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).
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.
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.
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.
This shot is from the cemetery behind my church, on this land since 1839.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This shot of the back of my house shows the resolution and detail this Schneider-Kreuznach lens delivers.
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.
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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