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  Marcellus Cycloramic Camera

The "Marcellus" was a cycloramic panoramic roll camera that was invented by Philadelphia photographer Percy Shelley Marcellus (1865-1940) in 1891 (or 1892, according to some sources). It was specifically designed to clearly capture 360-degree views. Instead of bending the film in a half-circle prior to the exposure, the Marcellus's fixed cylinder had film stretched around it so that it was unrolled in a circular fashion at the lens' focal point. The film would move in one direction through a narrow slit while the camera simultaneously revolved around a stationary axis in the opposite direction, thus generating a clock-work type revolution. The camera was available in eight sizes, ranging from 4" to 18" wide.

The innovative and versatile Marcellus enabled a photographer to pan and photograph urban streetscapes in a fluid and continuous way. Large rooms and groups as well as country estates could be photographed without being manipulated or compromised. Cycloramic cameras had remarkable marketing potential because they effectively spanned large cities, historic landmarks, commercial real estates, college campuses, and corporate entities accurately and with relative ease. Not surprisingly, this camera quickly became an instrument of choice for land surveyors. For tourists, it was an early exercise in virtual reality, as it allowed them to photograph their vacation getaways as they had experienced them, with the integrity of the landscape intact. Mr. Marcellus shrewdly applied for a patent for his unique roll camera, number 512512, on July 27, 1893; it was issued on January 9, 1894.

By the late nineteenth century, the camera industry had become a highly competitive business. Manufacturers were under tremendous pressure to design multipurpose cameras that were affordable and user-friendly. Percy Marcellus enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame within photographic circles, but then faded into relative obscurity, despite remaining an active member of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia. However, in hindsight, the Marcellus camera was more than a passing fad or contrived gimmick to grab consumer dollars. The Marcellus enabled the photographer to not merely capture an image, but allows the viewer to completely experience it. Today, the cycloramic camera is the popular global choice to document space and interplanetary exploration. Marcellus's extraordinary invention has truly come full-circle.

1894 The American Amateur Photographer, Vol. VI (New York: The Outing Company, Limited), pp. 141-143.

1893 Around the World, Vol. I (New York: The Contemporary Publishing Company), p. 118.

2012 John R. Connon of Elora, Ontario and his 360-Degree Panoramic Camera by Cassandra Rowbotham (Toronto, Ontario: Ryerson University), p. 53

1907 New Photo-Miniature, Vol. VII (New York: Tennant and Ward), p. 4.

2016 Panoramic Cameras 1843-1994 (URL:

1894 The Photographic Journal of America, Vol. XXXI (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 224-228.

1896 Process, Vol. III (London: Dawbarn & Ward, Ltd.), p. 174.

1894 Wilson's Cyclopedic Photography (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 224, 519.

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2017-11-26 21:03:44

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