Sometimes I wonder if the universe or fate or whatever is trying to tell me something. Within a few weeks, three camera collectors whose blogs I follow all wrote fawning praise for their Kodak Retina IIa and shared some great photographs from these 60-year-old cameras. I noticed how the IIa had not only a usable viewfinder, but also a rangefinder to take the guesswork out of focusing. And then I spotted the six-element 50 mm f/2 Schneider-Kreuznach lens – and I was a goner. I wanted one! Then one night while trolling eBay’s vintage cameras category, I found an incredible bargain on this IIa in good condition.

Kodak Retina IIa

Kodak made three different series of Retina IIa cameras before and after World War II. My IIa is from the last series, which the Retina cognoscenti call the Type 016. This series was produced from January 1951 through April 1954, but my IIa’s Compur-Rapid shutter dates it to the first three months of 1951. Kodak switched to Synchro-Compur shutters after that. Both shutters fired from 1/500 to 1 second.

Kodak Retina IIa

The Retina IIa has the usual Retina quirks. To fold the camera closed, you first have to set the focus to infinity and then squeeze the two buttons above and below the lens barrel while closing the door. The frame counter on the wind lever counts down – and when it reaches zero the film won’t advance anymore. If you haven’t shot the whole roll yet you can just reset the counter and keep shooting, but you have to know to do this.

Kodak Retina IIa

If you like Kodak Retinas, by the way, I’ve reviewed a bunch of ’em: the Retina Ia (here), the Retinette IA (here), the Retina IIc (here), the Retinette II (here), the Retina Automatic III (here), and the Retina Reflex IV (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I spooled some Fujicolor 200 into the IIa and relied on my vintage GE PR-1 exposure meter to read the light.


I had much better luck with my IIa than I had with my Retinas of yore. That’s mostly because I’ve gained so much experience shooting with old cameras over the past four years. The park near my home, with its new playground, is becoming a favorite spot to practice.


The IIa’s rangefinder is coupled to the viewfinder. The “spot” is small and dim, but not unusably so. The camera focuses to 2½ feet. I planted five flats of cheerful white petunias this year. Dang do I wish they were perennials.

Planting petunias

This men’s-room door is kind of a color stress test. It’s shockingly red. The IIa’s lens and the Fujicolor 200 rendered it almost painful to look at.

Red door

The Retina IIa is heavy (though not oppressively so) and small. I found myself carrying it with me everywhere. My parents visited for Memorial Day weekend, and I got this good photo of my dad as we all sat out on the deck one warm evening.


See my entire Kodak Retina IIa gallery here.

The Kodak Retina IIa is a winner. If you want to try a Retina and don’t know where to start, start here. It will either kindle a Retina lust of your own, or you will be so satisfied with it that you’ll never need to try another.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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10 responses to “Kodak Retina IIa”

  1. ryoko861 Avatar

    Considering how old it is, the clarity is fantastic! Being that it’s not too difficult or fussy to use, I would say it’s better than some of the digitals out there today.

    1. Jim Avatar

      You’d think that the older cameras by definition would not make photos as crisp and detailed as modern cameras, but surprisingly lensmakers were making fabulous lenses for cameras 100 and more years ago.

  2. Ted Kappes Avatar
    Ted Kappes

    Looks like a fine camera, however I think some credit should go to the photographer. You really nailed the exposure on these images it looks like. The grain as I could see it in the larger images on your Flickr site is lovely in these images.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks Ted! I leaned heavily on my GE PR-1 to set exposure.

  3. Mike Avatar

    Never saw a nicer looking example of that fine camera. I had to go through several to find one that really worked well, but the cosmetics still leave something to be desired.

    1. Jim Avatar

      This one didn’t even need a cleaning, and it worked fine. I must have gotten lucky.

  4. Les Avatar

    Yours looks as though it has the same haze problem as mine (and many others). That’s why I love my IIc.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Haze? I’m not sure I detect any haze here. I don’t have this camera anymore to check on a fresh roll of film unfortunately!

  5. Aly Avatar

    I just read all of your retina reviews. Hopefully I’ll find one one day so I can try it out. Sounds fun

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      They are lovely cameras that deliver great results!

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