Kodak Pony II camera: 35mm and bakelite to boot!

Kodak Pony II side view
A side view of the Kodak Pony II. The markings on the lens are inadquate if you’re used to fiddling with your exposures a lot, but if you follow Kodak’s EV system, it’s relatively painless to make a picture. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The Kodak Pony II is a sturdy little bakelite 35mm camera manufactured from 1957 to 1962. I found mine at the Brass Armadillo antique mall in Denver for the paltry sum of $5.00.

eBay indicates that in functional but clearly used condition the camera should be worth about $20 without its original leather case, and about $30-35 with it. I say it’s a big win for me, even though mine did not include the case.

I was taken immediately with the Pony’s single-speed shutter and exposure value system, and tried it out just a day or two after getting it home. I’ve posted the test roll shots I made with the KodakPony II separately.

About the camera

Designed by Arthur H. Crapsey, the Pony II was only made for 6 years, but it was the last of Kodak’s Pony line still in production.

Kodak Pony II back and EV cards
A back view of the Pony II shows the Kodak exposure value cards and the holder they slide into. The large knurled knobs are very easy to operate quickly. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The Pony II’s shutter has a single speed of about 1/60 sec. This means all exposure control is achieved by adjusting the aperture. Unfortunately, the aperture isn’t marked in standard f-stops, just exposure values. To find the correct exposure value you need a lookup table, printed on a small card and included with the camera and some films at one time. I was fortunate that my Pony II included both original cards (one for color, listing Kodachrome and Ectachrome; and one for black and white, listing Panatomic-X and Plus-X films) which I was able to use as a guide.

For my test roll I selected Efke KB100 film, in part because I had a bunch on hand and in part because it was the closest I had to any of the films listed on the the EV charts. I also hoped its superb sharpness would help some with the Pony II’s guesswork-based focusing system.

To focus the Kodak Pony II, you turn the lens’s front element which moves in and out. Sounds like any other camera you have, right? Except for one minor detail: the Pony II isn’t an SLR, TLR or Rangefinder. Its lens is simply marked with about ten distance measurements and an infinity stop. While you could pace off every shot and improve your chances of getting a sharp frame, I didn’t think of that until I encountered the same system on my Kodak Motormatic 35. More:

These numbers are related to EV (exposure values) numbers in that summing the lens and shutter values in use provides the EV number of that particular setting. That EV number can then be referenced to the (now rare) EV cards for each Kodak film type or to an appropriately marked exposure meter. (Camerapedia)

The result was a lot of frames just slightly out of focus, despite the sharpness of the Efke. In fact, that sharpness may have made the photos worse: the out of focus edges are blurred.

Kodak Pony II front view
A front view of the Kodak Pony II camera. Note how small the viewfinder is and the mirror-image hinge-latches on the sides. (Daniel J. Schneider)

If you’re a fan of bokeh, you know more aperture blades makes smoother bokeh. The Pony II has only four aperture blades, though — a sure recipe for harsh bokeh. So with the Efke film I got a very sharp reproduction of very harsh blurred edges, making a lot of shots look almost like motion blur at a small aperture. Though all my test shots were taken on a heavily-clouded day, I think the aperture for most was around f/16, so I expected sharper results overall. As you can see in the shots that are sharp, however, the lens is capable of producing a good quality image.

The Pony II features a Kodak Anastar 44mm lens capable of f/3.9. Camerapedia describes the Pony series as falling between the inexpensive Brownies and Kodak’s high-end Signet cameras, sharing the simplicity of the point-and-shoot Brownie and higher-end glass of the Signets.

There is no accessory shoe, but the top of the camera housing does feature a frame counter. When loading the camera, you are instructed to advance the film three frames once the back is closed and then turn the frame counter backwards (by means of a very small knob on the disc which you use to manually turn the plate backwards to zero) before you begin shooting. For my test roll I only advanced the film two full frames before setting the counter; I got just to the 36 mark on the frame counter when I ran out of film.

The design is decidedly ’50s, from the brushed steel front plate to the typeface to the dark, smooth bakelite construction. The matching large, knurled knobs for film advance and rewind are very easy to operate quickly and fluidly.

An interesting feature: Each side of the camera body has a steel bracket that has a slot for the camera strap on the top. Both brackets are also hinges. And latches. Yep. You slide either one down and it releases its end of the back, while the other side acts as a hinge so you can open the camera back to load film.

Comparison shot of trimmed 35mm film leader
Two quick iPhone photos of the film leader before and after trimming to fit it into the Pony II’s too-small slot. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Another idiosyncrasy of the Kodak Pony II (and the Motormatic 35, it turned out) is that the slot in the take-up spool in which you insert the film leader is too small for modern 35mm films (all that I have, anyway) by about 1/8″. I had to trim the leader a bit with pair of scissors, but that worked just fine.

The Kodak Pony II originally sold for $26.75 according to Camerapedia. This 1961 Sears catalog page lists the Pony II for $24.50. In 2012 dollars, that’s a cost of $188-205, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator. Price-wise, that puts the Pony right in line with the middle of the Nikon or Canon point-and-shoot digital camera lineups today.

About my specimen

My Pony II came to me without the leather case, as I mentioned above, but included the camera strap. The camera is in superb condition; nearly flawless, in fact.

The strap was in great shape and, it turns out, fits several other of my vintage Kodak cameras as well.

Once I figured out how to load (the hinge-latches, trimming the film leader, advancing the film a few frames and zeroing the film counter) the camera, shooting a whole roll took only as long as a walk around the neighborhood. I was going out to get my hair cut anyway, so I just took the Pony along.

The biggest complaint I have about the camera is the focusing system. The front lens element is marked with a distance scale in feet. I thought I had a pretty good idea what constituted 6 feet, but apparently I don’t know 15 feet from 30 feet to save my life. I think with regular use, I’d learn to guesstimate much better, and of course, I can always pace off the distance. The Anastar lens is remarkably sharp when the focus is on.

The EV system using the cards is damn near spot on if you sort of set your mental exposure calculator aside and give in to Kodak’s system. And frankly, it’s easy to do in your head once you know 11 is a good setting for a heavily-clouded day. If you have Sunny-16 rules burned into your psyche, you can pretty much pretend each whole number is one stop and notch up or down quickly.

To sum up: Simple, easy, well-built, compact tank with a decent lens and virtually no learning curve save distance. I highly recommend the Kodak Pony II for a cheap 35mm that’s a bit more than point-and-shoot.

Look for my test roll photos and closer look at the very similar (but oh-so-much more geeky!) Motormatic 35 soon.

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Kodak Pony II 35mm camera
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