Photography

Kodak Retina IIc

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You have to wonder what the point of the Kodak Retina IIc was, given that it replaced the very similar Retina IIa in 1954. Both are German-made compact folding rangefinder cameras for 35mm film, with fixed 50mm lenses, leaf shutters, and fine lenses. The IIc differs from the IIa in several ways, but two stand right out. Its winder is on the bottom plate rather than the top. And its 50mm lens lets in less light, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 compared to the IIa’s f/2.

Kodak Retina IIc

But that front lens element interchanges. It just twists right off, and available 35 and 80mm front elements twist right in. Confusingly, some IIa bodies had Schneider-Kreuznach lenses while others had Rodenstock lenses. Schneider front elements wouldn’t mount on the Rodenstock rear elements and vice-versa.

That’s why the IIc existed: to move the Retina line toward being a system camera. Because what system camera doesn’t have interchangeable lenses? Retina accessories already existed out the wazoo: finders, meters, auxiliary lenses, lens hoods, flash holders, even stereo attachments.

Kodak Retina IIc

That’s not all that changed. The body was rounder. The front-cover latch moved to the edge where the cover opens. Its main shutter bearing and cocking rack might have been made more robust.

Kodak Retina IIc

The IIc also changed the way you set exposure from straight aperture and shutter-speed settings to exposure values (EVs). An EV number represents an exposure level. EV 15 is f/8 at 1/500 sec. — and f/11 at 1/250, f/16 at 1/125, and so on. And EV 14 lets in a “stop” more light than EV 15.

The IIc assumes you can convert light to EVs in your head, or you have a meter with an EV scale. Either way, you set EVs along the bottom of the IIc’s lens barrel. Pull down the metal lever and move it until it points to the right EV. You might have to adjust aperture or shutter speed to access some EVs. From there, turning the knurled dial moves the Retina through all the aperture/shutter-speed combinations that represent that exposure level so you can get the depth of field you want.

The meter app on my iPhone can output EVs, so I used this system. Except for the EV scale being awkwardly placed on the camera, it worked remarkably well. EV 13½? Click it into place and shoot. Nothing to it. On the other hand, the IIc’s EV system complicates setting aperture and shutter speed directly. So if you aren’t using EVs you will find this camera to be frustrating. Get a IIa.

Kodak Retina IIc

The IIc still has all the usual Retina quirks, chief among them being that you can’t close the cover until you set focus to infinity. After you’ve done that, to close the cover you press in the buttons on the top and bottom of the lens board simultaneously.

The other quirk is that the frame counter counts down, and when it reaches one, the Retina stops winding. So set that counter when you load the film! Or do what I did: forget to do it, shoot until you hit one, press the button next to the frame counter, and scoot the slider on the camera back repeatedly until you get enough frames to finish the roll. The winding tension at the end of the roll will tell you you’re done.

What’s not quirky is the shutter’s 1/500 sec. fastest speed. It makes the Retina IIc quite versatile. Someday I ought to drop in some fast film and shoot Sunny 16. But for my test roll I used good old Fujicolor 200.

Back yard log fence

I happily shot the rest of the roll, but when the film came back from the processor only the first frame, above, was exposed. Such a disappointment! I opened the camera back and fired the shutter at all speeds. I watched as it let in light every time. And the winder was clearly turning the takeup spool properly. The negatives showed no sign of sprocket-hole tearing. So I shrugged and loaded another roll of film, this time Kodak Gold 200. I blew through most of the roll in twenty minutes in my front garden.

Orange flower

I shot these around the 4th of July, when my flowers were really starting to go to town. Busy subjects like this one did tax my IIc’s rangefinder. I wish it were brigher; it might have been when it left the factory. But it’s also small. These conditions made it hard for my middle-aged eyes to focus on busy subjects.

Pink

It’s easy enough to focus when you back up and want lots of depth of field, however. My hosta were all in peak bloom when I shot this. I’m ambivalent toward hosta, but I have a lot of them in my yard because Verna, the woman who built this house, planted them.

Front yard

I took the IIc over to Juan Solomon Park to finish the roll. The city is replacing a bridge on one of the roads I take to get there.

Road closed

I’ve photographed this building on the park grounds many times because it is so handsome.

At Juan Solomon Park

This park has been a frequent subject because of its color and its varied shapes. This neighborhood is fortunate to have such a wonderful playground. It’s much nicer than the playground that was here when my sons were small and we used to visit all the time.

Playground

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

As you can see, the Retina IIc performed well on the second test roll. I did goof one thing up: I had my meter set on ISO 100 for this ISO 200 film. But fortunately Kodak Gold 200 has good exposure latitude. I adjusted exposure in Photoshop on several images to tame wild highlights and bring out best color, but every frame was usable as scanned.

The verdict: as long as you’re metering in EVs, the Kodak Retina IIc is a delightful camera.

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25 thoughts on “Kodak Retina IIc

  1. Edwin P Paar says:

    Jim,
    The IIc was a less expensive version if the IIIc the Retina flagship of the time. This explains the slower lens and the lack of a meter. It is worth noting that almost all meters of that era showed EV values. Once you set EV (also called LV) changing the aperture would automatically change the shutter speed and visa-versa. If you wanted to under expose, set the EV higher, over expose lower. Once you got use to it, the EV system was simpler than remembering f stops.

    Even though the IIIc was my first good 35mm camera (I got it for Christmas in 1954) I prefer the IIa.

    Peter

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    • I have noticed how cameras of the late 50s/early 60s frequently used EV scales for exposure. If you have a meter that reads EVs, yes, EVs are super easy for the reason you cite. I’m glad the meter app I have on my iPhone reads EVs as it made using this camera so much more pleasant!

      I like my IIa a lot, probably a little more than this camera.

      Like

      • SilverFox says:

        Many of my Voigtlanders have that and so did the light meter I had so I learned that system from the start. I found it helped me understand the relationship between shutter speed and aperture

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim,
    Some addition thoughts.

    The Schneider lenses were made for the American Market and the Rodenstock for the European market. In any case, the 35 mm and 80 mm lens were difficult to use as they did not couple to the rangefinder nor could the camera be closed with them mounted.

    Peter

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  3. Reinhold Graf says:

    It is so good to see, that you bring this cool tool back to life. It drives me to revive my IIc with the Heligon lens ;)

    Besides this, I would not call it a quirk, setting the lens to infinity before closing the cover. My Zeiss Ercona needs to be handled the same way and modern cams retract the lens before closing the cover. So I’d call it more a normal behavior and it’s simply a technical necessity to save space.

    Further on I’d like to agree with Edwin, that the EV system was very useful in those days and light meters showed the EV values. It is like the ‘program shift’ feature of modern cameras and so I’d call it a highly sophisticated feature in those days.

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    • Oh, perhaps I use the word “quirk” too loosely. Needing to set the lens to infinity focus before closing the cover merely trips up people new to Retinas, and is a frequently asked question.

      Like

  4. Ron says:

    I’ve got a IIIc, with a non-working meter, so I’ve basically got the same camera with a faster lens that weighs more. I’ve got the auxillary 35mm and 80 mm lenses that make you use an auxiliary viewfinder so you can see what you’re shooting. I haven’t warmed up to the EV thing completely, but I do like how these cameras adjust the shutter speed/aperture together. I just got back from driving up the Pacific Coast Highway with my “new: IIa, so I’m excited to see what results I got out of it.

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  5. Andy Umbo says:

    I remember being in high-school, studying photography (which I became an advertising photographer), and seeing a slide show at my girlfriends house of her uncles travel photo’s. I was dead surprised to find out they were all taken with a Retina rangefinder! All that sharp, beautiful Kodachrome looked like it had come out of a Leica! Much respect, and wish they still made them. I wonder where the tools and dies are…

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      • I doubt it would be possible to use these lenses on a digital camera. However, the final Retinas (circa 1960) used true interchangeable lenses from 28 mm to 200 mm. These lenses can be mounted with an adapter on modern digital cameras. Kodak continued using Schneider lenses in the Americas and Rodenstock in Europe. This also applied to many of the fixed lens Retinas. With the final set of lenses either brand could be used on either camera.

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        • Oh, sorry, I wasn’t clear: I wasn’t talking about retrofitting this lens and housing to a digital camera, but to use this lens design in a new lens fitted to a digital camera.

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        • I have the 50 mm f1.9 for the aforementioned Retina IIIS. Mounted with an adapter on my Panasonic G8 it is one of the sharpest lenses I own. I also have the other 5 by Schneider (28/4, 35/4, 85/4, 135/4 and 200/4.8.)

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I learned photography on my Dad’s IIc which he bought new in the Army PX in 1952 or 1953. Before he “loaned” it to me (I still have it), he shot all of our family photos with it. Dad was a Kodachrome man.

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  7. Keith Walker says:

    I have a Retina IIc which is the gem in my collection. Manufactured from 1954 to 1958, my specimen was made in 1957 and CLA’s by Chris Sherlock in NZ about 5 years ago, it is in almost mint condition. They cost US$135 in those days so they weren’t cheap. IMHO, the IIc was the best camera they made.
    The EV system is very easy to use. makes exposures easy to calculate with the Sunny f16 rule,and you xcarcely need a light meter when you get used to it

    Like

    • Yes, if you master Sunny 16 the EV system lets you avoid all those pesky calculations so you can go to f/8 and other apertures. I think I still like my IIa better than this IIc but both are fine machines!

      Like

  8. Pingback: Kodak Retina IIc — Down the Road – Site Title

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