Kodak’s first Retina camera was introduced in 1934, kicking off a long line of fine 35mm cameras over the next 30 years or so. I’ve long been interested in trying an early Retina, and so I was pleased when this 1939 Kodak Retinette II (type 160) was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.
Even though this is a Retinette and not a Retina, it used the same chassis as the Retinas of the time. In fact, except for trim differences it is identical to the 1941 Retina I (type 167). Mine has a 50mm f/3.5 Kodak-Anastigmat lens in a Compur shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/300 sec. You can also find Retinette IIs with a 50mm f/4.5 Kodak Anastigmat and a Gauthier shutter with speeds of 1/25 to 1/125 sec.
As you can see from how nicked up the finish is, mine has been well used. I was very happy to find that everything seemed to work. The cocking lever is firm, the shutter button pushes properly, and the shutter sounded good on all speeds. All the controls (focus, aperture, shutter speed) moved easily.
My Retinette II measures distance in meters. I’ve seen other Retinas and Retinettes with scales in feet, but I don’t know if the Retinette II could be had that way. The frame counter atop the camera counts up, so after you load film set it to 1. There’s a mount for a cable release next to the shutter button. There’s also a tripod mount on the camera bottom.
If you like Retinas and Retinettes, check out my reviews of the Retina Ia (here), Retina IIa (here), Retina IIc (here), Retinette IA (here), and Retina Reflex IV (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
Unfortunately, the lens is hazy. I gently wiped the lens to see if it was just coated in schmutz, but no dice. It’s always a crapshoot whether haze is going to be a problem — I’ve shot some ugly glass and gotten fine results. So I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 200 and went to town.
It was a problem this time.
Thank heavens for Photoshop and its Dehaze adjustment, which made these photos usable. Not perfect, but usable. The photo above is the best of the bunch. To save the one below I ended up overcooking the sky.
But them’s the old-camera breaks. Let me get right to my real gripe with this camera: its itty bitty viewfinder. It’s hard to see through, hard to be sure the camera is level, hard to be sure you’re looking through it straight on. When I framed this shot, the big monument was centered in the viewfinder.
I have a lesser gripe with this Retinette: the position of the metal pointer against which you set focus. For landscape photos, it’s essentially underneath the lens. You have to turn the camera over to set focus. Its position is much more useful for portrait photos.
Other than that, I enjoyed shooting this Retinette. I took it to work and left it in my desk over the next couple weeks. On days I decided to step out for lunch, the Retinette came along. Closed, it’s small enough to slide easily into my back jeans pocket, where it rode undetected until I wanted it.
I took it to all of the places I normally go around Downtown Indianapolis, shooting four or five photos an outing until I exhausted the roll. Given the bright sunshine I made most if not all of these photos at 1/100 or 1/300 sec. at f/8 to f/16. Such settings are probably this camera’s sweet spot anyway.
Rewinding the film isn’t complicated. You’ll find a lever on the back below the winding knob. Move it to the left and the rewind knob turns freely.
To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Retinette II gallery.
I was a little sad when I’d finished this roll in the Retinette II. Despite my two gripes, I very much enjoyed pocketing an 80-year-old camera for Downtown photo walks, and was impressed with how sturdy and solid all of the controls were after this many decades. I hoped that the lens’s haze would not affect the photos. Sadly, it did.
One of my Flickr followers saw my photo of this camera, where I noted the lens haze. Turns out he has experience with this camera and told me exactly how to remove the front element for cleaning. It doesn’t sound too hard. So maybe this Kodak Retinette II will live to shoot again in my collection.
Last updated on 1 July 2020 by Jim Grey