Film Photography

Previously unpublished photos from my Kodak Pony 135

I have been feeling burned out lately. I’m settling into my new job okay, but there’s a lot to it and I still have a lot to learn, and that’s stressful. Also, we’ve been working on a rental house we own, painting and laying new flooring, after our longtime tenant abruptly moved out. I’ve left Margaret and a couple of her sons holding most of the bag there, as I just don’t have it in me to devote my weekends to the place. I urgently need downtime.

Except for a little noodling around with my Canon PowerShot S80 and a recent long-weekend trip to bourbon country in Kentucky with my Nikon FA, I haven’t been making many photographs. My blog doesn’t depend entirely on fresh photographs because of the stories and essays I write. But being burned out, I haven’t had anything to say.

I’ve been updating all of my camera reviews. They drive a great deal of search traffic to my blog, and are therefore my blog’s calling cards to the world. Especially on my older reviews, I wanted to make the text more compelling and reprocess the photographs using the tools and skills I didn’t have then but have now. It’s been a nice little project, one that gives me feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment with little mental strain.

In updating my review of the Kodak Pony 135 I discovered that I only uploaded to Flickr about half of the usable photographs from the two rolls of film I shot. I use “usable” broadly as my Pony 135 suffered from a wicked light leak that affected nearly every photograph. But today I find the effect to have a certain charm, and on many photographs it doesn’t detract all that much from the subjects or the great color and sharpness the Pony’s lens captured on Fujicolor 200.

I walked through my neighborhood with the Pony in my hand and captured some of my neighbors’ homes.

Neighborhood houses

Almost every house in the neighborhood was faced in brick all around. This was pretty common for 1950s-1960s suburban homes in Indianapolis. Today’s suburban homes tend to be wrapped in vinyl siding. Having now lived in both kinds of houses, I prefer the brick.

Neighborhood houses

The houses on every corner were duplexes, while all the ones in between were built for single families. This is one of the corner houses. The green Mustang parked in this carport only for a few weeks before it disappeared.

Neighborhood houses

I’m pretty sure I had Walgreens process and scan these. The store near my home still had a one-hour lab in 2011.

Neighborhood houses

Sometimes I look at one of my old photographs and wonder why I shot it. This is one of those photographs. I’m not sure what I thought the subject was. Yet somehow it pleases me today.

Blue skies

I’d had my blue Matrix just a couple years in 2011. It still looked pretty good. In the years that followed its paint chipped off, faded, and went chalky on pretty much every panel. When I sold it last year it was the worst-looking car I ever owned. Still, I miss it and would have another Matrix. I could carry so much stuff in its wayback, especially with the back seat folded down.

Blue car

I used to work near the Monon Trail, a former rail line converted into a pedestrian trail. Where the trail runs under Interstate 465 there’s a small parking lot and a restroom. These benches give hikers and bikers a place to rest for a minute.

Red benches

I’m sure these restrooms are welcome sight for people who travel the 20-mile length of this trail.

Red door

I liked using the Kodak Pony 135. I thought I’d try to fix that light leak. Degraded light seals are a usual culprit of leaking light in old cameras, but the Pony 135 seals light using deep channels where the door attaches to the body. There’s nothing to replace. Then a Kodak Pony 135, Model C, fell into my hands. It didn’t leak light, and its wider lens (44mm vs. the original Pony 135’s 51mm) was more useful for the kind of walking-around photography I do. So that’s the Pony I kept.

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Camera Reviews

The Kodak Pony 135 is a surprisingly good performer given that it was the first step up over Kodak’s basic box cameras. It offered no exposure or focusing help to the photographer, but with the Sunny 16 rule you could go very far with a Pony 135. Mine suffers from a wicked light leak, unfortunately. Check out my refreshed review here.

Kodak Pony 135

Updated review: Kodak Pony 135

Aside
Camera Reviews

Kodak Pony 135

If I polled the world’s camera collectors, I’ll bet most of them would say they have owned a Kodak Pony. Further, 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.

Kodak Pony 135

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.

Kodak Pony 135

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 at least $325 today), especially given that the contemporary fixed-focus Brownie Hawkeye cost $7!

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.

It’s not obvious how you open a Pony 135. 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

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.

By the way, I’ve also shot a couple later Ponies: the Pony 135 Model B (here) and the Pony 135 Model C (here). Also check out my review of the similar Argus A-Four (here). Also check out every camera I’ve ever reviewed here.

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 (first image below) is so much less than what the lens sees (second image below). 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

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 took the Pony on a walk through the neighborhood. I’ve always appreciated how this neighbor keeps her home so tidy. I also appreciate how well the Pony captured all the detail here.

Neighborhood houses

This neighbor parked a 1971-73 Ford Mustang in his carport only briefly. It was there, and then a couple weeks later it was gone. But I had the Pony along so I wouldn’t forget it.

Neighborhood houses

I set exposure using the Sunny 16 method, which worked well enough thanks to Fujicolor 200’s wide exposure latitude. I was able to level off any slight misexposures in Photoshop. 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. This tunnel passes under Interstate 465.

Monon and on (crop)

See my Pony 135 gallery here.

I wish this camera didn’t leak light so badly, because it renders color and detail so well. And despite it offering no focus or exposure help, I found it to be pleasant to use. I haven’t felt that way about all of my manual-everything camerass. I never would have guessed that the lowly Pony has such personality.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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