button shutter apparatus to its original condition.
The camera in this listing has had its serial number deliberately scratched off, presumably for security purposes after this camera was decommissioned. However, it can be dated to approximately the 1970's using the small portions that are visible (serial numbers from that era begin with "No."). This places it well within the operating lifespan of the KGB!