Camera Reviews

Kodak Retinette II

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 Retinette II (type 160) was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.

Kodak Retinette II

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.

Kodak Retinette II

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.

Kodak Retinette II

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 tried to gently wipe 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.

Au Bon Pain

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.

Trash truck

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.

Toward the monument

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.

Tiny taxi

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.

nada

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.

Balconies

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.

Five Guys

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 camera will live to shoot again in my collection.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Standard

19 thoughts on “Kodak Retinette II

  1. Johnny says:

    Regarding the viewfinder, did people have smaller eyes in those days? The makers must have peeped through it at some point and decided it was good enough. Was it really too difficult to make it slightly bigger to look through?

    • From what I gather, I believe that the small finders were chosen for their form factor. You see these tiny finders across all 35mm cameras of the era. The idea was just like today’s iPhone, to be able to pocket the camera and keep it on ones person at all times or for travel. That was the whole point of the 35mm format and a larger finder was a waste of space.

      In the 1930’s, 35mm photographers were not shooting close up at full aperture where viewfinder quality is critical. Cropping for accurate composition could be leaned on because people probably error-ed for wide.

      If you wanted accuracy, you didn’t shoot roll film at all, which was made for speed, but rather, large format where you could look right through the taking lens. And in cases where more accurate composition was required of 35mm, it was preferred to add a large accessory finder than make that the standard for the camera. In the case of the Retinette, with no accessory shoe, I’m not sure about the thinking with regards to this outside of the fact that this was not a professional’s camera.

      Today, it’s hard not to view 35mm as a capable professional format but in the 30’s, this was called “miniature film,” it was a step down for the masses. So unless you were shooting Leica or Contax, for many years, you weren’t a professional PJ pushing photographic conventions of the era, you were likely just a progressive hobbyist.

      Additionally, the smaller optics suffer less from issues such as fogging/condensation and smearing by fingers etc during use. Just as products used to be made to last, small considerations like this were given more weight than today. Today, we sacrifice durability, longevity and craftsmanship for comfortable, feature-laden cameras. In the 30’s, views were quite the opposite.

      This is all part speculation, research and experience using my older Leica’s alongside modern ones. Hope it’s useful!

      • It’s all solid speculation, a story that fits the evidence.

        This camera’s form factor is wonderful. Like I noted, it fit into the back pocket of my Levi’s! Amazing miniaturization for that time.

        Most of the work I did with the Retinette didn’t require viewfinder precision, and as long as I work within that constraint all will be well. Thing is, this is a constraint I would not choose if I did not have to.

  2. jon campo says:

    You got some good photos Jim. I really wanted to like these cameras, and bought several over the years. Mine all broke even after sending them half way around the world for expensive repairs and now sit on the shelf. They are cute little things though, and the lenses are very good when they work. Yes, the viewfinders are tiny, although they got slightly better in later models.

    • I’ve owned a few Retinas and at the moment the only one in my keepers pile is the Retina IIc. I forget why I kept it over the IIa now. But both have a large-enough-to-be-usable viewfinder, and that is why I kept the IIc over my Ia with its pinhole viewfinder.

      I’ve had pretty good luck with Retinas, mine just keep working. They may be stiff from age, but they work.

    • That’s surprising to hear, Jon. I only have a IIIc, much newer Retina than the subject of this blog, but the only service it’s ever required was regular maintenance and then it’s back out shooting for an 8-10 hour day, 5-10 rolls without issue. These were reasonably high quality, German cameras, cheaper than Leica and Contax more due to fewer features and less envelop-pushing design than due to build quality.

    • It’s on my to-do list. I’m not sure when I’ll get to it, but at least it’s on there. It doesn’t sound that hard to get the front element off, and my Flickr friend told me that haze on these is almost always behind the front element.

  3. Retina and Retinette cameras were sold in Europe marked in meters and in the US and Britain marked in feet. Some, like yours, were sold only in Europe. Retinas usually had a faster lens and shutter (top speed 1/500). As an historical note: A used Retina I (Type 118) was purchased by Sir. Edmund Hillary for his Everest expedition.

    • Thank you for the history lesson! I wonder how this Retinette made its way to the US. I love it when I know the provenance of one of my old cameras.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.