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The prettiest camera Ever? Maybe.
Kodak's Bantam Special 1936-1948
With its beautiful Art Deco styling by Walter Dorwin Teague, the Kodak Bantam Special is one of the most beautiful camera designs ever.
The Special's clam shell styling enabled it to become a truly pocketable, and practical carry everywhere camera. It measures only 3 3/16" x 4 13/16" x 1 13/16" deep (81x124x45mm) and weighs in at a petite 17oz. Its body is remarkably elegant, having a beautiful black enamel finish with machined aluminum die cast body.
The large chrome knob is the advance. The smaller chrome catch nearby opens the back. The chrome catch in the center side opens the camera up. The chrome catch on the bottom is just a table rest point.
It's 45/2 Ektar lens enabled the Special to take pictures in almost any light. Pre-war models generally use the German made Compur shutter and an uncoated 45/2 Ektar lens with speeds of 1 to 1/500 plus T & B. Starting around 1941, wartime demands switched the shutter to the American Supermatic shutter with a coated lens. The Supermatic's shutter ran 1/400th to 1 second, plus T&B. The Compur allowed for in-between speed settings while the Supermatic did not. The Compur also proved to be more reliable in service, while the Supermatic commands higher collector prices due to rarity. Few Supermatic Bantams were produced during and after the war, before the Special was discontinued.
The Special has separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows, very nicely done and usable. A good thing too, since the rangefinder window is a very high 8x magnification rangefinder.
The large chrome knob in the lower portion of this photo is the rangefinder focusing lever. Pushing it upward also closes the clamshell. The Compur had to be cocked with the lever on top, behind the shutter speed settings. The lever on the side would trip the shutter. Shutter speeds were set by rotating the outer shutter dial. F/stops were set by moving the bottom lever to the chosen f/stop.
Most sources say the Compur came with an uncoated lens, and the Supermatic with a coated lens. Well, this one has a Compur shutter and what certainly appears to be a coated lens. The instruction book shows the Supermatic shutter. Perhaps it's a transitional camera with Compur shutter and coated lens.
If you haven't guessed it yet, the film exposure window in the back door tells the tale. Unfortunately, the Bantam Special is NOT a 35mm camera. It was made for 828 film -- a paper backed cousin of 35mm. The film gate size is a slightly larger than 35, at 28x40mm. Yep, 828 film is loooong gone, though it can be ordered specially (and expensively). Without film, this little beauty is mostly a shelf sitter, a monument to days and styles gone bye. Damn it's a beautiful camera, perfect for a Raymond Chandler novel.
I was told several years ago about a Japanese conversion of Bantam Specials to 35mm. If you happen to have the details of the conversion, please let me know.
Revised: November 26, 2003 . Copyright © 1998-2002 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.