Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Legends: The Kodak Bantam Special -- an Art Deco masterpiece

The Kodak Bantam Special may be one of the most uniquely beautiful cameras of all time. It was produced by Kodak from 1936-1948, and had a stylish Art Deco design consisting of a black enamelled cast aluminium body. The modernist design was done by Walter Dorwin Teague, a noted industrial design pioneer going back to the 1930's. Teague designed the famous Sparton table radios, a revamp of the Texaco gas station and logo, TWA identity, early Polaroid cameras, to name a few.

Two Kodak Bantam Specials are shown here with a Weston Master light meter of the same era. 

The Bantam Special was a popular camera with many high end features, such as built-in, split-image rangefinder focusing. It used 828 roll film that was 35mm film without the dual sprockets so the image was larger at 28 x 40mm. This results in a 25% increase in negative size over 35mm -- quite considerable. Obtaining the film today is another matter. At the end of this article I provide a source for re-rolled 828 film.

The Bantam Special was an expensive camera, priced at $110 (equivalent to about $1800 today) when it first came out in 1936. The price was later reduced to $87.50 as popularity increased production. 

The shutter was a Compur-Rapid with speeds of 1 to 1/500 second, plus T and B. The lens was a 45mm  Kodak Anastigmat Ektar with an aperture ranging from a fast f/2 down to f/16. With the advent of WWII in 1940 the German shutter was changed to an American Supermatic with coated optics. 

The rear of the camera showing the two finder windows. On the left is the split-image rangefinder, and on the right the composing viewfinder. The button on the rear was pushed to release the film for winding to the next exposure.  Because it used roll film, there was also a window on the back to see the exposure number. A roll of 828 film took 8 28x40mm exposures.

The camera collapsed into a very portable clam-shell cased pocket model, measuring 4 3/4" x 3 1/8" x 1 3/4". 

The small foot to keep the camera level in vertical position was located inside the front case. The camera serial number, a very early 13082 for this model, was engraved on the side of the sliding foot. 

The shutter was cocked with the top lever projecting from it and released either by cable release or with the small knob seen on the bottom left side in this photo.  The larger, round knob on the upper left was for focus. 


Kodak Bantam Special cameras do turn up on eBay, which is where I found the two I have in my collection.

The 828 roll film with Tri-X 400 is still produced by Film For Classics and is available through B&H here.


  1. i just got my hands on one of these and ive only had it for a couple of hours and im already in love

  2. Good to see an updated review of this beautiful camera with such great photographs. I've owned mine for some time but I didn't know about the serial number being engraved on the small foot. I've had look and mine is 5688. Any idea which year of production that puts it in? Cheers.

  3. I also have two of these outstanding camera's, one very early model with the compur rapid shutter with serial number 1405,and a later one with serial number 26346