The patent for the Michel Brieftauben-Panorama-Kamera was applied for on 3 February 1936 and granted Swiss patent number 192864 on 15 September 1937. Additional patents were granted in Germany (656666), France (803039) and Belgium (419488). The Michel camera was not the first pigeon camera, Dr Julius Neubronner of Kronberg, Germany, had designed a simple pigeon camera in Germany in 1903, tested it during 1908 at Spandau and marketed it from 1912. Very few examples are known to exist.
The Michel pigeon camera was technically more advanced than the Neubronner. The model A produced six or seven panoramic negatives 10 x 36mm. on 16mm. film at intervals of approximately thirty seconds. The model B camera produced twelve to fifteen negatives 10 x 22mm. at intervals of 30 seconds. A timer on the camera set a delay of up to seventy minutes before the first exposure was made with a second mechanism setting between .1/300 and .1/500th second and releasing the shutter. The f/2.5 anastigmat lens rotated through 90 degrees. A specially shaped plate ensured a snug fit on the chest of a homing pigeon which carried the camera. The camera weighed 70g.
C. Adrian Michel, the patentee of the camera, was born on 6 January 1912 in Biel, Switzerland. His father had founded the firm of Michel SA in Grenchen which was taken over by the Swatch group in 1993. His mother founded the firm Adrian Michel in 1925 in Walde making watches. C. Adrian Michel joined the firm in 1931 and from 1935 owned and ran the company. During the economic depression of the 1930s the firm diversified producing stamping machinery and making specialised equipment. The firm's watch-making licence was sold in 1959 and it remains in business today, run by family members as a specialised engineering company. Michel died on 27 March 1980.
An example of the Model A was sold in Photographs, Magic Lanterns, Optical Toys and Cameras, 19 November 2002, lot 500 and an example of the model B was sold in Cameras, Magic Lanterns and Optical Toys on 16 November 2004. No further examples have been offered elsewhere.
This example appears have been supplied to Michel's patent agent F. Ch. Bovard of Bern. Further research since 2004 suggests that the Michel firm only made a few sample cameras to demonstrate to prospective clients. Michel contacted A. Schild S.A. with a view to them undertaking formal manufacture but this was never proceeded and the only extant cameras are the few Michel-made demonstration models. It seems that fewer than ten cameras in total, each hand-made, were manufactured a figure which Franz Bühlmann of Kulmerau, a former employee who originally worked on the cameras, confirms as accurate.
Since the 2004 auction the Michel family has donated their archival material relating to the camera to the Musée Suisse de l'appareil photographique in Vevey, Switzerland, and this material was exhibited between February-September 2007 and an exhibition catalogue produced. It is extremely unlikely that further cameras will become available.