Down the Road

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Kodak Pony 135

33

Kodak Pony 135If I polled the world’s camera collectors, I’ll bet most of them would say they own or have owned a Kodak Pony. If I asked them why, I’ll bet most of them would say they didn’t plan to buy one, but they found one for a few dollars and they couldn’t resist. If you were to search eBay right now you would almost certainly find more than 100 available, most for under $20 and some for as little as $5. Kodak made a lot of Ponies from 1949 to 1961 in several different versions, all of which followed the same basic formula of all-manual control with a somewhat-better-than-entry-level lens and shutter. The Pony was a pretty good snapshot camera for someone who was ready to move up from a fixed-focus box camera.

I succumbed to Ponymania this year when I scored this Pony 135 for about $10. Kodak made this model from 1950 to 1954, and an amateur photographer needed to scrounge up $34.75 to own one. That was a pretty big investment (equivalent to about $325 today), especially given that the contemporary fixed-focus Brownie Hawkeye cost $7! Still, Kodak made judicious construction choices to keep the cost low. The Pony 135 is made of plastic with aluminum details. Its 51 mm f/4.5 Anaston lens, a step up in quality over what Kodak put in its box cameras but certainly not a high-end lens, can be stopped down to f/22. It is mated to a four-speed (1/25 to 1/200 sec) Flash 200 shutter, which has a simple two-leaf design.

Kodak Pony 135

In researching this camera, I found that a common question is how do you open the Pony 135? It’s not obvious. There’s a little button in the aluminum plate on the camera’s right side (as you look at the back). Press your fingernail into the button and slide the plate down. It’s a little tricky – I can’t do it without using both hands and pressing the camera into my body to hold it steady.

Kodak Pony 135

The Pony’s most unusual feature is its collapsible lens barrel. To extend it, twist to the left, pull, and twist to the right until it locks in place. The shutter won’t fire unless the barrel is extended.

Kodak Pony 135 Kodak Pony 135

The Pony is simple enough to use but it does have a couple quirks. You set the aperture and shutter speed atop the lens barrel. You focus by guessing distance and twisting the ring at the end of the lens barrel accordingly. Then you frame the shot in the viewfinder, pull the cocking lever down (it’s on the lens barrel, left of the aperture and shutter speed settings), and press the shutter button on the top plate. To wind to the next frame, you pull a little lever on the back of the camera (just below and right of the viewfinder) and then twist the wind knob until it stops.

I loaded up my Pony with some Fujicolor 200 and went out to shoot. When I got the photos back, I was disappointed to find that the camera leaks light badly. Scotty! One larkspur plant to beam up.

Larkspur

I was surprised by how far back I had to step to fit my subject into the viewfinder. Then I was frustrated by how what I see in the viewfinder (below, left) is so much less than what the lens sees (right). I’m not above cropping a photo, but I do like it when what I frame in the viewfinder is pretty much what I get back from the processor.

AT&T crop AT&T

Undaunted, I loaded another roll of film into the Pony and sealed all seams with black electrical tape. The camera still leaked light (grumble!!), but not as badly. Do you see the faint streak across this red door?

Red and shadow

But I was pleased with the colors I got. I was especially pleased with how well the Pony 135 caught these rays of light – my eye didn’t see this many rays.

Rays 2

While this shot isn’t very well composed, it shows that you can get a little depth of field with the slow f/4.5 lens. I’ve taken tons of photos of my petunias this year with several of my cameras, and only the Pony rendered the shadows this shadowy and the greens this dark. I like the effect.

Petunias, dog, and Cadillac

I knew this was going to be a tricky shot to expose well given the contrast between the dark tunnel and the extremely bright sun on the almost-white concrete and the fact that my skills are limited to the Sunny 16 rule. Sure enough, some of the concrete is washed out. (The Monon was an Indiana rail line. For more information and lots of historic photos, check out the excellent Bygone Places of the Monon site. In central Indiana, the right-of-way has been converted into a pedestrian trail.)

Monon and on (crop)

I like how my Pony renders bright colors so boldly and the shadows so, well, shadowy. I came away from these two rolls wanting to shoot more to learn how to get the most from my Pony’s lens. (If only I could tame that daggone light leak!) I haven’t felt that way about all of my manual-everything cameras, some of which I found downright frustrating to use and others of which returned middling results. I never would have guessed that the lowly Pony has such personality.

See my Pony 135 gallery here.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection!

33 thoughts on “Kodak Pony 135

  1. ryoko861

    You would think that for the $34 price tag, it would be easier to use and take a better picture, though the ones you took are very nice. I guess it was more used for outdoor use. Was it equipped for a flash attachment?

    Cute little camera though.

    Which cameras are you more partial too?

    1. Jim Post author

      We’re kind of spoiled by our auto-everything cameras today. You can get a perfectly good and reasonably versatile autofocus digital camera for $100! In 1950, when the Pony 135 came out, some cameras had rangefinders which helped with focusing, and there may have been some cameras that had some sort of light meter on board to help with exposure. But these items added cost and would have jacked the price up.

      Of my old cameras, my favorite is the Canon Canonet QL17 G-III. I shoot with it from time to time just for the pleasure of it. I really liked my Zeiss-Ikon Contessa LK and my Argus A-Four, too. I was really getting into my Minolta X-700 when it broke :-(.

  2. Mike

    Nice work with the Pony. Looks like it might just need a bit of light seal in the right places. Certainly worth a bit of restoration given the quality of the pictures it can make. The Pony was designed by the same fellow responsible for the Brownie Hawkeye Flash, Arthur Crapsey.

    1. Jim Post author

      Thanks Mike! I do plan to try to fix the light leak and shoot some more with this camera.

      Wasn’t the Brownie Star line also designed by Crapsey? My first camera was a Starmite II.

  3. The Literate Pen

    That camera is cool just for being stylish. Almost seems like any pictures that come out of it should be in Technicolor. I do wish designers would get back to putting a little character into the things they make. The last film camera I purchased and that took me through to the digital age was about ten years ago-an Olympus that appealed to me just because it looked like a classical old camera with leather accents. Sometimes old school is the best school.

    1. Jim Post author

      The Pony’s style certainly fit right into the 1950s. I think it looks dated today, but you’re right, at least it has style. For several years I shot film with a point-and-shoot Kodak circa 1988; it was just a black brick. Yawn!

  4. Nate

    These are some great pictures, even with the light leaks. The colors are vivid and the lines are nice and sharp. Do you know what shutter speed/lens opening combination you used for most of these? The pictures I took with this camera were blurry beyond recognition, although it could have been the film.

    1. Jim Post author

      Nate, I shot using the Sunny 16 rule. You first set the shutter to about the inverse of your film’s speed. I was shooting ISO 200 film, so I set the shutter to 1/200 sec. Other cameras I own don’t have 1/200, but they have 1/250, so I use that. Then you use f/16 on a sunny day (crisp shadows), and stop down from there — to f/11 in slight overcast (soft shadows), to f/8 when it’s overcast (faint shadows), and to f/5.6 when it’s heavily overcast (no shadows). It took me a few rolls to get the hang of it, but I judge well enough now. I also use inexpensive Fuji print film that is forgiving if the exposure isn’t perfect. But if your photos were blurry, it suggests to me that focus was the bigger issue. If they were misexposed, the photos would be dark or washed out.

      1. Nate

        Okay, those are actually the settings that I have my camera on now luckily (since I already took a couple pictures). I think the focus could have been part of the problem as well. This is actually my first camera so I’m still getting the hang of the simple shooting.

        1. Jim Post author

          Been there. Stick with Sunny 16 and just do your best to guess at distance to subject and set the focus to that number of feet. Shoot a few rolls and you should start to get the hang of it.

  5. Michael

    I would have thought color reproduction & dynamic range was more a function of the film vs the lens (ie, camera).
    Nate, I’d also check to make sure there’s nothing wrong with the lens (& leaves) itself – pics of subjects at different distances shouldn’t all be that blurry.
    Would also caution that you’ll start to get diffraction at small apertures like f/16.

    1. Jim Post author

      I shoot Fujicolor 200 almost exclusively, and it is remarkable the varying results in color I get from my cameras. One thing that does play here, though, is that I have used various processors trying to find one that does a good job at a reasonable price. Processing also affects the end result. These photos were processed at the Walgreens around the corner. I get better color from Walgreens than I do from Snapfish, which I’ve used a lot. I get just as good color from a pro lab near where I work, but I haven’t been happy with their scanning. I’ve been using Costco for the last few rolls (posts forthcoming0 and am happy enough with them that I think I’m going to stick with them for a while.

      I’ve been shooting Sunny 16 for four years now and have encountered no diffraction. But I must admit, I’m ready to learn how to use my cameras’ settings more flexibly.

  6. versa kay

    I have been reading a 1904 best seller, ” a Trolley Honeymoon”by Clinton Lucas, about his honeymoon trip along with his bride ,Louisa. The fascinatng ten day trip is almost entirely by interurban electric railways and covers 500 miles from Delaware to Maine and they are armed with a formidable volume of bag and baggage , a tube of nickels they name as Nicholas Nickelby, and a Kodak camera they call, well, not Pony but Killdeer.
    .

    1. Jim Post author

      A network of interurban railways criscrossed Indiana in the early-mid 20th century. They were a very popular way to travel the state. I’m sure other states had similar networks. When I was in college, an abandoned interurban track lay right behind campus; it connected Terre Haute with Indianapolis. One interurban still operates in Indiana — the South Shore Line, which connects my hometown of South Bend to Chicago. I’ve made several trips on the South Shore, and it is a very pleasant way to travel!

      In 1904, that Kodak was almost certainly either a box Brownie or a folding camera.

  7. Richard

    Jim,

    As always, reading your blog is worth the time. You wrote:

    The Pony’s most unusual feature is its collapsible lens barrel. To extend it, twist to the left, pull, and twist to the right until it locks in place. The shutter won’t fire unless the barrel is extended.

    Thanks to your article, I now understand why my 3 dollar Pony 135 didn’t work.

    Thanks Jim.

    Richard

    1. Jim Post author

      I haven’t taken the time to resolve the light leak since shooting my test roll — too many other cameras to try. But I enjoyed the way this camera rendered color, so it remains in the back of my mind as one to invest a little time in.

  8. Perfesser_Bear

    In re your light leaks: I don’t know what sort of life your Kodak Pony 135 may have led prior to arriving in your hands, but I’m willing to bet it spent some time in the back of someone’s car, or in a hot attic somewhere. The bodies of the Pony series were Bakelite, and susceptible to heat warping over time. Of the four I own, the three 135s lock up bank-vault tight; I have no way to test the 828 model, the ammunition being low at the depot, as it were.

    I would suggest keeping your eyes open at flea markets (or eBay) for another example, but then as you say, you have a lot of cameras to test.

    1. Jim Post author

      Ooh, good call on the possible reason for my light leaks. There are no seals on this camera — interlocking plastic is supposed to lock out light. I can see how war page would compromise that.

  9. JoDawn

    +
    Would you like to have another Pony 135? I have a model C, with a 44mm Anaston lens and leather case. I enjoy your blog and would love to see this camera go to a good home. I live in Alaska, but 51 winters here have been enough so i am happily parting with most of my belongings in order to make a move to warmer surroundings. This camera belonged to an uncle of mine and i have never used it, so i don’t know if it also has the issue of the light leak…but maybe it doesn’t :) Anyway, If you want this camera please email me your address and i will send it out immediately. I don’t want anything for it, other than to know it went to someone who likes old cameras.

    jodawn61@yahoo.com
    +

  10. Summer

    I just bought a pony 135 on ebay, can i just use 35mm film in it or do i need to use something else? Also any tips on were to get it developed?

  11. Mark

    Hey Jim, great articles. I used both your Pony 135 posts as a guide of sorts in familiarizing myself with the Model B I picked up recently. I just got my test roll back from the drug store and was pleasantly surprised how well the Pony performed, even on a very sunny beach day here in Florida: http://i.imgur.com/yK9MgeL.jpg

  12. Melissa

    I got a kodak pony 135 model c. I didn’t buy it or anything. My dad wanted to sell it and I now have it. And I’d like to use it and see how it works but I have no film. Do you know where I could buy find film for this camera? Thanks :)

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