Apache views Akeley camera Osa and Martin Johnson, Akeley camera, Kenya
An Apache gazes thru the viewfinder of the 35 mm Akeley camera, Fort Apache Reservation, Arizona, September, 1923 With Akeley camera, Osa and Martin Johnson, Lake Paradise, Marsabit, Kenya, 1921


While the viewfinder floated freely, the Akeley—with wide angle, medium, or telephoto lens attached—tilted and panned on a gyroscopic head, regardless of the angle of the tripod. A gear joining viewfinder and shooting could rack focus rapidly. A variable shutter angle—potentially 240°—enabled the Akeley to shoot where other cameras saw darkness. For pith helmeted “adventure” of the 1920s Explorers’ Club sort, few could compete with Martin and Osa Johnson, the husband and wife explorer/writer/documentary filmmaker team from Kansas that traveled by seaplane and dingy and coastal steamer into swamps and rain forests around the world. 
In the fifteen seconds when a rhinoceros charged, a cinematographer could remove and replace the two hundred foot film canisters. You cranked around twice to shoot sixteen frames per second. This was a camera for action photographer, for careening along with Hoot Gibson in The Phantom Bullet (1926) or for shooting pumas or racing Bugattis. Part hucksters, part “white hunters,” for millions of moviegoers and arm-chair adventurers around the world the Johnsons conjured up a universe of twine and canvas, palm trees and and elephant tusks, dancing “natives,” a Saturday matinee dreamland.  They ventured—with Akeley and other cameras— where “none had gone before.”
An naturalist/explorer/taxidermist—Carl Ethan Akeley—patented the camera for 35 mm wildlife cinematography in 1915. By the 1940s, Akeley Camera Company in Manhattan had produced four hundred. Around the world, cameramen at tripods from atoll to ice floe to tundra coveted it. "Akeley...left there [in Nairobi] for me one of the cameras that he himself has adapted...These cameras are wonderful instruments for recording wild life," Martin Johnson wrote in 1924 in Camera Trails In Africa. If the Johnsons strike some now as childlike, they were childlike like doughy and resourceful heroes in boys’ adventure stories. For millions, when the Johnsons journeyed out, they journeyed inward, as if to say to commuters in a railroad car, “No. This is not the 6:05 to Bridgeport.”
The Akeley recorded American combat footage during World War One. In the 1920s, it cranked out newsreels for Pathé and Fox Movietone. Flaherty shot Nanook of the North (1922) with a couple of Akeleys and shot Moana (1926) with several others. In Cannibal-Land: Adventures in the New Hebrides with a Camera (1922), Martin described their return to Vanuatu (then known as The New Hebrides) in the South Pacific, where they projected for the Big Nambas of Malakua footage of the tribe they shot with a Universal 35 mm camera and had used in their 1918 documentary, Among the Cannibal Isles of the South Pacific.
Carl Akeley in Musuem of Natural History
Carl Akeley in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals,
Museum of Natural History, New York (c. 1925)
"Among the figures that came and went on screen was that of a man who had been dead a year. The natives were awe-struck. My magic could bring back the dead!"
You would venture into a Bijou where a Johnson movie played and see, as you heard the sea in a conch shell, a world you never saw before.
book dedication to Osa Johnson from Martin Johnson
newsclipping of Osa Johnson plane crash  
The Johnsons made thirty three films together from 1913 to 1937, when Martin perished in a airline crash. He was flying from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Osa survived him by sixteen years, an unhappily and secretly remarried Park Avenue doyen by 1949. A heart attack she suffered in a Broadway hotel room ended her life in 1953.
  Martin Johnson at Akeley camera in Kenya