Cameras, Photography

Kodak Retina Reflex IV

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Quirky. That’s how I’d best describe the Kodak Retina Reflex IV. Fortunately, it’s quirky in an endearing way.

Kodak Retina Reflex IV

Appearing near the end of the Retina line’s 35-year run, the Retina Reflex IV was manufactured from 1964 to 1966. It was the fourth and last Retina SLR model, but it shared its quirks with its predecessors. If you’re used to the modern SLR idiom, here’s how the Retina Reflexes differ:

  • Most SLRs place the shutter button, wind lever, and film counter on the top. The Retina Reflex places them on the front, bottom, and bottom, respectively.
  • You might look through the viewfinder, find it black, and think the camera is broken. On the contrary; just wind to the next frame, which raises the mirror so you can see through the viewfinder again.
  • The Reflex uses a Synchro Compur leaf shutter (1-1/500 sec.), while most SLRs use some sort of vertical-plane shutter.

Kodak Retina Reflex IV

The Reflex uses a selenium light meter, coupled to a needle atop the camera and inside the viewfinder. You adjust exposure until the needle is horizontal. The Reflex’s aperture and shutter speed rings are coupled – turning one always turns the other. This lets you keep an exposure as you dial in deeper or shallower depth of field. So to set exposure, you turn the shutter speed ring until the speed you want lines up with the arrow. To set the aperture, you then turn the knurled wheel under the lens barrel.

Kodak Retina Reflex IV

Focusing works as on any other SLR: turn the focus ring until the image in the viewfinder is sharp. The viewfinder includes a split-image focusing aid for finer focusing control. It’s at a 45-degree angle, which I thought was a great idea. Most split-image lines are horizontal, meaning you have to turn the camera slightly to focus when the lines in your frame are horizontal. The Reflex eliminates that.

A small range of interchanging  lenses was offered for the Reflex IV, all made by Schneider-Kreuznach. Mine came with the stock 50mm f/2.8.

The Retina Reflex IV cost $277 when it was new, which is an astonishing $2,090 in 2013 dollars. These are even a little expensive on the collector market, starting at about $100. I got mine for $45 on shopgoodwill.com, an auction site that offers many old-camera bargains from Goodwill stores nationwide. But buying there is always a crapshoot because the cameras are donated and untested. I lost on this roll of the dice because my Reflex’s light meter barely registers light. The conventional wisdom is that Retina Reflexes are complex and a royal pain to fix. I don’t really like to fix old cameras anyway and will do only the simplest repairs and cleanings, so it’s good that everything else on my Reflex seemed to work all right. I used an external light meter, dropped in some Kodak Tri-X 400, and got shooting.

I blew the whole 24-exposure roll in about an hour in my yard after work one night. It had been a stressful day in the office, but shooting my Reflex melted the day’s weariness away. The sun was starting to set, so the light was delicious. One of the trees in my front yard sports these tiny leaves.

Leaves

The lens is pretty sharp but I wish it were a little more contrasty. I finagled more contrast out of these shots in Photoshop.

Oak trunk 1

About two-thirds of the way through the roll my brain failed me. I thought, “Hey, wait, I’m exposing these shots for ISO 400 film, but Tri-X is ISO 100!” So I set my meter for 100 and shot the rest of the roll. I was right in the first place – Tri-X is absolutely ISO 400 film. But when the images came back from the processor, everything I metered at 400 was slightly overexposed and everything I metered at 100 was spot on. Maybe my meter is off. Here’s one of those ISO 100 shots.

Car noses 2

Shooting into the sun is obviously more likely to give you flare, but I’ve done it before in this setting and got a lot less flare than I got in this shot. It makes me think the 50mm f/2.8 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina Xenar lens that came with my Reflex is just a little flare-prone.

Flare in the front yard

I also had trouble getting focus right on a few shots. I was trying to focus on my dog, Gracie, but managed to make only the back wall crisp.

Dog on the deck

See more photos from my home adventure in my Kodak Retina Reflex IV gallery.

I really lost myself in shooting my Reflex, which is always a great sign. Seriously, I never blow through 24 shots in an hour. But as you can see, I got mixed results. I’m sure that if I kept shooting this camera I’d figure out its exposure and focusing quirks and get consistently good results from it. But I’m unlikely to put film in this camera again, because when I want to shoot an SLR I have many other choices with easier usability, more accurate meters, and better glass.

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22 thoughts on “Kodak Retina Reflex IV

  1. Nice review of the strange Retina Reflex. Zeiss and Voigtlander made similar quirky models with leaf shutters, and they’re all tricky to work on and often end up being shelf queens. My Retina Reflex, the first model, is mostly ok except for a deteriorated prism, which seems true in about 90% of them. The thing that impressed me most about the camera was its amazingly quiet shutter and mirror.

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    • I wanted to like the Reflex more than I did. Perhaps if the light meter had still worked, I would put it on my to-use-again list. But “shelf queen” is going to be the perfect description for my Reflex.

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  2. I have never seen one of these other than in pictures. I suppose at that price they didn’t sell a lot of them. It is interesting that it didn’t have an auto returning mirror at that late date. It is amazing that the leaf shutter still seems to work okay after all these years. I understand your not wanting to shoot with it again. That seems to be my experience with many of the old cameras. It is fun to take one out for a spin, however there aren’t many that make me want to repeat the experience.

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    • I was rather amazed to come upon this one for the price I did, given their relative scarcity. The shutter works flawlessly on mine, but I do so wish the meter still had some life in it. But yeah, I won’t shoot this camera again.

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  3. Interesting that they moved the shutter release to the front and the frame counter to the bottom on the Reflex IV. On my Reflex S those two are on the top, which makes it a bit less quirky I guess. Nice shots!

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    • Apparently the original Reflex and the Reflex S had the shutter release and frame counter up top, and the III and the IV on the front and bottom. I wonder why they changed it. It seems like an unnecessary expense.

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  4. Pingback: The Kodak Retina Reflex S | All my cameras

  5. Nancy Gift says:

    Are you interested in another one? I have my grandfather’s and none of the family does anything with cameras. Free to a loving home.

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  6. eppaar says:

    I am afraid there is an error in your article on the Reflex IV. Unlike earlier Retinas (IIc, IIC, IIIc, IIIC and Retina Reflex) the entire lens was replaceable on the Reflex II, IV, S and Retina IIIS. The Compur shutter is behind the lens in the camera body. This less efficient than a between the lens shutter, but it allowed a higher flash sync speed than could be obtained from a focal plane shutter.

    Kodak made a number of interchangeable lenses for the these cameras ranging from 28mm to 200mm. For some reason Kodak made different lenses for sale in Europe and America. Although unlike the earlier front element lenses these could be used in any of the cameras regardless of where it was manufactured.

    The Retina IIIc was first “good” camera (I was 16 at the time). The 50mm lenses on that camera (which I still have) is one of the best lenses I have ever used – that includes Leica!

    Happy collecting.

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    • Thank you for the correction, which I have made in the post. As you can see, I had some trouble always getting the best results with my Reflex IV, but perhaps I just needed to keep trying.

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      • eppaar says:

        A few followup comments:
        1) There were 15 lenses made for the Reflex II, IV, S and the Retina IIIS. About half were made by Rodenstock.
        2) Your over exposure problems are probably due to a “slow” shutter. The camera is 50 years old and could use a CLA.
        3) I found the lenses for the entire Retina series some of the best I have ever used. With reason the Retinas were known as “The poor man’s Leica”.

        You might want to give your Reflex another chance.

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        • I think I’d rather find a Reflex that is in better condition before I invested in a CLA. But that said, I enjoy the usability of my Retina IIa much more, and it’s in full working condition. So when I want to satisfy my Retina desires, that’s the one I’ll reach for!

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        • eppaar says:

          There are two problems that the interchangeable lens Retinas develop. One, as you know, is a dead meter. Since they are selenium cell based unless they are kept in a cool dark place they will die. They also have a long cord connecting the aperture control wheel to the aperture ring. This cord frequently breaks. The answer is to do what you did and use an exposure meter or the Rule of 16. The one advantage of your Reflex is that it will take interchangeable lenses. All of the lenses, or at least the ones I own, are great.

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  7. Angie says:

    My Dad had one of these Kodak cameras, the IV, which I have inherited since he passed away. I’d love to try it out, but am honestly afraid of breaking it and like you have mentioned, the buttons and controls are different. Probably just need to do some research before I try it, but if you have any suggestions or comments about the way this camera works, I’d love to hear them!

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  8. I dropped the f 2.8/ 50mm Schneider-Kreuznach of my Retina Reflex S two days ago, but found a replacement lens for 90 € in small shop next to work. The price might seem a bit high, but the lens was “still” attached to a Reflex IV in great condition. Film is loaded, let’s see how she performs compared to her older sister…

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