I last had Kodak Retina lust four years ago, which led me to buy a Retina Ia and a Retinette IA. And then I didn’t much enjoy the experience of shooting with these German Kodaks. The Retina’s viewfinder was so small it was nearly useless. The Retinette had some mechanical problems that prevented me from finishing my test roll. Feh. At about this time I bought my first Japanese rangefinder, which was so much fun to shoot that I bought several more and didn’t give the Retina line another look.
Sometimes I wonder if the universe or fate or whatever is trying to tell me something. In the space of a few weeks last year, three camera collectors whose blogs I follow all wrote fawning praise for their Kodak Retina IIa and shared some mighty nice 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. Retina lust had returned. I tried to put it out of my mind, because I was having so much fun with several 1970s SLRs I bought last year. But then one night while trolling eBay’s vintage cameras category, I found an incredible bargain on this IIa in good condition.
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.
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.
I spooled some Fujicolor 200 into the IIa and relied on my vintage GE PR-1 exposure meter to read the light. I started in my driveway.
I had much better luck with my IIa than I had with my Retinas of yore. I think 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.
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.
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.
Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection.