Camera Reviews

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

From the 1980s to the early 2000s, camera manufacturers manufactured as many compact point-and-shoot cameras as stars in the sky. Or so it seems. eBay lists billions and billions of them at any moment, at any rate. So many of them are crap, making it a crapshoot to find the good ones. So many are wildly overpriced. A tip: Pentax’s compacts in the IQZoom and Espio series are usually good, sometimes great — and are bargain priced. Like this one, the Pentax IQZoom 170SL.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

The IQZoom 170SL is small: just 4.5×2.25×2 inches. But it packs a long lens, a 38-170mm f/5.6-12.8 SMC Pentax Zoom, of 8 elements in 6 groups. Did you catch that? SMC! Super Multi Coated! Just like all the great Pentax SLR lenses. Not all IQZoom/Espio cameras come so equipped. If you don’t see SMC on an IQZoom’s lens bezel, it doesn’t have an SMC lens.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

The 170SL’s electronic shutter operates from 1/360 to 2 sec. It reads the film canister’s DX code to set ISO from 25 to 3200. Avoid non-DX coded films, as the camera defaults to a not-useful ISO 25. It focuses automatically, using a phase-matching five-point system. At the lens’s wide end it focuses from 2.45 feet; at maximum zoom from 3.9 feet. It sets exposure automatically.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

The buttons atop the camera control its functions. One is for flash and shutter modes. When you turn the camera on, it uses flash when low light demands it, unless you turn flash off with this button. It also lets you force flash on and choose long shutter speeds, including bulb mode.

The middle button controls the autofocus, including infinity focus lock and spot focus. The next button turns on the self-timer and a wireless remote shutter control. My 170SL didn’t come with the remote, so I couldn’t try it. The right button sets the camera’s date and time. Some 170SLs don’t have this button, apparently. If you set a date and time, it imprints onto the negative.

The viewfinder offers diopter adjustment, a very nice touch. Move the slider on top of the viewfinder pod until the view is crisp.

The camera loads your film, winds, and rewinds automatically. You load the film upside down from the right side, which is a little odd. A single CR2 battery powers all.

This was an expensive camera: $433 when new. You could get a Pentax 35mm SLR kit for about that then!

If you like point-and-shoot 35mm cameras, check out my reviews of the Yashica T2 (here), the Pentax IQZoom EZY (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), the Olympus Stylus (here), the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here), the Olympus mju Zoom 140 (here), and the Kodak VR35 K40 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I put a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 into the 170SL and took it to downtown Zionsville one evening. Most places were closed thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown, so we had Main Street largely to ourselves. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll.

T-shirt in the shop window

The IQZoom 170SL was an easy companion on this walk. It is very light but feels solid. Every control fell right to hand. It took me no time at all to blow through all 24 exposures on the roll.

Window

The zoom worked smoothly but a little slowly, with a soft whirr. Winding was similarly quiet. I’m impressed with how the autoexposure system navigated mixed lighting.

Curbside carryout

I’m impressed with the sharpness and bold color I got. This camera made Fuji 400 look better than I’ve ever seen it.

Bus by the salon

Next to the viewfinder are green and red lights. The green light glows when autofocus has a lock. The red light blinks when flash is charging and glows steady when flash is ready. In this fading light the flash fired a lot. I knew when I photographed this sign the flash would reflect. So I turned flash off and the long-exposure mode on and shot it again. That shot turned out soft.

Harold's, flash
Harold's, no flash

In dim corners the 170SL gave surprisingly shallow depth of field.

Pink posies

That roll flew by so fast I barely got a feel for the camera. So I loaded some Fujicolor 200 and took the camera on a lunchtime walk through the shopping centers near my home. I was glad for a bright day, as full sun is so often a challenge for point-and-shoot cameras. Not so the 170SL. Just look at that color!

America's diner

I detect a whiff of pincushion distortion here, but overall I find this lens to suffer little from distortion. Again: just look at that color!

Old Navy

I find yellows commonly wash out on consumer color films, but the 170SL brought it in, big and bold, every time. This photo shows a little vignetting which I suppose is to be expected from a compact zoom camera.

We're open

The 170SL even rendered black impressively deep and true.

One way

I forgot to mention earlier that the 170SL has a panorama mode. A switch on the bottom moves masks in place over the film and in the viewfinder.

Panorama

That scene was too far away, so I zoomed in to the max and shot again. At 170mm it’s hard to hold the lens steady.

Close-up panorama

I did manage one decent 170mm shot. For this one, I stood square, breathed steadily, and squeezed the shutter button slowly. It’s still soft, but not due to shake this time. That’s just how maximum zoom goes on these point-and-shoot cameras, in my experience.

Bell de tacos

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Pentax IQZoom 170SL gallery.

I’m impressed with the Pentax IQZoom 170SL. Actually I’m blown away by the bold, rich color I got on everyday color film. I plan to put a couple rolls of black-and-white film through this camera to see how they perform. If they wow me as much as these color rolls did, I might just have a keeper!

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Kodak Retina Reflex III

From the 1930s through the 1950s, the finest 35mm cameras had built-in rangefinders to take the guesswork out of focusing. But during the 1950s, manufacturers began to introduce 35mm single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras. The Germans built leaf-shutter SLRs, including Kodak with its 1953 Retina Reflex. Kodak kept improving that basic camera over the next 14 years before getting out of the SLR business. The 1960-64 Kodak Retina Reflex III was the third, and next to last, of the line.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

The Reflex III, which the Retina cognoscenti also know as the Type 041, came with one of several 50mm lenses. Mine features the f/1.9 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens, which focuses to 3 feet. This is an interchangeable lens camera; twist counterclockwise and the lens comes right off. Eight different Schneider-Kreuznach lenses were available, ranging from 28mm to 200mm. Six different Rodenstock lenses were also available, ranging from 30mm to 135mm.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

All Reflex IIIs use a Synchro-Compur shutter that operates from 1 to 1/500 sec. That’s pretty speedy for a leaf shutter. It syncs to flashes via a cable, either M or X sync.

The Reflex III lets you set film ASA from a surprisingly slow 5 ASA to a surprisingly fast 1600 ASA. To set ASA, push up the little thumb lever on the camera back below the ASA/DIN dial that’s on top of the camera, and then turn the knurled setting wheel on the bottom of the aperture/shutter-speed rings until the arrow points to the ASA you want.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

The top plate is remarkably free of controls beyond that ASA setting and a film type reminder on the rewind knob. The shutter button is on the camera’s front. The winder and film counter are on the bottom.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

It’s not obvious how you use this camera, so let me share what I’ve learned. Before you take the first picture, set the film counter. Don’t forget, because when it counts down to zero, the shutter won’t fire. There’s a little slide control near the winder; push it repeatedly in the direction of the arrow until it shows the number of frames on your roll.

To open the camera to load film, twist the control around the tripod socket clockwise to reveal a little chrome button. Push it and the back pops open.

The winder is on the bottom, too. Winding the film cocks the shutter. To rewind, press the little button that’s in the crook of the winder arm and twist the rewind knob on the top plate.

To set exposure, first choose the shutter speed you want by turning the shutter-speed ring on the lens barrel. Then turn the knurled setting wheel until the aperture you want lines up with the shutter speed. If you then change the shutter speed the aperture changes with it, maintaining the chosen exposure. For example, if you set 1/60 sec. at f/8, then turn the shutter-speed ring to 1/125 sec., the aperture shifts to f/5.6. As you do this, two red pips on the focus scale move to show you the depth of field you will get. It’s a neat little system, really.

There’s one last way this camera doesn’t follow the modern SLR idiom. The mirror doesn’t return after you fire the shutter, leaving the viewfinder black. The mirror returns only when you wind to the next frame.

This complex machine is also “whoa, that’s heavy” heavy. It was also startlingly expensive in its day: $248.50 USD, which is equivalent to more than $2,000 today.

You’ll find Retina Reflex IIIs with two different meters on its face, one slightly smaller than the other. The smaller one is on Reflex IIIs from before 1962. Mine has the larger meter. Both meters were made by Gossen, and if you look carefully at the plastic cover you can see Gossen’s name in it.

If you like Kodak Retinas, by the way, I’ve reviewed several: a Ia (here), a IIa (here), a IIc (here), and a Reflex IV (here). I’ve also reviewed a Retinette IA (here) and a Retinette II (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Arista EDU 200 into the Retina Reflex III and started shooting. (I developed the roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.) For the majority of shots I left the shutter speed at 1/250 and used Sunny 16 to guess aperture. For the rest I set exposure based on what my phone’s light-meter app reported.

Stained glass

My Retina Reflex III was well used by its original owner, who was my sister-in-law’s father. It came to me with several issues. The ASA setting mechanism on my Retina III may be broken — turning the knurled knob moves both the scale and the selector, at different rates. But the meter is dead in mine, too, rendering that problem moot.

Fence

The coupled aperture-shutter speed setting doesn’t work properly on this camera, either. If I choose 1/500 sec. at f/1.9, and then twist the shutter-speed ring until I reach the minimum aperture of f/22, and then twist the shutter-speed ring back until the aperture is f/1.9 again, my shutter speed is only 1/125 sec. It should go right back to 1/500.

Suburbia

Sometimes after shooting and winding, the aperture blades closed all the way, blocking the viewfinder. I found that releasing the winding lever very slowly often prevented this. When it didn’t, I had no choice but to fire the shutter and wind again. Toward the end of the roll I realized that the camera was probably still making an exposure, so I tried just pointing the camera toward a subject to see what turned out. This is one of those photos.

Entrance

Finally, the focusing ring is stiff, so stiff that I had to be careful in twisting it not to twist the lens off the camera. Focusing was slow going. Of all of this camera’s faults, this is the only one that tried my patience.

Hoop

But after I did the hokey-pokey to set exposure and focus, the Schneider-Kreuznach lens went to work and delivered well.

VW and license plate

I shouldn’t be surprised; I’ve yet to meet a Schneider-Kreuznach lens I didn’t like. Unfortunately, shooting this camera was more frustrating than rewarding.

Tree shadow

See more from this camera in my Kodak Retina Reflex III gallery.

During the 1960s, rangefinder cameras declined sharply in popularity as the SLR took over. The Japanese found the right formula, starting with focal-plane shutters to open up top speeds of 1/1,000, 1/2,000, and even 1/8,000 sec. Their cameras were generally lighter and less complex. They were easier to use and felt good in the hand. Kodak decided not to change with the times, instead exiting the SLR business with the last Retina Reflex IVs in 1967. Kodak leaned hard into its Instamatic cameras and didn’t look back.

I’m not looking back at this Kodak Retina Reflex III, either. It simply has too many issues. But I’m sure that when it was new, once its original owner got the hang of it, he made scads of lovely images with it.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition

The Eastman Kodak Company turned 50 in 1930, if you measure it by the year that George Eastman first rented space in Rochester, New York, to make photographic dry plates. The name Kodak wasn’t coined until 1888, when the first Kodak camera was introduced. The company wouldn’t be named the Eastman Kodak Company until 1892. But as Eastman Kodak was counting it, 1930 was the golden anniversary. The company celebrated it by reintroducing a popular box camera first built in 1913, the No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C — the 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

They covered the camera in brown leatherette, trimmed it in goldtone, and affixed a golden sticker to the side proclaiming the 50th Anniversary of Kodak. (On mine, if not on most, the gold sticker has faded to silver.) The company manufactured more than a half million of them just to give them all away to children who turned 12 that year. Through this anniversary giveaway, Eastman Kodak wanted to encourage a whole new generation to embrace photography.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

This camera is a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, from the same retired pro who sent me the black No. 2 Hawk-Eye I reviewed recently. It is in good condition. The viewfinder is dim, but that’s par for the course. I swabbed it with isopropyl alcohol, which cleaned it up nicely. But it’s still a small viewfinder and challenging to compose in. There’s no landscape viewfinder, either, and if you try turning the camera on its side to compose landscape the camera rewards you by turning the image upside down.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

Because Kodak made so many of these, they’re inexpensive and easy to find. The portrait viewfinder does limit the camera’s usefulness, however.

If you like box cameras, I’ve reviewed a bunch: the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), the Ansco Shur Shot (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie in both Model D (here) and Model F (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). Or see all of my camera reviews here.

I put some Kodak T-Max 100 into this box Hawk-Eye and took it on a lunchtime walk around the neighborhood. I developed the roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.

Welcome to Zionsville

The images are all a little soft, but contrast is much improved over the black No. 2 Hawk-Eye I also have. It’s not impossible that I underdeveloped the roll from that camera.

Farmhouse steps

The shutter lever doesn’t stick very far out from the body on this camera, which I’m sure is a manufacturing fault and not the norm. It wasn’t a giant deal, but a couple times after composing my thumb couldn’t find the shutter lever and I had to turn the camera to locate it and then recompose.

Est. 1851

It’s always remarkable to me how capable a simple meniscus lens like the one in this No. 2 Hawk-Eye can be. You just have to make sure you’re standing at least six feet away from your subject, as that’s as close as these lenses usually can focus.

Ped Xing

I found the portrait-only viewfinder to be too limiting as I looked for subjects. A landscape-only viewfinder would have been less limiting for me.

CVS/pharmacy

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak Edition gallery.

It was fun to experience this Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition. But because of its portrait-only viewfinder I’m unlikely to use it again. My two Kodak No. 2 Brownies (Model D and Model F) function essentially the same, but are more versatile because they offer both portrait and landscape viewfinders.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Pentax ME Super

I reach for my Pentax ME all the time because it’s small (for a 35mm SLR), light, and easy to use. It is an aperture-priority camera, meaning that after you set the aperture, the camera reads the light and sets the shutter speed. I recommend the ME because they are inexpensive and fun to use. If you want that but you simply must have full control over exposure, then the 1979-84 Pentax ME Super is for you.

Pentax ME Super

Its electronically controlled shutter operates from 4 to 1/2000 sec. — different from the ME’s 8 to 1/1000 sec. shutter. Also, if you use flash it syncs at 1/125 sec., rather than the ME’s 1/100 sec. But under use, these cameras feel and work much the same. In Auto mode, look through the viewfinder and twist the aperture ring. A dot glows next to the shutter speed the camera chooses. The dot is green-yellow at 1/60 sec. and above. It’s orange-yellow below 1/60 to caution you of shake if you’re holding the camera in your hands.

Pentax ME Super

There’s just one quirk to setting shutter speed, though. There’s no dial or ring. Instead, put it in manual mode by twisting the dial atop the camera to M. Then press the two black buttons to change the shutter speed. The viewfinder helps you get a good exposure. A red light blinks rapidly next to OVER or UNDER until you choose an aperture and shutter speed that gives good exposure. It works more intuitively in practice than that sounds like.

Pentax ME Super

That’s a good thing, because this Pentax ME Super has a fault in Auto mode: the mirror doesn’t return. The mirror returns properly in manual mode, so that’s how I shot it.

If you like compact SLRs, also see my review of the original Pentax ME (here), the Olympus OM-1 (here) and the Nikon FA (here). If you like Pentax SLRs, see my review of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), and the H3 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I shot my test roll while we were all hunkered down at home thanks to COVID-19. Knowing I’d want to shoot some things indoors handheld, I loaded speedy Kodak T-Max 400 into the ME Super. I developed it in Rodinal 1+50. This is a mug our son often uses for his tea.

Red cup

Our dishwasher is on the fritz, so we handwash our dishes and leave them to dry. The kitchen window is nearby, providing plenty of light.

Drying

I took the ME Super on photo walks around the neighborhood, as well. This SLR is so light that I hardly noticed it hanging over my shoulder.

Curves and lines

The mirror slap jars the camera a tiny bit. The ME Super supposedly has a mirror dampening mechanism that the ME lacked. But I was surprised to feel the camera move in my hands each time I fired the shutter. My ME doesn’t do that.

Callery pear by the fence

I adapted quickly to the ME Super’s manual mode. By the end of the roll, my fingers were finding the two buttons with my camera still at my eye.

Tulips

The ME Super offers everything I love about the original ME plus that manual mode. But I’d hardly use manual mode (if this ME Super’s Auto mode were working). I prefer aperture-priority shooting and use it nearly exclusively on every SLR I own that is so equipped.

Zionsville

If my ME disappeared, however, I could just pick up this ME Super and keep right on trucking. After a CLA and a repair of Auto mode, that is. I might even use the manual mode once in a blue moon.

At Iron's Cemetery

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ME Super gallery.

It’s hard for me to be objective about the Pentax ME Super because I’ve used and loved its predecessor, the Pentax ME, for years. If you like the ME, you’ll like the ME Super, and vice versa. If you’ve never used either and you are at all curious, hie thee to eBay where bodies can regularly be had for chicken feed.

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Polaroid SX-70

Power lines

From the time I was a small boy, I wanted a Polaroid SX-70 camera. I was five in 1972, when the SX-70 was introduced. When I saw the camera on TV I was excited to watch it be opened: from folded flat, pull up on the viewfinder and the whole camera pops up. Wow! And then I watched it in use: press the button, and the camera ejects a photograph that develops before your eyes. Unbelievable!

Polaroid SX-70

My family could never afford a camera that cost more than a thousand dollars in today’s money. I began collecting cameras at age eight, my SX-70 fascination no doubt partially responsible. But I wouldn’t find an SX-70 I was willing to afford until 2013, when I walked into an antique store in Kirklin, Indiana, which had one that I purchased for just $40. I bought some Impossible Project Color Protection PX-70 film and took the camera for a walk.

Cars on the Street

I liked using the camera. But I was surprised and disappointed that, after all these years of pining after it, I did not love it. I was frustrated with the viewfinder, which demanded I peer through it at just the right angle to see the whole scene I was trying to frame. And the film … meh. The photo above was the most colorful of the lot. The rest were muted; all were muddy and soft and had that weird light streak down the middle.

Those film packs were expensive at $25; there was no way I’d lay out that kind of money for results like these again. I decided that I’d hang onto the SX-70 as a collectible.

Then a couple years ago I started Operation Thin the Herd. I had become more a photographer than a collector, and I owned more cameras than I could reasonably store in my home. It was time for cameras I would not enjoy frequently to find new homes. I knew some cameras I wouldn’t keep and some I would. But there were about 40 cameras I wasn’t sure about. So I started putting film through them and writing about the experience here, in posts just like this one.

You might think I finished the project because after an 18-month flurry of posts, it’s been ten months since I’ve published one. Actually, I’ve been delaying on a few cameras, and the SX-70 is on that short list. I love the idea of them, I love the looks of them. Yet I’m pretty sure I won’t like using them. I’m not ready to part with them.

Recently I saw some excellent images Gerald Greenwood was getting from his SX-70. He used a new black-and-white film from the company formerly known as the Impossible Project but now known simply as Polaroid. Go see on his blog here and here and here. His images compelled me to try again.

Wheel and rock

I bought two packs of film: Polaroid B&W SX-70 Film and Polaroid Color SX-70 Film. I waited for a very sunny day, as these films need lots of good light. I used the B&W film first. We were under stay-at-home orders thanks to COVID-19, so I shot the entire pack in one day on walks around the neighborhood.

Lowe's, reflected

The camera’s lens is surprisingly wide — it felt like 35mm, maybe 28mm, does on a 35mm camera. But it focuses surprisingly closely. I was curious how this film would render my wife’s stunning gray hair, and I was able to move to within a few inches. It’s too bad the image suffers from camera shake. Also, I had Margaret’s head centered in the viewfinder, so I’m not sure why her head is so low in the frame. The SX-70 is an SLR; what you see in the viewfinder is supposed to be what you get.

Gray hair

Speaking of the viewfinder, I’m not sure what was different this time but I had far less trouble with it. I figured out on the first frame that the trick is hold your eye back from the viewfinder a little bit. You still have to look straight on at it, and it’s easy to get that angle wrong. But I still had far better luck with it this time.

I had a great time shooting this pack of film! And I like the film, which surprises me. I strongly prefer a classic black-and-white look, like Kodak Tri-X, and this ain’t that. It tends to blank out the sky in a milky yellow. It’s not actually sharp. But something about it compels me to explore and find the subjects that make it sing.

The new Polaroid films have come a long way since The Impossible Project days, but they still have their quirks. They remain sensitive to light after the camera ejects them, especially so in the first several seconds. I bought and installed Polaroid’s black plastic shield to cover the photograph as it ejects, to keep it from being spoiled. I brought the film box with me to store the prints as I walked.

On the next full-sun day I shot a pack of Polaroid Color SX-70 film. I expected not to like after my experience with the Color Protection film. But I gave it a fair shake as I walked around my suburban neighborhood and its nearby strip malls looking for colorful subjects. I like this photo best. I love how the SX-70’s wide lens let me bring the whole sign close in the frame while still pulling in some background. The film got the sign’s yellow color right, and I enjoy how it rendered the background so dreamlike.

No Outlet

It was a stroke of good luck to come upon this red fire hydrant in front of this deep blue storefront. Framing this scene with its straight lines highlighted the SX-70 viewfinder’s inherent barrel distortion. The colors were much bolder in real life. I’m not sure how the SX-70’s autoexposure system chooses when to give deep vs. shallow depth of field, but I’m glad it went for deep here.

Red, White, and Blue

I wanted to see how close I could get to a subject with the SX-70, and I wanted to see how the Color SX-70 Film rendered purple. I got to do both with some little purple blooms I found where our driveway meets our house. Again what I saw in the viewfinder doesn’t match this frame — I put the flower a little higher and a little more to the right. Also, these flowers are a much deeper purple in real life. The film also rendered my concrete driveway with a mild pink hue. Even in blazingly bright sun, up close the SX-70 and this film give a lot of blurred background. The SX-70’s 116mm lens starts at f/8 (and goes to f/22), an aperture I don’t normally associate with shallow depth of field. But that’s my 35mm film bias showing.

Purple flowers

This film is leagues better than the Color Protection film I tried several years ago. But it’s just not as good as the old Polaroid films in terms of color accuracy and sharpness. Here’s the only print I own made on original Polaroid color film. I made it in 1985 in a Polaroid photo booth, the only one I’ve ever seen. That’s me on the bottom with a couple of buddies. Check out that accurate color and excellent sharpness! The print still looks as fresh as new after all these years.

This isn’t entirely a fair comparison as I don’t know what kind of Polaroid film this was (though it shares an SX-70 print’s aspect ratio), and it wasn’t shot in an SX-70 camera. But this print is typical of the Polaroid prints you could get from Polaroid’s best cameras, ones with glass lenses like the SX-70.

If you liked these images, by the way, see more in my Polaroid SX-70 gallery.

I am so pleased that I had such a good experience with my Polaroid SX-70 this time — I had fun using it. And I’m still in love with this camera’s design.

I’m not in love with the color film, but I am impressed with how much better it is than the old Impossible Project film. I do, however, want to explore the possibilities of the interesting black-and-white film and will buy more. It’s still wicked expensive at $25 a pack — each time you press the button, you spend more than $3. So this will be more a once-a-year treat than an everyday thing.

I’m sure you won’t be even slightly surprised by my decision on this camera.

Verdict: Keep

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Camera Reviews

Another Kodak Retina IIa

I gave my first Kodak Retina IIa away as I tried to thin my herd of cameras to just those I’d use a lot. I liked my IIa fine. But at the time I thought I liked my Retina IIc a little better, and that’s the Retina I kept.

Later, some remorse crept in. Then a reader offered to send me a Retina IIa he’d come upon but did not need. Oooh yeah baby. Here it is.

Kodak Retina IIa

My first Retina IIa was an early one, because it had a Compur Rapid shutter. Those were made only in the first three months of this camera’s run, starting in 1951. This one has the more common Synchro Compur shutter of later IIas. Kodak stopped making the Retina IIa in 1954. The serial number on this one identifies it as from late in the run, April, 1954. Even though its focusing scale is in feet, the serial number doesn’t identify it as a US export camera. It was probably sold in a military PX overseas.

Kodak Retina IIa

This one got some heavy use. Some of the exposed metal on the body is a little chewed up. The winder feels like grinding sand, and at the end of the throw you have to push it a little extra to fully wind and cock the shutter. The focusing ring is stiff, and there’s a spot where it catches and you have to push a little harder to get it through. The rangefinder patch is dim. A good CLA should restore it to full functioning, but some of the cosmetic damage is probably permanent.

Kodak Retina IIa

This IIa comes with the 50mm f/2 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens. I hear you could get a IIa with a 50mm f/2 Rodenstock Retina-Heligon lens, but I’ve never seen one. The lens stops down to f/16. The Synchro-Compur shutter operates from 1 to 1/500 second. I do like shutters with 1/500 because then I can shoot ISO 400 films in them more easily.

The raised button on the bottom plate opens the camera. To close it, first focus the lens to infinity — the camera won’t close unless you do this. Then press in the chrome and black buttons on the top and bottom of the lens board, and push the cover closed.

When you load film, twist the knurled ring atop the winding lever to set the film counter to the number of exposures on your roll. If you forget, and the counter reaches zero before you’ve finished the roll, the shutter won’t fire. If that happens to you, just twist the ring to a nonzero number and keep going.

If you like Kodak Retinas, by the way, I’ve reviewed a bunch of ’em: the Retina Ia (here), the Retinette IA (here), the Retina IIc (here), the Retinette II (here), the Retina Automatic III (here), and the Retina Reflex IV (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I was delighted to get this camera. But when I pushed a roll of Fujicolor 200 through it, I didn’t fall in love. I know what a joy a well-functioning Retina is to use, and this IIa’s balky winder and sticky focusing ring held the joy at bay.

I took this Retina IIa to Carmel, a northern suburb of Indianapolis, on a day off from work two weeks before the coronavirus confined us all to our homes. Statues like these are all over Carmel’s downtown — and they’re just weird. This is the least weird one. It made my favorite photo on the roll.

Sculpture

Later, the images came back from the processor — and each one was thick with fog and haze. I hung my head. I know that when I get an old fixed-lens camera of unknown provenance, I need to inspect the lens before putting film into it. Half the time the lens is dirty. A quick swab with isopropyl alcohol clears everything up and I avoid hazy photos. I know this. I KNOW THIS. Yet I fail to do it nearly every time, and half the time I get haze.

Bub's

Thankfully, Photoshop made most of the images useful. It cleaned up this photo of Bub’s perfectly. If you’re ever in Carmel, do get a cheeseburger at Bub’s. They’re mighty good. There’s a Bub’s in Zionsville, where I live, too.

Downtown Carmel

Many of the photos still show some residual haze. Oh well. I’ve done the best I can with them.

Greenway

I remember shooting my first Retina, a Ia, in 2008. I really stumbled and bumbled my way through those first couple of rolls. I’ve gained a lot of experience with old gear since then. It’s nice to be able to pick up a camera like this now and be able to just get to work with it. I metered with an app on my iPhone. I shot the whole roll at 1/250 or 1/500 sec. because you never know about an old shutter’s slower speeds.

Downtown Carmel

I made a day out of shooting this Retina IIa (and a Pentax Spotmatic F I also had along). I had lunch at an Irish pub on Main Street and then drove over to Broad Ripple in Indianapolis for more shooting.

Broad Ripple

By this time I was used to this particular Retina’s quirks and shot it fluidly. Even a battle-weary Retina can be a pleasant enough companion.

Monon bridge

I revisited subjects I’ve shot many times, including the Monon bridge and this periwinkle storefront. There’s something comforting about returning to familiar subjects.

Periwinkle

I finished the roll in my neighborhood.

Free throw

This was the only (partly) sunny moment any of the times I had the Retina on my hands. I love how the fence fades off into the distance.

Foreshortened fence

See more from this roll — heck, see everything I’ve ever shot with any Kodak Retina IIa — in my Kodak Retina IIa gallery.

It’s been a long time since I used a Retina IIa, and I forgot the one thing about the camera I dislike: rewinding. The knob is short and hard to grasp, and the accessory shoe gets in the way as you twist it. Rewinding is a long session of short twists. You also have to press and hold the recessed button on the bottom plate the whole time. Yecch.

I’m likely to pass this Retina IIa along to a collector who will give it the tender loving care it deserves. I don’t know that I’m the man for the job.

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