Camera Reviews

Kodak Retina Ia

Kodak’s mission was to bring photography to the masses through cranking out millions of inexpensive cameras. But Kodak really invested in its Retina line when they introduced it in 1934. Made in Germany of German components, the Retina was meant to compete with, or at least carry some of the cachet of, Leicas and Voigtländers and Zeiss-Ikons. The Retina became Kodak’s most celebrated camera.

The 1951-54 Retina Ia (“Type 015” in Retina-speak) was the entry-level Retina, which improved upon an earlier Retina I (“Type 013”). The Ia’s most obvious improvement was its winding lever; the I had a knob. This Ia features the Synchro-Compur shutter with a top speed of 1/500 sec. and a coated 50mm f/3.5 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar lens. Other lenses were available on the Ia, including an f/2.8 Retina-Xenar and an f/2.8 Kodak Ektar. Early examples offered a Compur Rapid shutter.

Kodak Retina Ia

A defining and endearing feature of the Retina through about 1959 is that they fold open and closed. You can almost make out the bellows in the image above. When closed, you can put it in a coat pocket — but be ready for your coat to hang funny, because this camera is heavy.

Kodak Retina Ia

There was no mistaking that this is a Kodak Retina; the back cover makes it pretty obvious.

Kodak Retina Ia

If you’re into Retinas, also check out my reviews of the Retina IIa (here), the Retina IIc (here), the Retina Reflex IV (here), and the Retina Automatic III (here). Other surprisingly capable Kodaks include the Pony 135, Model C (here), the Monitor Six-20 (here), and the Brownie Starmatic (here). Or check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed, here.

I put a couple rolls of Fujicolor 200 through my Retina Ia. I decided to “go commando” and use the Sunny 16 rule to guess exposure: on a bright, sunny day, set the camera to f/16 and the shutter to about the inverse of your film’s speed. The Retina’s shutter doesn’t have a 1/200 sec. setting, but it does have 1/250 sec., so I just used that. The photos all turned out right enough that minor tweaking in Photoshop made them look fine. Here’s the cart path on the golf course behind my house.

Golf path

This shot is from the cemetery behind my church, on this land since 1839.

North Liberty Cemetery

My dogs are always easy subjects. Meet Gracie and Sugar. The Ia’s viewfinder is teeny tiny, making it challenging to frame subjects. I thought I had my doggos centered in the frame, but they wound up noticeably left of center. I cropped the photo to fix that.

Gracie and Sugar

My car is another easy subject. Toyota Matrix owners all know it: it’s so easy to lose wheel covers on this car. That Schneider-Kreuznach lens delivers good color and sharpness.

Red Matrix

For my second roll of Fujicolor 200 I stayed right in my yard. I didn’t have my car repainted — I bought a new one in blue. I’m a giant fan of Toyota Matrixes. And there’s Gracie just hanging out.

Front yard with dog

One challenge I always have with a manual-everything camera is remembering to set all the settings. On about half the photos on this roll I forgot to focus. D’oh! I remembered to focus this shot, where the lens was as wide open as the light would allow it to be so I could get a blurred background.

Matrix tail

This shot of the back of my house shows the resolution and detail this Schneider-Kreuznach lens delivers.

Deck

We’ll wrap this slideshow with a photo of my pal Gracie. The house across the street had been abandoned for a few months when I made this; gotta remember to choose my backgrounds better.

Gracie

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Retina Ia gallery.

The results I got from this Retina Ia helped me see why the Retina line remains well respected among collectors today. But its tiny viewfinder and lack of focusing and exposure assistance helped me see why collectors prefer Retinas II and III.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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8 thoughts on “Kodak Retina Ia

  1. Ryan, isn’t it interesting in that shot how the grave markers appear to be in black and white while everything else is in color? These markers are from the early and mid 1800s and are of original settlers in this part of Marion County. They formed the church in 1839.

  2. jef says:

    very nice. stumble upon this site when im searching more info about retina Ia.. so this is a scale focus retina.. :) how did you get a good focus with your dog? nice shots!

    thanks!

  3. Jef, thanks for dropping in. I mostly lucked out getting good focus on my dog. I used the Sunny 16 rule to set the aperture and shutter, and guessed at distance.

  4. Barry says:

    Hi Jim,
    Last weekend,I was ‘scrunging’ aroun the gararge (full off every thing
    you could imagine, except the car) And there in a shoe box ,was my old
    Retina 1a.
    I bought this back in the mid 60’s. Used it for ‘slides’ ,most of them used
    as ‘ back’effects with mirror balls etc, at local dances and ‘hops’. Basically this
    camera was ‘all right’ with slides,but photo snaps , well.
    The camera is still in ‘good nick thou. Its been in that shoe box since the beginning of the 70’s. Bought a Nickon F with all the goodies and accesories
    Still has its leather case, and I think the instruction book is somewhere in that
    Garage.I never knew its history or pedigree.Bit of a “moo cow” putin’ the film in.

    Barry….(rock on:>)

    • Hi Barry! I hope you’ll run a roll of film through your Retina now that you’ve found it. That’s the fun of owning old cameras! I’ll bet your Nikon F was a lot of fun and a lot more versatile, though.

  5. eppaar says:

    Some comments about the Retina 1’s.

    With the Retina series Kodak would tweak the design without changing the model number. The differences were indicated by Type. Yours looks like a Type 015. The Retina 1 started in 1936 and was made until 1950. Then Kodak made a major change and thus used a different name. The Retina 1a used a lever instead of a knob to advance the film. The same action also cocked the shutter which was a separate action in the Retina 1. The 1b moved the lever to the bottom of the camera and the 1B added a meter and, at least in America, frame lines in the view finder.

    Before auto focus came along in the 1980’s most of the time photographers (of which I was one) depended on the hyperfocal distance rather than a rangefinder. A rangefinder was fine for static subjects but was useless for anything that moved. The lack of a rangefinder made the camera more affordable and remember these were expensive cameras.

    If you didn’t want to use the “sunny 16” rule you could invest in a light meter (in America this would have probably have been one the Weston Master units). Even though I had a Retina IIIc I found that I could get more accurate results using a Weston Master III.

    As far as reputation is concerned Leica and Contax (Zeiss) were the top of the heap. Voightlander and Kodak were second tier.

    Give the Retina another chance, the lenses on all of them are excellent.

    Peter

    • I gave this camera away last year after buying a Retina IIa. Its bigger viewfinder and its rangefinder made it a much more practical camera to use.

      Seriously, that Ia’s viewfinder was so small it was almost useless. What a way to hobble an otherwise great camera.

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