If you’ve ever been curious about the Kodak Pony cameras, the Model C is the one to own. Its lens is slightly wider than the other Ponies and is more useful as a result. Check my updated review here.
“The dude must be crazy,” I hear you saying. “He’s comparing arguably the finest 35mm SLR ever made to a Kodak meant for someone ready to step up from a box camera.”
Yup. That’s what I’m doing. And we’re going to get down into the details. They might surprise you.
I shot the same scene with both cameras within minutes of each other. A 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens was attached to the F2. The Pony, of course, is permanently attached to a 44mm f/3.5 Anaston lens. I shot Fujicolor 200 in both cameras, and sent both rolls of film to the same processor (The Darkroom) at the same time. They went into production on the same day and were scanned on the same scanner at the same resolution.
The comparison isn’t perfect. I didn’t record the apertures and shutter speeds I used. If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have had both cameras in hand and shot from exactly the same spot. But instead, I shot this comparison photo with the F2 near the end of a roll, which I finished shortly after. But I wanted to keep shooting, so I walked back home, loaded the Pony, and walked back to that spot. So the two photos don’t line up perfectly. And because the two lenses’ focal lengths differ, I had to resize the F2 shot down a little in Photoshop so the images would compare.
At maximum resolution, I cropped both photos to about the same area, 640 pixels square. Click on either image to see it at that size. Can you guess which camera produced which image?
The shot from the F2 is first, and the shot from the Pony is second.
I like the F2 shot better. The colors are warmer and more pleasing, there appears to be less grain, and the details are a little crisper.
But the Pony seriously acquits itself in this comparison. Its lens is plenty sharp and the colors are plenty good. Heck, if I want more warmth, I can crank it up in Photoshop.
Kodak had a winner in the Pony line. No wonder they sold a bajillion of them.
I’m just a random person on the Internet who likes cameras. But a few times a year now people who find my blog offer their unused gear 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, at this writing, 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’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.
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 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.
I’ve also reviewed the original Pony 135 (here) and the Pony 135 Model B (here), by the way. You might also like my review of the Argus A-Four (here), as this camera competed directly with the Pony 135. If you like 35mm viewfinder cameras, also see my reviews of the Kodak Automatic 35F (here) and the Kodak Signet 40 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.
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 and sharpness, but definition could be better (as in the yellow flowers).
I have other viewfinder cameras with manually cocked shutters that are just a pain to use; not so the Model C, which handled easily. My 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can see for miles from Riley’s grave. Downtown’s buildings are about four miles away.
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. I can well imagine that families all over America got years of great service and vibrant, crisp color shots from cameras in Kodak’s Pony line.
To see more photos, check out my Kodak Pony 135 Model C gallery.