Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Tale of Two Ponies

Kodak has a long history of interesting names for its cameras. Brownie, Instamatic, Ektra, Medalist, and so on. At some point, it seems that they had almost as many film formats as camera names. In their effort to corner the consumer market, they had a camera and film size for every niche. During the Great depression, people were not buying as many cameras, and certainly were not using as much film, so someone got the great idea of selling a camera that was small, inexpensive, and held only a small roll of film. Let's see, 8 shots per roll should do it -- that might be two Christmases worth of photos in some households. So, the great minds at Kodak came out with the Bantam series of cameras with a new film size - 828, which is based upon the width of 35mm film. However, instead of the film being placed into a daylight-loaded cassette, it was placed on a spool with backing paper like 127 film, the next largest roll film size. Bantam - as in small (bantam roosters, bantam-weight boxers, etc.), meant that the collapsible Bantam cameras could easily be placed in a pocket, and the fairly sharp lenses in those cameras gave reasonable results. The Bantam camera first appeared in 1935, and the famous Bantam Special, designed by that great Art Deco designer, Walter Dorwin Teague, appeared in 1936 for the grand price of 110.00. Not exactly pocket change during the Depression. The Bantam Special was discontinued in 1948. Today, that beautiful, if largely unusable camera regularly sells for $200-$300.

What does any of this have to do with ponies, you ask? Well, in 1949 Kodak introduced a well-made camera called the Pony 828. That camera used 828 film, and I believe was the last model to use 828 sold by Kodak. The Pony 828 originally sold for $30.00. That's still a nice amount of money for a camera back then. The Pony 828 was sold for 10 years, and was replaced by the Kodak Pony 135. The example shown here, the model B, first appeared in 1953 and was in production for 2 years, when it was replaced by another Pony 135 model.

Pony 828 on the L and Pony 135B on the R

Note that the Pony 828 has no rewind knob and frame counter, as it uses a green window on the back to keep track of what frame you are on. Like other roll-film cameras, the film just rolls from a supply spool to a take-up spool, and then you remove the completed roll for processing. Definitely not a design for anything more than a very casual photographer!

Note that the Pony 828 (bottom) is smaller than its 35mm successor:

The other difference between the 828 and 35mm versions is that the 828 negative is larger than the 35mm model. Bantam negatives are 28mm tall x 40mm long, whereas 35mm is 24x36mm. Noticeably larger, but not like 127 film. Within the constraint of the format, the Bantam negative is actually pretty good.

secret garden
Taken in August 2009 at my house with the Pony 828 on 40+ yr old Verichrome Pan (828) developed in D-23 for 6 minutes.

I shot the roll of Verichrome Pan and expected mediocre results if only because of the age of the film. I wasn't worried about the lens, as that same lens and shutter is found in both Pony cameras:

and I knew from experience with the Pony 135 to expect fairly crisp images, so long as the zone-focus scale was set properly.

Parker Mill
A shot from the Pony 135B, taken a few years ago.

It's pretty obvious that the Bantam film/camera category had limited appeal. The folding Bantams were stylish, but lacking in features, and apart from the Bantam RF and the Bantam Special, were easily eclipsed by 35mm cameras. The Kodak Pony 828 was the Bantam's last gasp at the "low-end" of amateur cameras. I somehow got hold of a Pony 828 when I was in college and shot a roll of Kodachrome 25 with it-- and I still have the slides. The other spoiler for the 828 film was that I know of only one other US company that produced cameras taking that size -- Argus. The Argus Minca (or Model M)had a short life, being a pretty basic and cheap camera. There was also the Coronet Cub (out of England), but I have never seen one.

The Kodak Pony 135 cameras are generally pretty decent cameras, and were emulated by the Argus A4. The only Pony to avoid is the Pony II, as it uses an EV system (like the Argus C3 Matchmatic) with limited exposure options.

One last shot from the Pony 828:
411 Lofts
411 Lofts in Ann Arbor, March 2009.


Sorprendere said...

Great blog on a classic - love your photos taken with the Pony too.
Good show, Mark.

Mark said...

Thanks, James!

Line said...

wow this is a wonderful blog, I love all the finds are so cool!!! Photography is a real passion!

r4 dsi said...

Great post. Beautiful photos with Pony. I am a great fan of Pony.