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Nizo – The Brand

Jeurgen Lossau
Whenever one hears the name Nizo, one thinks of quality and design. Nizo—the noble German trademark, as far as movie cameras are concerned. Nizo owes this honor primarily to the fortunate twist of fate of being sold in 1962 to Braun AG. It was at that point that technological quality was merged with excellent design.

In 1934, Nizo’s Munich plant was making 10 movie cameras a day. In 1973, at the apex of the Super-8 boom, it was making 300, by the end of 1980, 205. In a year it could never make more than 69,308 devices, as many as the Japanese manufacturer Chinon was producing in a month. But quantity does not always mean quality. Today Nizo is a legend, and Chinon has long been forgotten.

«1 – 2 – 3, and you can make a film». The ads from 1925 make it seem that simple. The newly established Munich company advertised its «Nizo 35» as an amateur 35mm movie camera: «The clockwork drive makes the tripod and crank superfluous.» Georg Niezoldi and Georg Krämer, both former members of the managing board of the Corporation for Precision Mechanics, were self-employed. And they were breaking new ground! Amateur film was on its way, but did it really hold promise?

Beginning in 1932, Nizo started making projectors. Right from the start, they made multi-format equipment that could project both 16 and 9.5mm film. They also made cameras for each of these formats. Once again producing a first for Europe, Nizo introduced the continent’s first 8mm movie camera, the «Nizo 8 E,» in 1933. After all, who wants to pour a tenth of one month’s pay into a roll of Kodak 16mm color film? At that time, a Prussian senior civil servant earned 350 Reichsmarks a month, his 3-1/2room apartment certainly cost 130, and the 16mm roll of film, 32 Reichsmarks. Therefore, people preferred to buy the Double-8 film for only 13 Reichsmarks.

After the World War II, the essential patent rights for the 8mm Heliomatic movie camera series quickly expired. By the end of the fifties, business started slowing down. The trademark had no products to compete with the ever-accelerating changes in technology. Production in the main factory was still done by piece work; industrial mass production was taboo. Nizo was saddled with debt and insolvent. In February 1962, the Hessian company Braun AG saved Nizo from certain bankruptcy.

The clunky, bulging, turquoise-colored, outdated «Nizo Allmat 2» would be changed into an ergonomically designed, aesthetically and functionally appealing camera. Angular instead of round. Red dots indicating the standard settings. Black imitation leather on the handling areas contrast with the bright metallic enamel. Thus the last clockwork camera to be made by the team of Chief Designer Dieter Rams, Richard Fischer and Robert Oberheim was created: the «Nizo FA 3.»

On December 19, 1967, the Gilette Company of Boston acquired a controlling share in this sophisticated «general store.» In the meantime, Braun was active in an incredible number of areas, making cigarette lighters, language learning systems, heating fans and radio receivers. The phonograph-radio combination called «Snow White’s Coffin» («Schneewittchensarg») and the «Sixtant» line of electric razors are legendary. And regarding movie cameras, starting in 1965, the company put all its hopes into Super-8.

In 1975, the movie equipment facility employed 803 people including 548 women. The business had reached its apex. As early as 1976 the growth curve of Super-8 cameras took a steep, straight, downward plunge. The Japanese began to monopolize the market, which drove European manufacturers into the low-quantity, high-priced sector. Also Nizo was somewhat unprepared for the increase in the use of electronics.

The introduction of the first sound film camera, the «Nizo 2056 Sound,» was a disaster. Though it had been accompanied by much hoopla and was prematurely praised, its mass production had to be temporarily stopped because of technical defects. The profitability of the film equipment sector eventually left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, the company adopted a forward-looking strategy. In 1978, aside from sound projectors (the so-called «Visacoustic» models), Nizo began making universal movie cameras that could be used for both silent and sound film and were not lacking (as were models made by other manufacturers) essential functions otherwise featured in silent film cameras.

In a mutual press release on November 4, 1980, Robert Bosch GmbH and Braun AG announced: «With respect to the stiffer competition in the strongly contested international markets for small-format movie and flash equipment, Robert Bosch GmbH and Braun AG are considering merging their activities in these sectors.» In spite of that, the Nizo brand continued to be developed, and production in Munich continued. Yet in mid-1982 it was over. Manufactured goods sat in inventory until 1986.

More about Nizo: The Wonderworks

The old logo of Niezoldi&Krämer.

The «Nizo FA 3» from 1963 (Pic: Jochen-Carl Müller).

Testing the output of the headset for the «Nizo 2056 sound».

Movie Cameras:
The International Guide by Juergen Lossau. A book and catalog about every model ever built in 16mm, 9.5mm, 8mm, Single 8, Super 8 and Double-Super-8 formats.