It’s an odd duck, this German Kodak 35mm SLR from the mid 1960s. And it wasn’t fully functioning when I received it. But this Kodak Retina Reflex IV gave me some lovely images. See my updated review here.
Kodak Retina Reflex IV, Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar 50mm f/2.8
Kodak Tri-X 400
Lately I’ve lost touch with why I started shooting old film cameras in the first place: wondering what quality of images an old piece of gear could produce.
I’d never shot a Kodak Retina Reflex camera before and I got this one for a song. These leaf-shutter 35mm SLRs offered a limited set of interchangeable front lens elements to yield a few common focal lengths. It can be hard to find a Retina Reflex in good condition as the works are complex and, after 60+ years, failure prone. Mine wasn’t perfect, but it worked well enough.
I put a roll of Tri-X into it and blasted through it in an hour in my front yard. It was one of those charmed times with a camera, where I just got lost in the pleasure of shooting. None of my subjects was profound or memorable, but that 50mm Schneider-Kreuznach lens penetrated deep into the detail and made some wonderful images.
It doesn’t always go that way. Sometimes an old camera is just frustrating and returns crap images. This year I haven’t wanted to invest time and effort into a camera to get nothing usable back. That’s always the risk with an unknown old camera.
I have a handful of older cameras I haven’t shot yet. A few old boxes, an early Kodak Retinette, and an Argus Argoflex Forty are upstairs in a box under the bed, awaiting their turns. Here’s hoping I can make time for some of them yet this summer.
If you’d like to get more of my photography in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe.
Quirky. That’s how I’d best describe the Kodak Retina Reflex IV. Fortunately, it’s quirky in an endearing way.
Appearing near the end of the Retina line’s 35-year run, the Retina Reflex IV was manufactured from 1964 to 1966. It was the fourth and last Retina SLR model, but it shared its quirks with its predecessors. If you’re used to the modern SLR idiom, here’s how the Retina Reflexes differ:
- Most SLRs place the shutter button, wind lever, and film counter on the top. The Retina Reflex places them on the front, bottom, and bottom, respectively.
- You might look through the viewfinder, find it black, and think the camera is broken. On the contrary; just wind to the next frame, which raises the mirror so you can see through the viewfinder again.
- The Reflex uses a Synchro Compur leaf shutter (1-1/500 sec.), while most SLRs use some sort of vertical-plane shutter.
The Reflex uses a selenium light meter, coupled to a needle atop the camera and inside the viewfinder. You adjust exposure until the needle is horizontal. The Reflex’s aperture and shutter speed rings are coupled – turning one always turns the other. This lets you keep an exposure as you dial in deeper or shallower depth of field. So to set exposure, you turn the shutter speed ring until the speed you want lines up with the arrow. To set the aperture, you then turn the knurled wheel under the lens barrel.
Focusing works as on any other SLR: turn the focus ring until the image in the viewfinder is sharp. The viewfinder includes a split-image focusing aid for finer focusing control. It’s at a 45-degree angle, which I thought was a great idea. Most split-image lines are horizontal, meaning you have to turn the camera slightly to focus when the lines in your frame are horizontal. The Reflex eliminates that.
A small range of interchanging lenses was offered for the Reflex IV, all made by Schneider-Kreuznach. Mine came with the stock 50mm f/2.8.
The Retina Reflex IV cost $277 when it was new — that’s more than $2,300 in modern dollars! These are even a little expensive on the collector market, starting at about $100. I got mine for $45 on shopgoodwill.com, an auction site that offers many old-camera bargains from Goodwill stores nationwide. Buying there is always a crapshoot because the cameras are untested. I lost on this roll of the dice because my Reflex’s light meter barely registers light. The conventional wisdom is that Retina Reflexes are complex and a royal pain to fix. I don’t really like to fix old cameras anyway and will do only the simplest repairs and cleanings, so it’s good that everything else on my Reflex seemed to work all right.
If you like Kodak Retinas, by the way, also see my reviews of the Retina Ia (here), Retina IIa (here), Retina IIc (here), Retina Auomatic III (here), and Retinette IA (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I used an external light meter, dropped in some Kodak Tri-X 400, and got shooting. I blew the whole 24-exposure roll in about an hour in my yard after work one night. It had been a stressful day in the office, but shooting my Reflex melted the day’s weariness away. The sun was starting to set, so the light was delicious. One of the trees in my front yard sports these tiny leaves.
The lens is pretty sharp but I wish it were a little more contrasty. I finagled more contrast out of these shots in Photoshop.
About two-thirds of the way through the roll my brain failed me. I thought, “Hey, wait, I’m exposing these shots for ISO 400 film, but Tri-X is ISO 100!” So I set my meter for 100 and shot the rest of the roll. I was right in the first place – Tri-X is absolutely ISO 400 film. But when the images came back from the processor, everything I metered at 400 was slightly overexposed and everything I metered at 100 was spot on. My meter must be way off. Here’s one of those EI 100 shots.
Shooting into the sun is obviously more likely to give you flare, but I’ve done it before in this setting and got a lot less flare than I got in this shot. It makes me think the 50mm f/2.8 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina Xenar lens that came with my Reflex is just a little flare-prone. Or maybe it needed a cleaning.
I also had trouble getting focus right on a few shots. I was trying to focus on my dog, Gracie, but managed to make only the back wall crisp.
When this camera hit, however, it hit big. I just love the sensitive light play on this photo of the oak tree in my front yard.
See more photos from my home adventure in my Kodak Retina Reflex IV gallery.
I really lost myself in shooting my Reflex, which is always a great sign. Seriously, I never blow through 24 shots in an hour. But as you can see, I got mixed results. I’m sure that if I kept shooting this camera I’d figure out its exposure and focusing quirks and get consistently good results from it. But I’m unlikely to put film in this camera again, because when I want to shoot an SLR I have many other choices with easier usability, more accurate meters, and better glass.