Quirky. That’s how I’d best describe the Kodak Retina Reflex IV. Fortunately, it’s quirky in an endearing way.
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.
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.
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.
The lens is pretty sharp but I wish it were a little more contrasty. I finagled more contrast out of these shots in Photoshop.
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.
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.
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.
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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