Kodak Bantam, 22 March 2011


As evidence that I have way, way too much time on my hands, or have a slightly unnatural obsession with antique cameras (or both, for that matter), I present to you the Kodak Bantam f/6.3 [1] – the original model camera Kodak introduced alongside their then-brand-spankin’-new 828 film format. [2] Okay, okay…not quite yet – first, a photo! [3]

BantamF6o3 CHI TMax100 StPetersLoop01B

Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Chicago Loop
Camera: Kodak Bantam f/6.3
Lens: Kodak Anastigmat 53mm f/6.3 [4]
Film: Kodak TMax 100 (35mm respooled onto 828)

And now, here’s the camera itself…quite a neat little thing, ain’t it? As an added bonus, it was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague, a rather prolific Art Deco designer – the camera itself (and its film) debuted in 1935, during the height of the Art Deco period.


Like many contemporary cameras, this one uses a set of leather bellows to create a light-tight path between the lens and the film exposure chamber. The camera is actually quite compact, rather like the earlier pocket cameras (like the Zeca Bettax, about which I’ve written previously) – like the 120 film those cameras used, 828 film has an opaque backing paper with frame numbers printed on the back of the paper, allowing one to count the number of exposed frames by looking through a colored plastic window on the back of the camera. As such, unlike 135 cameras that needed mechanical frame counters, [5] these 828 cameras could do without such complex mechanisms, meaning that they could be manufactured simpler and smaller. In fact, these early 828 cameras operate much like the pocket cameras, and less like contemporary 135 cameras.

Of course, 828 is a now-defunct format; while Kodak manufactured a number of cameras exclusively for the format, it never caught on with other camera manufacturers, or with the general public. There are probably a number of reasons why this happened, but the point is that nowadays, one can’t stroll into a photography shop and pick up a roll, so one needs to put quite a bit of effort into using such cameras…but it is possible, if only just barely. The thing that makes all this possible is that while 828 film is technically a different format, the film itself was 35mm wide – hence, one can use modern 135 film in these cameras, if one has the backing paper to keep the film from being inadvertently exposed by the viewing windows on the backs of most of these cameras. [6] Check back here in a few days; later on this week, I intend to write up a guide for how to do this yourself…if you have the inclination to do so.

As for why someone would want to go through all this effort just to use a camera that was made in the 1930s and uses a film format that no longer exists…well. Pretty much the same reason folks give for climbing mountains: because I can. What other reason do I need?


[1]: This name is actually a later one, as Kodak originally marketed the camera simply as the “Bantam.” Of course, to make matters more confusing than necessary, Kodak also manufactured a number of different cameras with different lenses, aperture sizes, and designs all identified as “Bantam” cameras, so some means of distinguishing between them was necessary. As for how I know it’s one of the original designs, the first models had a rigid viewfinder (which this one has); later ones had a folding metal frame for a viewfinder, as opposed to the fixed rigid one of the originals. The “f/6.3,” of course, refers to the aperture of the lens.

[2]: Like all good capitalist companies, Kodak was always endeavoring to create a captive market for their products. This wasn’t an uncommon thing with film formats, and Kodak was by no means the only company that attempted this, either. For the most part, these efforts tended to fall flat; consumers, it seems, have weird ideas about what they will and won’t buy. Amusingly enough, all of the remaining film formats were the result not of captive-market attempts, but efforts at increasing convenience: sheet films are far more easily handled than the glass and metal plates they replaced; 120 film (and other rollfilms) was introduced as a convenient way of capturing a number of exposures in one package, as opposed to individual frames as one gets when using sheet films; and 135 film became popular because it was more convenient to use than the larger 120 (and similar) formats – and consequently, allowed for more compact cameras.

[3]: I’ve made this my standard way of introducing these antique cameras, so I suppose I should stick to it…

[4]: The camera actually has two apertures, one at f/6.3, and another that’s approximately f/12 (or thereabouts…but I’m only guessing there). Naturally, the f/6.3 is used to identify the lens, as the standard means of identifying lenses via aperture is to identify the lens’ widest aperture setting. I didn’t actually use the smaller aperture…because I forgot it was there until after I had finished shooting the roll of film I loaded. Oops.

[5]: Since 135 film has no backing paper, any light falling on the film will (at best) fog the exposed frames…or worse. As such, all 135 cameras need to have entirely sealed film and exposure chambers to protect the film; thus, a mechanical means of counting exposed frames and advancing the film to an unexposed frame is required for any 135 camera – else, you’re just guessing. Paper-backed films like 120 and 828 have an opaque paper backing that protects the film, alleviating the need for complex mechanical frame counters.

[6]: AFAIK, only one Bantam camera was manufactured with a sliding cover for the viewing window: the expensive and relatively rare Bantam Special. This was also one of the most complex of the Bantam cameras, and featured a much better shutter (a Compur Rapid shutter), better lenses, and a coupled rangefinder. The Special is also considered to be a masterpiece of Art Deco camera design. Due to their more complex design, fewer were manufactured – hence, their rarity and higher cost.

  [7]: BTW, regarding the subject of the photo at the top, it is the front façade of the Church of St. Peter in the Loop. Alas, I can’t find any information regarding the church in the AIA Guide to Chicago, though that may be because my copy is an older one, and I can’t tell if this was an older church or if it’s a modern one masquerading as an older one. The colossal sculpture of the Crucifix appears to be in a modern(ish) style, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was completed recently. Sadly, the internets were also rather less than helpful in providing information about this church, too.


3 Responses to “Kodak Bantam, 22 March 2011”

  1. […] camera captured something, but that it captured the scene relatively well. As I’ve written before, the camera has almost no settings to adjust, so it’s quite literally just a matter of […]

  2. kate23t Says:

    I recently found my grandfathers old Bantam 6.3. I was wondering if there was anything you could tell me about it. Ways to get it working again, film to use, where the shutter button is, things like that? Thanks!

    • seeker312 Says:

      Actually, yes…I have quite a bit of information regarding this camera, among others. I will try to send you an email later this week, when I’m (hopefully) not being hammered by the demands of my two jobs (gotta pay them bills, unfortunately). There’s too much information for me to easily format in a comment feed.

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