Camera Reviews

Kodak Retina Ia

Kodak’s mission was to bring photography to the masses. They succeeded by cranking out millions of inexpensive cameras. But Kodak really invested in its Retina line when they introduced it in 1934. Made in Germany of German components, the Retina was meant to compete with, or at least carry some of the cachet of, Leicas, Voigtländers, and Zeiss-Ikons. The Retina became Kodak’s most celebrated camera. Naturally I was Retina-curious. My first Retina was this Kodak Retina Ia (one-a).

Kodak Retina Ia

The 1951-54 Retina Ia (“Type 015” in Retina-speak) was the entry-level Retina, which improved upon an earlier Retina I (“Type 013”). The Ia’s most obvious improvement was its winding lever; the I had a knob. This Ia features the Synchro-Compur shutter with a top speed of 1/500 sec. and a coated 50mm f/3.5 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar lens. Other lenses were available on the Ia, including an f/2.8 Retina-Xenar and an f/2.8 Kodak Ektar. Early examples offered a Compur Rapid shutter.

Kodak Retina Ia

A defining and endearing feature of the Retina through about 1959 is that they fold open and closed. The bellows is tiny, but it’s there. When closed, you can put it in a coat pocket — but be ready for your coat to hang funny, because this camera is heavy.

Kodak Retina Ia

There was no mistaking that this is a Kodak Retina; the back cover makes it pretty obvious.

If you’re into Retinas, also check out my reviews of the Retina IIa (here), the Retina IIc (here), the Retina Reflex IV (here), and the Retina Automatic III (here). Other surprisingly capable Kodaks include the Pony 135, Model C (here), the Monitor Six-20 (here), and the Brownie Starmatic (here). Or check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed, here.

I put a couple rolls of Fujicolor 200 through my Retina Ia. I decided to “go commando” and use the Sunny 16 rule to guess exposure: on a bright, sunny day, set the camera to f/16 and the shutter to about the inverse of your film’s speed. The Retina’s shutter doesn’t have a 1/200 sec. setting, but it does have 1/250 sec., so I just used that. The photos all turned out right enough that minor tweaking in Photoshop made them look fine. Here’s the cart path on the golf course behind my house.

Golf path

This shot is from the cemetery behind my church, on this land since 1839.

North Liberty Cemetery

My dogs are always easy subjects. Meet Gracie and Sugar. The Ia’s viewfinder is teeny tiny, making it challenging to frame subjects. I thought I had my doggos centered in the frame, but they wound up noticeably left of center. That viewfinder is itty bitty, and it’s hard to frame accurately with it. I cropped the photo to fix that.

Gracie and Sugar

My car is another easy subject. Toyota Matrix owners all know it: it’s so easy to lose wheel covers on this car. That Schneider-Kreuznach lens delivers good color and sharpness.

Red Matrix

For my second roll of Fujicolor 200 I stayed right in my yard. I didn’t have my car repainted — I bought a new one in blue. I’m a giant fan of Toyota Matrixes. And there’s Gracie just hanging out.

Front yard with dog

One challenge I always have with a manual-everything camera is remembering to set all the settings. On about half the photos on this roll I forgot to focus. D’oh! I remembered to focus this shot, where the lens was as wide open as the light would allow it to be so I could get a blurred background.

Matrix tail

This shot of the back of my house shows the resolution and detail this Schneider-Kreuznach lens delivers.

Deck

We’ll wrap this slideshow with a photo of my pal Gracie. The house across the street had been abandoned for a few months when I made this; gotta remember to choose my backgrounds better.

Gracie

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

The results I got from this Retina Ia helped me see why the Retina line remains well respected among collectors today. But its tiny viewfinder and lack of focusing and exposure assistance helped me see why collectors prefer Retinas II and III.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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18 thoughts on “Kodak Retina Ia

    • This is a rerun of one of my oldest reviews, first published in 2008. I’ve removed the original review from being searchable and redirected that URL here, trying to bump this review up in the rankings. Plus, in 2008 I had a fraction of the readers I do now, so this is new to most people currently following this blog!

  1. I still have my Retina. Someplace. Don’t ask me where it is. I just know it’s still here because I got it from my father-in-law after I moved here. Before that I had a Retinette, which is a low-end version of a Retina.

  2. Andy Umbo says:

    I love folders of all types, but unfortunately only one flaw, the bellows… I remember getting some 120 folders fixed when I was living in Chicago in the late 80’s, pin-holed bellows, and the replacement bellows were an “off-the-shelf” item for the repair shop! 35 years ago…not so much any more….

    • I’ve owned a number of folding Retinas over the years and have experienced no light leaks. Perhaps these bellows are unusually sturdy!

      Other folders are not so fortunate. I generally temporarily fix pinholes with black fabric paint — it lasts for a while but not forever. The number of repairers who replace bellows, you can probably count on one hand, and none of them are young.

  3. Paul says:

    Hi Jim, I agree with your thoughts about the tiny viewfinders on the earlier Retinas. Very hit and miss, especially for spectacle wearers. I got a Kodak Retina Sports Finder to clip in the accessory shoe and it dramatically improves the view. It also makes the camera less portable of course… Or the Voigtlander Kontur finder achieves the same thing, if you like to keep both eyes open!

  4. Keith Walker says:

    I have 2 Retinas and a Retinette
    They are a Retina Type 119 (1936 – 38) , a Retina IIc TYpe 020 (1957) NS Retinette Typo 017 (1962 – 64) all in working order, the IIc is immaculate – like new!

  5. What a beautiful little camera, and what fine craftsmanship. The viewfinder on that model certainly is tiny.

    I also admire the tiny little Xenar lens. It is impressive that Xenar, Tessar, Color-Skopar, and other Tessar-type 4-element lenses cover the 35mm frame and are so amazingly good optically at ƒ/4 or ƒ/5.6 and smaller. The newest super-corrected “for digital” 50mm lenses weigh a bunch and need 72mm or even 82 mm lenses. Are you really going to take that chunk around with you on an outing? You’ll buy 72mm filters? Maybe for the pixel-peeper or brick wall photographer crowd…..

  6. I must take mine out for a run – it has an aftermarket rangefinder which slips into the accessory shoe which I have carefully recalibrated. I am impressed with these images!

  7. I acquired an 1a Type 015 yesterday. I also own a 119 from around 1936-ish. I have to still put film through the 1a but I am sure it will be interesting, whatever the outcome. I really love shooting the 119. As a pro photographer by day, the lack of absolute control is so liberating when shooting these! The 1a at least winds the film along with cocking the shutter. I made so may double exposures with the 119!

    • I sold my Ia on a few years ago. I also sold my IIa, and I regret that. Its larger viewfinder and its rangefinder make it a really pleasant little camera.

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