Disregarding its means of suspension, the airplane camera proper consists essentially of lens, camera body, shutter, and plate or film holding and changing box.

In certain of the aerial cameras developed early in the war all of these elements were built together in a common enclosure. Later it was generally recognized that a unit system of interchangeable parts is preferable. In the case of the lens there arose various requirements for focal length, from 25 to 120 centimeters, according to the work to be done. Rather than use an entirely different camera for each different kind of work, it is better to have lenses of various focal lengths, mounted in tubes or cones, all built to attach to the same camera body. In the case of the shutter it is desirable to be able to repair or calibrate periodically. By making the shutter a removable unit, the provision of a few spares does away with the need for putting the whole camera out of commission. Similar considerations hold with reference to other parts.

A further material advantage that comes from making airplane cameras in sections is the greater ease with which they are inserted in the plane, usually through the openings between diagonal cross-wires. It is in fact only by virtue of this possibility of breaking up into small elements that some of the larger cameras could be inserted in the common types of reconnaissance plane. Illustrations of the building up of cameras from separate removable elements are given in the detailed discussion of the individual types.