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.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Film Photography

Lessons learned in choosing photo labs

When I started making photographs again in 2005 I couldn’t afford a new digital camera, so long story short I bought a used Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 for $20 and some film and got to shooting. That necessarily meant I’d need to find a lab to process my film.

Walmart still processed and scanned color negative film, for about $6 I think. Money was tight for me then, but I could manage that price if I didn’t shoot too often. So that’s who I used.

I have lamented on this blog (here) the loss of easy, inexpensive film processing at drug and big-box stores. The by-mail labs I use now charge up to three times more than Walmart used to. But perhaps you get what you pay for.

I was looking back through old scans recently to update my review of the Kodak Retina Ia and was surprised and disappointed with the dull color. I didn’t see it then, as I had a lot to learn. I sure see it now. I don’t blame the camera — that Retina’s lens is crackerjack. I also shot Fujicolor 200, a film I know well. So I blame the processing and/or the scanning. I brought the scans into Photoshop hoping to improve them. I got better color at the cost of too much contrast, but I couldn’t tone that down without making the images too hazy.

Red Matrix
Gracie and Sugar

These aren’t bad images, but they could be better.

I did some quick checking of other images I had processed and scanned by Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and CVS, and think that I get noticeably better work from the by-mail labs I use now. The only in-store lab that did equal work was Costco.

In 2012 I bought a Retina IIa and put it through its paces with another roll of Fujicolor 200. I forget who I used to process and scan the film — probably Dwayne’s Photo or Old School Photo Lab. Can you see it like I do, how much more natural and nuanced the colors and contrast are in these?

Matrix
Planting petunias

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Camera Reviews

Kodak Retina IIa

Sometimes I wonder if the universe or fate or whatever is trying to tell me something. Within a few weeks, three camera collectors whose blogs I follow all wrote fawning praise for their Kodak Retina IIa and shared some great photographs from these 60-year-old cameras. I noticed how the IIa had not only a usable viewfinder, but also a rangefinder to take the guesswork out of focusing. And then I spotted the six-element 50 mm f/2 Schneider-Kreuznach lens – and I was a goner. I wanted one! Then one night while trolling eBay’s vintage cameras category, I found an incredible bargain on this IIa in good condition.

Kodak Retina IIa

Kodak made three different series of Retina IIa cameras before and after World War II. My IIa is from the last series, which the Retina cognoscenti call the Type 016. This series was produced from January 1951 through April 1954, but my IIa’s Compur-Rapid shutter dates it to the first three months of 1951. Kodak switched to Synchro-Compur shutters after that. Both shutters fired from 1/500 to 1 second.

Kodak Retina IIa

The Retina IIa has the usual Retina quirks. To fold the camera closed, you first have to set the focus to infinity and then squeeze the two buttons above and below the lens barrel while closing the door. The frame counter on the wind lever counts down – and when it reaches zero the film won’t advance anymore. If you haven’t shot the whole roll yet you can just reset the counter and keep shooting, but you have to know to do this.

Kodak Retina IIa

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 spooled some Fujicolor 200 into the IIa and relied on my vintage GE PR-1 exposure meter to read the light.

Matrix

I had much better luck with my IIa than I had with my Retinas of yore. That’s mostly because I’ve gained so much experience shooting with old cameras over the past four years. The park near my home, with its new playground, is becoming a favorite spot to practice.

Equipment

The IIa’s rangefinder is coupled to the viewfinder. The “spot” is small and dim, but not unusably so. The camera focuses to 2½ feet. I planted five flats of cheerful white petunias this year. Dang do I wish they were perennials.

Planting petunias

This men’s-room door is kind of a color stress test. It’s shockingly red. The IIa’s lens and the Fujicolor 200 rendered it almost painful to look at.

Red door

The Retina IIa is heavy (though not oppressively so) and small. I found myself carrying it with me everywhere. My parents visited for Memorial Day weekend, and I got this good photo of my dad as we all sat out on the deck one warm evening.

Dad

See my entire Kodak Retina IIa gallery here.

The Kodak Retina IIa is a winner. If you want to try a Retina and don’t know where to start, start here. It will either kindle a Retina lust of your own, or you will be so satisfied with it that you’ll never need to try another.

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