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A Nikon FM2 analog 35mm film camera is displayed at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. This model was a standard work tool for photojournalists. Steve McCurry used it to capture the famous "Afghan Girl" National Geographic cover in 1984.
A Nikon FM2 analog 35mm film camera is displayed at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. This model was a standard work tool for photojournalists. Steve McCurry used it to capture the famous "Afghan Girl" National Geographic cover in 1984. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Today, cameras are ubiquitous. Many of us carry them in our pockets as standard built-in features of our smartphones. 

And for a huge swath of humanity, barely a day goes by without social media documentation of their lives in snapshots, selfies and video clips.

It can be easy to forget that not long ago, photography and especially moving images were marvels of technology and required painstaking work to produce.

A small museum near Kaiserslautern, Germany, offers visitors a look back at the development of technologies that allowed us to record memories large and small. 

Located right off the fittingly picturesque cobblestone streets of downtown Deidesheim, the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum is named after the three types of imagery it preserves: “foto, film und fernsehen,” or photo, film and television. 

From the camera obscura to the latest digital point-and-shoot technology, a comprehensive history can be found spread over two floors totaling 400 square meters of exhibition space.

The museum is directly opposite the old Town Hall in the middle of historic Deidesheim. The metal sign of a camera operator shows the way to the museum, which is tucked away off the main street.

The 3F Museum opened in 1990 and began with the camera caches of two local collectors, Wolfgang Immel and Udo Zink. Both had amassed collections of more than 400 items each when they decided to share their enthusiasm for audio-visual equipment.

The museum found its current home in the rooms of what used to be a medieval charity hospital, which provides cavernous spaces for the technological time travel. 

The upper floor houses a chronology tracing camera development from the first photo ever taken, by Nicephore Niepce in 1824, to late-generation DSLRs.

A Voigtlander Alpin, a horizontal folding bed plate camera in the showroom at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, Dec. 2, 2021. Plate cameras were in common use by professionals and increasing numbers of hobbyists during the 1900s.
A Voigtlander Alpin, a horizontal folding bed plate camera in the showroom at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, Dec. 2, 2021. Plate cameras were in common use by professionals and increasing numbers of hobbyists during the 1900s. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)
Historical portraits hang alongside examples of period camera models at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. The exhibits include an array of artifacts that trace the history of photo and video.
Historical portraits hang alongside examples of period camera models at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. The exhibits include an array of artifacts that trace the history of photo and video. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Props and accessories used in famous films accompany iconic photos recognized around the world and the tools that made them possible.

Downstairs, you travel forward in time to the entrance of film and television. Stations offer glimpses of the physical relationships behind the creation of an image, through optical glass, film and digital sensors and their transmission to print or the silver screen. 

The staffers at 3F regularly update exhibits, a true challenge amid today’s fast-paced technological changes. The collection now holds more than 5,000 individual artifacts, large and small, according to the museum’s curators.

While fascinating in its own right, the history of photography hits home for many of us at Stars and Stripes. Wherever they roam, our journalists carry a camera to support their reporting.

An interest in cameras and other audio-visual equipment can therefore be considered an occupational hazard, and I found myself browsing from shelf to shelf.

A few items especially caught my eye, including military curiosities such as a small pigeon-mounted camera used for experimental aerial reconnaissance, and a World War I machine-gun camera that enabled German air crews to record pilot training and aerial gunning practices in flight.

A carrier pigeon camera on display at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. These small cameras were used for aerial surveillance photography during World War I and are considered precursors to modern drone imagery.
A carrier pigeon camera on display at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. These small cameras were used for aerial surveillance photography during World War I and are considered precursors to modern drone imagery. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)
A machine-gun camera at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. The camera was used for target training of World War I pilots.
A machine-gun camera at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. The camera was used for target training of World War I pilots. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)
A collection of Minox pocket cameras on display at 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. Minox cameras were considered revolutionary because of their small size and were featured prominently in Cold War-era action movies as a tool of spycraft.
A collection of Minox pocket cameras on display at 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. Minox cameras were considered revolutionary because of their small size and were featured prominently in Cold War-era action movies as a tool of spycraft. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Also featured are artifacts of early moviemaking in the 1930s and ’40s and a staggering amount of camera models.

A number of early movie cameras occupy one room at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany. Other moviemaking artifacts from the 1930s and ‘40s are also featured.
A number of early movie cameras occupy one room at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany. Other moviemaking artifacts from the 1930s and ‘40s are also featured. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

The famous German Leica is well-represented, from its early prototype to the Leica Ms, which recorded many well-known images in the hands of luminaries such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and war photographer Robert Capa. 

A collection of Leica cameras at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. The museum's displays trace the development of products from a range of camera manufacturers.
A collection of Leica cameras at the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany, on Dec. 2, 2021. The museum's displays trace the development of products from a range of camera manufacturers. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Easily recognizable pieces include the first iPhone, which sported a 2 megapixel camera, a surprisingly impressive option for a phone when it was released 14 years ago. 

Unfortunately, the museum’s guided tours have become a casualty of the pandemic, but it plans to resume them as soon as public health guidance allows.

In the meantime, visitors are encouraged to experience the exhibits at their own pace.

While items are labeled exclusively in German, the exhibits are easy to follow and offer a rewarding trip back in time at one of Rheinland-Pfalz’s least-publicized treasures.

The entrance to the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum is tucked away in a small alley in historic Deidesheim, Germany. The museum houses one of Germany's largest collections of photography and film technology artifacts.
The entrance to the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum is tucked away in a small alley in historic Deidesheim, Germany. The museum houses one of Germany's largest collections of photography and film technology artifacts. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)
A nostalgic metal sign of a camera operator points visitors to the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany. The museum is located in a small alley off the historic market square.
A nostalgic metal sign of a camera operator points visitors to the 3F German Film and Photo Technology Museum in Deidesheim, Germany. The museum is located in a small alley off the historic market square. (Alexander W. Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

On the QT

Address: Weinstrasse 33, in downtown Deidesheim, Germany, about 40 minutes from Kaiserslautern.

Getting there: Parking spaces are limited in the historic old town core. The best option for drivers is the large parking lot at the train station. From there, the museum is a five-minute walk. Alternatively, the museum can be reached from Kaiserslautern via the S1 train and a transfer to regional train line RB48 in Neustadt-Bobig.

Hours: From 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Thursdays. On Fridays, Saturdays and German holidays, from 2-6 p.m.; Sundays from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed from Monday through Wednesday.

Costs: Admission is 4 euros. Children up to 17 years old and college students with ID get in free. 

Food: While there is no food service in the museum, Deidesheim’s downtown offers various German and contemporary restaurants, including three Michelin-starred establishments.

Information: Online at 3f-museum.de. The museum does not offer English signage, but tours in English can be booked in advance as COVID-19 precautions allow. Call beforehand to get updated information on tours.

author headshot
Alexander reports on the U.S. military and local news in Europe for Stars and Stripes in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He has 10 years experience as an Air Force photojournalist covering operations in Timor-Leste, Guam and the Middle East. He graduated from Penn State University and is a Defense Information School alumnus.
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