The Kodak Bantam camera series accompanied the 828 format market introduction by the American manufacturer, a film type for which this family’s cameras were for a long time the only available decent commercial success. Kodak intoduced both the roll format and the camera in 1935 with the aim of producing a new line of compact models combining the dimensional advantages of 35 mm film and the pocketable sizes of folding type cameras. The first two camera models introduced (all cameras of the family be called “Bantam” with various suffixes ) were the “12.5” and “6.3”, numbers that indicated the maximum aperture of their simple double lens optical systems.
A few years later, from 1938, saw the peak of popularity of the format and its equipment with the introduction of different models, special version including the subject of this article named the Bantam 4.5: were introduced improvements in materials with a greater use of metals, in the lens quality and in shutters’ performances, while on early models were often equipped with a single speed.
Spent the heyday, folding production was stopped (while the format continued for several decades until recently) and only a couple of rigid body models were sold in the 50’s and 60’s. For years, however, the Bantam remained an unbeatable line of cameras in terms of compactness and practicity while the real limiting factor was probably the reduced number of frames per roll 828 which forced the photographer to carry a decent supply of films for an easy Sunday drive.
HOW IT WORKS
The Kodak Bantam 4.5 is like all folding conceptually very simple in its operation and has no operational difficulties even for the most inexperienced user. The commands are distributed between the top cover and the front lens plate.
The first step is loading the film: though you use 35 mm film, 828 format is in roll and then will follow the practices applied for 120 and 127 film cameras; the back of the camera opens with metallic lock located on the left side (facing lens itself) following the signs to “Open” or “Lock”. Once opened, back in the right compartment will seat the fresh roll while in the left compartment is placed on the receiving spool; to begin winding the film will need to act on the metal leveracting as knob lock before you can rotate; once positioned the film and closed the camera the film can be winded until the first frame number appears in red window in the center of the back. At the top left of the back there is a metal button that must be pressed in order to start the winding knob rotation that otherwise would be blocked to protect against any unwanted advance.
By pressing the button located on the top cover near the winding knob the front plate is released and positions itself automatically without need of further action; in front of the plate there are concentrically to lens barrell the aperture control levers (from f/4.5 to f/16) and the speed selector (from 1/25 to 1/200 sec over at B and T poses), while the focus by acting directly on the body of the lens, distance estimation type: the minimum focusing distance marked on the lens is equal to 1.2 m but the ring has a further hike that leads up to about 1 m.
Once selected shutter speed and aperture and set the focus distance the shutter needs to be cocked using the lever on the inside of the plate just above the bellows and then can browse to compose the picture using the galilean viewfinder positioned on the cover; in this element, it can be said that is extremely accurate in the field of view. The shutter is operated using the appropriate button on the right side of the top cover.
Made a little practice with the operations described above and with the location of controls, the Kodak Bantam 4.5 is very simple and quick to use especially if you can work with small apertures taking advantage of available depth of field; with modern films with high sensitivity a small aperture is almost necessary given the reduced choice of shutter speeds with minimal available only 1/200 sec. This is the biggest flaw of the camera together with the absence of threaded inlets for tripod and remote shutter release, which limit the use with long exposures; partly to the rescue in this case are the presence of mode T and of a small removable leg positioned in the lower part of the optical plate which allows to give stability to the camera.
In essence, this beautiful folding is more like a camera for quick street shots where the good impact of optics finds its best application, as well as the incredible compact size: in this regard, the images below show a comparison with one of the reference models for the modern miniaturization in 135 format and are eloquent regarding dimensional quality of Bantam 4,5 :
Another limitation may be, but it is still a subjective assessment, the reduced number of poses (8 or 10) available for a 828 roll even if respooled by your own and not bought in native 828 format.
Model: Folding with Galilean Finder
Size: 28x40mm out of 828 film
Lens: Kodak Anastigmat Special 47/f 4.5
Shutter: Central, 1 time/25 to 1/200 sec, bulb, T
Exposure modes: manual
Self timer: no
Dimensions: length 114 mm; height 62 mm; depth 43 (74) mm.
Weight: 341 g.
B and T modes
Reduced number of frames
Limited shutter speeds
No tripod mount
No flash plug
AVAILABILITY AND PRICES
It is not difficult to come across one of the Bantam in the common trading channels, although most cameras are simple, very limited use, or models with Art-deco body, that unfortunately they very often unwarranted prices; the best compromise is represented by just 4.5 and Bantam Flash, which generally with a little patience can be purchased at between 20 and 30 euros, a great deal for what they make.