Review: Kodak Pony 135

I can almost guarantee that every phography enthusiast and vintage camera collector has one of these.  They can be found at thrift stores across the globe and on ebay for extremely low cost.  This particular Kodak Pony 135 Model B was a gift to me from my father-in-law.  One of the very early 35mm cameras to be produced (but not the first), it features a Kodak Anaston lens that contains radioactive thorium, used back then to allow the manufacture of high-quality glass lens elements at a lower curvature (and thus a lower cost). The fear is often overblown if you look it up on google, in fact the radiation you’d be exposed to would be about 1/10 what an average chest xray would give you, and that’s assuming the lens comes in direct contact of your eyeball and stays there for a measurable amount of time.  Safe to say, as long as you don’t wear glasses made out of this glass, you aren’t going to get some kind of radiation poisoning.  The lens is nowhere near the rangefinder and you don’t actually look through the lens in this camera.  The SLR mirror design was still a few years away yet when this camera came to market.  In any case,  it’s a nice factoid. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter.

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The first task I had is just to figure out how to use this thing.  It is different than anything I have ever used before.  After several days of searching I did manage to find an owner’s manual. This was a tremendous help.  The camera is made of a bizarre early form of plastic known as bakelite, used up until the 1980’s to make everything from telephones to Soviet ICBM warheads (seriously). It’s no longer used due to the fact that it’s very toxic to the environment and not recyclable as newer plastics are.

The second task, having learned what all the knobs, levers and buttons do, was to figure out how to get it open to get film loaded. After getting the back cover removed (this is where the manual comes in handy to read first), getting film loaded is actually a relatively painless affair.

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Note the red circle Kodak emblem – does somebody have Leica envy? Having figured out what all the knobs and levers do, how to remove the back cover, get film loaded, and get the back cover reattached, the next thing was to actually figure out how to shoot some photos with this thing.  The range finder does not show what’s going through the lens, so you have no way of knowing if you’re focused or not.  It also has no light meter, so you’re on your own to guess unless you have an external light meter.  In my case, there’s an app for that – the Lux app for iPhone allows you to measure light as you would on a meter so you have some clue what shutter speed to set based on desired aperture.  Also note the Kodachrome listing on the film reminder dial – classic!

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Having to essentially shoot blindfolded, the question remains – what kind of images can this camera produce? I thought I had  a roll to process, but unfortunately i thought it was rewound and opened it to find I wasn’t holding the lever hard enough.  A nice piece of history, but I am grateful that film rewinding has improved over time.

It probably does produce a great picture – it just hasn’t decided to cooperate with me yet! Stay tuned for images.

Update:  Check out Part Two

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