Cameras, Photography

Kodak Pony 135 Model C

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I’m just a random person on the Internet who likes cameras. But a few times a year now people who find my blog think I must be worthy of their gear, and offer it to me. I am always a little overcome when it happens.

I assume it’s because my review of my Kodak Pony 135 (read it here) is currently the third most popular result for that search on Google that JoDawn found it. She left a comment offering me this Pony 135 Model C, which had been handed down to her. She packed it right up and sent it right out. As you can see, it’s pristine.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C

Kodak’s 1948-61 Pony series of cameras were a step up from bare-bones Brownies, offering decent lenses and exposure control. (The next step up was the Signet series, which offered even better lenses and rangefinders to take the guess out of focusing. See my Signet 40 review here.) The bodies were simple, made of Bakelite and aluminum, which I presume made then inexpensive to manufacture. All Ponies were fitted with coated, multi-element Anaston and Anastar lenses, which were corrected for optical aberrations. These lenses are slightly radioactive, believe it or not, thanks to being made partially of thorium oxide.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C

The Model C was made from 1955 to 1958 and cost $33.75, which is equivalent to about $294 in 2013. It shares a body and basic operation with the original Pony 135, but differs in a few minor ways: The body is dark brown rather than black, the lens barrel doesn’t retract, the shutter is a little faster (1/25 to 1/300 sec.), and the lens is a little wider and faster (44mm f/3.5). But it works the same: frame your shot, guess exposure and focus, cock the shutter, and press the button. And don’t forget to trip the wind lever on the back before winding to the next frame.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C

Kodak tried to make focus and exposure easy by printing guides on the barrel for their color slide films. (35mm color print films weren’t available then!) You started by setting focus to 10 feet and shutter for 1/50 sec., both of which are marked in red. Then you set aperture to bright, hazy, or cloudy bright for the film you were using, either Kodachrome or Ektachrome. Voilà: decent exposure and enough depth of field to capture almost anything.

Kodak slide films are long gone, so I shot with my standby film, Fujicolor 200. I measured light with my iPhone’s Fotometer Pro app. I had a cloudy but bright afternoon to myself, so I drove over to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and walked through its extensive gardens. The lens delivered good color, although in this shot the yellow flowers lack definition; they’re a yellow blob.

Pathway

I have other viewfinder cameras with manually cocked shutters that are just a pain to use; not so the Model C, which handled easily. M y only complaint with with the Pony cameras is that their viewfinders show so much less than the lens sees. Remembering my experience with my original Pony 135, I tried to compensate for that as I shot. Still, I had to crop out some of the right and bottom portions of this photo to place the house where I envisioned it. This is Oldfields, the sprawling former home of Eli Lilly, who founded what is now a giant drug company in Indianapolis. The IMA is on the grounds of Lilly’s former estate.

Stately

The Model C’s two fastest shutter speeds, 1/100 and 1/300 sec., don’t correspond directly to my light meter. When the meter said 1/250 sec., I set the Pony to 1/300; when it said 1/125 sec., I set the Pony to 1/100. This shot was extra complicated because I stood in the shade while the house was brightly lit. I pointed my meter at the house, set it as it recommended, and hoped for the best. I like what came back.

Oldfields

A company I once worked for had its annual outing at the IMA, and we had a catered lunch in this interesting little building. I have always wondered about its original purpose. I like the colors here, but the lens didn’t do a great job of crisply resolving the mortar between those bricks.

House

The enormous Crown Hill Cemetery is on the opposite corner from the IMA. Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley is buried there, at the highest elevation in the city.

Riley's rest

You can see for miles from Riley’s grave. Downtown’s buildings are about four miles away.

On a clear day you can see Indianapolis

I really liked shooting the Pony Model C. I was a little sad when I shot the last exposure on my test roll. This camera perfectly fulfills its mission, giving amateur photographers a significant step up in image quality over box Brownies without having to fuss too much with exposure and focus. The camera has some limitations: close focus is limited to 2.5 feet and the 1/300 sec. top shutter speed limits action shots. This shot is about as close as you can get to your subject. Boy, do I enjoy the color this lens returns.

Yellow leaves

I can well imagine that families all over America got years of great service and vibrant, crisp-enough color shots from cameras in Kodak’s Pony line.

To see more photos, check out my Kodak Pony 135 Model C gallery.

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26 thoughts on “Kodak Pony 135 Model C

  1. Hey you want another one!? Kidding i only have one of those but I have yet to shoot it yet, it has been overdue but it might take me a long time trying to finish a roll in a f3.5 camera.

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        • I’ll do it one day, besides I try to photograph things that I haven’t photographed before, so landscapes around here’s really out of the question. Probably ended up doing street one day with it when I get a sunny day so i can hyperfocal without much care. You’ll see! Least the camera is kept out in plain sight as a reminder “useeee meeeeee”.

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  2. Christopher Smith says:

    Don’t see many of these in the UK were they exclusive to the American market.
    Very interesting reading and looks like a fun camera and your photos have done it justice.

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  3. JoDawn says:

    Hi Jim, I feel so honored to have my name appear in your blog. That is definitely a first for me! I really enjoy your writing and sense of humor. Thanks for forwarding this blog to me. Can’t wait to show my friends and get them reading your blog as well. Stay warm!

    JoDawn

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    • JoDawn, like I said, I’m just a random dude on the Internet. I’m a father and I work full time and I write a blog as a hobby. But I’m glad you enjoyed seeing your name “in lights.”

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  4. You got some good results from that Kodak 35. Nice to see some kind words being expressed for the American cameras. They delivered a lot of bang for the buck.

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    • Mike, what floors me is that this camera cost equivalent to $300 today. It’s capable of great images given its limits; it’s a camera I could shoot for the rest of my life and want for little but the close work I like to do. But $300! Oy! $300 today will buy you a nice point-and-shoot digital camera that is far more capable than this Pony. The successor to my Canon S95, the S100, goes for $301 today on Amazon. Perhaps the difference, above and beyond the technical advances we’ve seen in the past 60 years, is Chinese assembly. That Kodak was made in the USA.

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  5. John Smith says:

    Nice job coaxing great images from a classic! It always makes me giddy to see an old camera come to life. Just a few days ago, I popped some Impossible Project film into a 40+ year old Polaroid SX-70 with a 40+ year old Blue Dot Flash Bar and pushed the shutter button and…POOF! A flash and a photo! Makes me feel young again!

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    • John, the great thing is that there was no coaxing. The camera’s f/3.5 lens certainly limits what one can do, and you do have to fiddle with every setting with no help at all from the camera. But within those limits, this thing just shoots. As I said to Mike above, I could shoot this thing for the rest of my life and get great images every day. I’ll bet that if I shot with it for a year, I’d slowly learn how to read the light w/o a meter and by the end of the year get good enough exposures every time. That might be a fun project.

      Hope you’ll post some of your SX-70 work.

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    • I certainly got lucky here! Thanks — yes, the colors are good from this lens. Come back Friday for a comparison shot between this camera and one on the same film from my Nikon F2!

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  6. Hi Jim. Thanks for the great post. My grandmother sent me a Pony 135 Model C about 17 years ago and I shot a roll then, resulting in one good picture of our dog that we still have framed. It sat dormant in a closet until we recently moved to Texas. I just bought a roll of Fuji 200 with plans on shooting it today at the Dallas Zoo. When I loaded it this morning and took some test shots something didn’t seem right. Just read your blog and realized I didn’t cock the shutter! Glad I read your post before developing an empty roll!

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  7. I purchased my Pony 135 Model C in 1958 because my Dad wouldn’t let me use his Kodak 35. It was a great camera for learning photography. I learned all the basics with that Pony and besides using Plus-X, because it had the same ISO as Ektachrome (160,) I would use Kodachrome 24 at Disneyland and for the Rose Parades.

    My Dad got really upset because that Pony took better color photos than his Kodak 35 so while on a business trip to Hong Kong he purchased one of Nikon’s first ‘F’ series cameras. I would sneak out with that camera all through high school.

    Sad to say by brother dropped the Pony and damaged the front of the lens assembly.

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    • The Pony 135 C would make a great camera for learning photography! Everything you need to get started taking pictures is right there. And as you can see, the lens is pretty capable. It’s sad that yours was damaged — but if you ever want to satisfy your nostalgia, these go for cheap on eBay!

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  8. Bill Barrry says:

    Jim,
    Great site, I can appreciate your philosophy on the $50 purchase limit, I set mine at $75 and managed some good scores on EBay and garage sales. Most of our family’s photos from the 50s and 60s were taken with a Pony 135 (which I still have). Most of the photos still look as fresh and crisp as the day they were taken. My father also jumped on the instant pictures bandwagon early on and bought a Polaroid Speedliner, wish I could find film for that beast. Best of luck with your collection, I will be checking back often.

    Bill

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  9. Tristan Renaud says:

    How many twists did it take until the next frame. I have one of these cameras but my frame counter is broken. :(

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