35mm film, originally developed for cinematic use, was adapted in the mid teens for still photography by several camera makers. As an accepted format, 35mm gained airspeed in 1924 when Leitz put the Leica into production. 35mm film was available in different emulsions and represented a good choice of film stock for the emerging miniature format. When Kodak saw the success of the Leica, it developed a multi-pronged marketing strategy. Leicas and Contaxes were expensive cameras and Kodak had specialized in making photography affordable, so it put the newly acquired Dr Nagelwerke staff to work designing a more affordable precision miniature and introduced it in 1934 as the Retina. Kodak also wanted a piece of the highend 35mm market, so emboldened by the success of the Retina, it tasked the domestic Kodak designers to create a system 35mm that was the equivalent of the Leica and could be produced in the U.S., but this was a much more complex project. Regardless of the political situation in Europe, the Ektra (1941) was the result. Kodak saw the inconvenience of loading 35mm film the Leica way and developed the disposable 35mm cartridge, which it marketed in 1934 to coincide with the Retina's introduction.
35mm film had one disadvantage, however; the sprocket holes necessary for proper frame registration on machines running at 24 frames per second were wasted on a camera where film was advanced by thumb and forefinger and the space they required represented a significant waste of the film width. The good idea of a Kodak designer, Joseph Milhayi, was to retain the basic film width, but eliminate the sprocket holes, save for a smaller one for each frame used for an automatic and accurate frame index. The film size was 828, loaded as backed rollfilm on tiny spools that produced eight frames of 28 x 40mm compared to 135 which used a frame size of 24x36mm. This represented a 30% increase in image size, not trivial for a negative this small.
Kodak's branding strategy was to exploit the advantages of 828 to leverage Kodak's commercial advantage. Every thing about the new Bantam line was slightly smaller, except the image size. If this design succeeded, Kodak would have an edge, in both the camera and film markets. Kodak's historical Everyman/woman/child marketing strategy had been based on familarity, ease if use and value-for-money. The Bantam format used the same film packaging that had been successful for over two decades--paper backing rolled on metal spools. There was no need to confront 35mm film magazines that loaded in complicated, different ways from the bottom of the camera, Leica style. With backing paper and a spool significantly smaller than the one used in a 35mm magazine, eight frames was the choice. The winning logic for 828 roll length may never have been recorded as public knowledge, but may have considered that 36 or even 20 exposures were more than the casual photographer would need to shoot a child's birthday party or a weekend outing and get the pictures processed while the urge to see the pictures was still sharp. All of the Bantams were collapsible and were truly vest-pocket cameras, without exaggaration.
Over a three year period, Kodak introduced a complete line of new Bantam cameras. During the first round of Bantam design, there were three different, but related visual designs that employed either Bakelite or cast alloy bodies. The original Bantam used Bakelite and weighed only 8 oz. The upscale models used alloy bodies that were still light, but over twice the weight of the Bakelite original. Most early Bantam models were folders with lensboards suspended on struts in an X configuration that was riveted at its intersection. This provided a relatively inexpensive way to create the solid mounting necessary for a miniature lens, but the entry level Bantam at $6 was not nearly as accessible as contemporary Brownies and Baby Brownies that retailed for $1. The original Bantam was available with a f /6.3 Kodak Anastigmat for $10. The molded Bakelite manufacturing allowed designers to include raised horizontal ribs that were attractive, strengthened the plastic structure and provided a surer surface to grip. A 1938 design refresh of the line abandoned the initial folder design for the entry level model, but retained the general profile for the other models, replacing the fixed finder with a folding popout design, improving its "pocketability" index. The Bakelite bodies were retained for the f/6.3 and f/5.6 Bantams which used a triplet lens branded Kodak Anastigmat. The alloy body was introduced for the model with the new f/4.5 four-element Tessar-type lens, the Kodak Anastigmat Special. This model alone had the angular body lines of the Nagel Retinas and this body contour was changed in 1947 when flash synchronization and hard coating was added to create the Flash Bantam. In general, lens coating came to most Kodaks at about the same time, circa 1947, though the more expensive cameras like the Ektra, Medalist and Bantam Special had inner surface "soft" coating on or slightly before 1940. Interestingly, the Bantams routinely had slightly shorter lenses than their 35mm brethern--typically 47mm and 48mm for the Bantams vs. 50mm and 51mm for the 35's. The optical effect of this was more pronounced because Bantam's produced 40 x 28mm images, while the 35mm image is 36 x 24mm, giving the Bantams a wider field of view.
The top-of-the-line Bantam Special was mechanically different from any of the other Bantams, though its visual appearance was linked to the earliest Bantam design. The case is an aluminum alloy, but retains the horizontal ribs with the remainder in black enamel. Because it has a coupled rangefinder, the top profile is very different from the typical Bantam. The rangefinder design is unlike virtually all other Kodaks in that it uses a double prism optic on the front standard. This avoids the usual linkages between the lens assembly and the rangefinder, a technique developed by Zeiss and used on the original Super Ikonta. Prior to the introduction of the Bantam Special, very few domestic Kodaks had rangefinders. The Bantam Special had one of the earliest of the Kodak Ektars, in this case the fastest production lens Kodak had mounted to date. The original f/2.0 Ektars in 1936 were uncoated, since Kodak did not start even soft coating lenses until 1938. Although public records are not available on Kodak coating activities, it is likely that later Bantam Specials with Compur shutters had inner calcium fluoride coating and that all Specials with Supermatic shutter did; some late model Specials may have had harder magnesium fluoride coatings with or without the Lumenizing logo . The mounting of the Special's shutter is helical, much like its German cousin's and that both the Retina II and the Bantam Special both have f/2.0 lenses in Compur shutters may be of more than coincidental significance, though the Retina had a more conventional rangefinder design. The Bantam Special rangefinder is a split image design, is not combined with the viewfinder and, although the rear element is adjustable for vision, it is located well away from the viewfinder. Like the Retina, the "bed" of the Bantam Special closes over the lens, protecting it, though hinged on the left rather than the right. The designer of the Bantam Special, Walter Dorwin Teague, integrated the polished rib design of the body into the door. Though the least of the Bantams shared this general design, its execution in materials and manufacturing in the Special clearly established its position in the pecking order.
The 828 format never caught on, even during its production. Kodak tried to broaden the use by including 828 film handling in larger format cameras. The Chevron , successor to the Medalist, the top model of the Tourist line and the Kodak Reflex, had the ability to use 828 to make 2x2 slides by using film conversion accessories. Perhaps 8 exposures wasn't enough or the public had tired of folders. When folders left the Kodak line, it introduced a model of the rigid bodied Pony that used 828 film.The last American Bantam was the Bantam RF of 1957, a rigid bodied 828 version of the 35mm Signet, with a downscale lens. Kodak quit making 828 film in the mid-70s, but Bantam owners can roll their own.
Bantam Special in the Technology Collection at