Kodak Retina IIc

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You have to wonder what the point of the Kodak Retina IIc was, given that it replaced the very similar Retina IIa in 1954. Both are German-made compact folding rangefinder cameras for 35mm film, with fixed 50mm lenses, leaf shutters, and fine lenses. The IIc differs from the IIa in several ways, but two stand right out. Its winder is on the bottom plate rather than the top. And its 50mm lens lets in less light, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 compared to the IIa’s f/2.

Kodak Retina IIc

But that front lens element interchanges. It just twists right off, and available 35 and 80mm front elements twist right in. Confusingly, some IIa bodies had Schneider-Kreuznach lenses while others had Rodenstock lenses. Schneider front elements wouldn’t mount on the Rodenstock rear elements and vice-versa.

That’s why the IIc existed: to move the Retina line toward being a system camera. Because what system camera doesn’t have interchangeable lenses? Retina accessories already existed out the wazoo: finders, meters, auxiliary lenses, lens hoods, flash holders, even stereo attachments.

Kodak Retina IIc

That’s not all that changed. The body was rounder. The front-cover latch moved to the edge where the cover opens. Its main shutter bearing and cocking rack might have been made more robust.

Kodak Retina IIc

The IIc also changed the way you set exposure from straight aperture and shutter-speed settings to exposure values (EVs). An EV number represents an exposure level. EV 15 is f/8 at 1/500 sec. — and f/11 at 1/250, f/16 at 1/125, and so on. And EV 14 lets in a “stop” more light than EV 15.

The IIc assumes you can convert light to EVs in your head, or you have a meter with an EV scale. Either way, you set EVs along the bottom of the IIc’s lens barrel. Pull down the metal lever and move it until it points to the right EV. You might have to adjust aperture or shutter speed to access some EVs. From there, turning the knurled dial moves the Retina through all the aperture/shutter-speed combinations that represent that exposure level so you can get the depth of field you want.

The meter app on my iPhone can output EVs, so I used this system. Except for the EV scale being awkwardly placed on the camera, it worked remarkably well. EV 13½? Click it into place and shoot. Nothing to it. On the other hand, the IIc’s EV system complicates setting aperture and shutter speed directly. So if you aren’t using EVs you will find this camera to be frustrating. Get a IIa.

Kodak Retina IIc

The IIc still has all the usual Retina quirks, chief among them being that you can’t close the cover until you set focus to infinity. After you’ve done that, to close the cover you press in the buttons on the top and bottom of the lens board simultaneously.

The other quirk is that the frame counter counts down, and when it reaches one, the Retina stops winding. So set that counter when you load the film! Or do what I did: forget to do it, shoot until you hit one, press the button next to the frame counter, and scoot the slider on the camera back repeatedly until you get enough frames to finish the roll. The winding tension at the end of the roll will tell you you’re done.

What’s not quirky is the shutter’s 1/500 sec. fastest speed. It makes the Retina IIc quite versatile. Someday I ought to drop in some fast film and shoot Sunny 16. But for my test roll I used good old Fujicolor 200.

Back yard log fence

I happily shot the rest of the roll, but when the film came back from the processor only the first frame, above, was exposed. Such a disappointment! I opened the camera back and fired the shutter at all speeds. I watched as it let in light every time. And the winder was clearly turning the takeup spool properly. The negatives showed no sign of sprocket-hole tearing. So I shrugged and loaded another roll of film, this time Kodak Gold 200. I blew through most of the roll in twenty minutes in my front garden.

Orange flower

I shot these around the 4th of July, when my flowers were really starting to go to town. Busy subjects like this one did tax my IIc’s rangefinder. I wish it were brigher; it might have been when it left the factory. But it’s also small. These conditions made it hard for my middle-aged eyes to focus on busy subjects.


It’s easy enough to focus when you back up and want lots of depth of field, however. My hosta were all in peak bloom when I shot this. I’m ambivalent toward hosta, but I have a lot of them in my yard because Verna, the woman who built this house, planted them.

Front yard

I took the IIc over to Juan Solomon Park to finish the roll. The city is replacing a bridge on one of the roads I take to get there.

Road closed

I’ve photographed this building on the park grounds many times because it is so handsome.

At Juan Solomon Park

This park has been a frequent subject because of its color and its varied shapes. This neighborhood is fortunate to have such a wonderful playground. It’s much nicer than the playground that was here when my sons were small and we used to visit all the time.


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

As you can see, the Retina IIc performed well on the second test roll. I did goof one thing up: I had my meter set on ISO 100 for this ISO 200 film. But fortunately Kodak Gold 200 has good exposure latitude. I adjusted exposure in Photoshop on several images to tame wild highlights and bring out best color, but every frame was usable as scanned.

The verdict: as long as you’re metering in EVs, the Kodak Retina IIc is a delightful camera.

To see the rest of my camera collection, click here
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A Kodak Retina IIc was donated to my collection last year. My longtime friend Alice’s dad was a serious amateur photographer who loved gear. But he hasn’t shot film in a long time, and was glad to hand over his entire collection to someone who would use and appreciate it; i.e., me.

I’ve shot a test roll through this IIc, but I’m not able to write a review of this camera just yet. I don’t know why, but only the first shot on the roll was exposed. Was the shutter malfunctioning? Did I do something wrong? It’s too bad, too, as I ordered prints with this roll. I almost never do that. In this case I wasted my money.

After the film came back from the processor I opened the camera and fired the shutter a bunch of times at various speeds. The shutter opened each time. So I have no idea why I got the results I did. I dropped in another roll of film and am trying again.


The vagaries of old cameras



Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1

I’ve had little time for blogging lately thanks not only to the bathroom remodel (see Friday’s post), but a hard drive crash. Thank goodness I have good backups! But the recovery road has been littered with setbacks and my main machine is still not fully back. What a mess. To give me some time back, I’m rerunning this post from March of 2011. I now own two of these vintage tripods.

Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1The more old cameras I buy, the more challenging it becomes to store and display them in my little house. Cameras line the mantle of my fireplace, fill a bookcase in my office, and occupy every unclaimed knick-knack-sized spot in my living room. The cameras I don’t have room to display I keep under my bed and in closets. And at the moment, my desk is cluttered with six cameras I bought recently but haven’t used yet.

So I’m ever looking for creative ways to cram in more cameras. I’ve been trolling eBay for reasonably priced vintage tripods, figuring I could could screw old cameras onto them and stand them in underused corners. I had been envisioning wooden tripods, but the first one I found at a nice price was this metal tripod in fine condition. Meet the Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1.

Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1

Collapsed, it measures 15½ inches long. Each leg contains three successively narrower sections and you can extend as many of them as you like. Fully extended, the legs are 48½ inches long. Of course, you have to spread the legs enough for the tripod to stand, so effective height is shorter by a few inches. I screwed my Kodak Junior Six-16 Series II to the tripod for this shot.

Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1

The tripod’s head is stamped with the dates of three patents, so I fired up Google Patent Search. It found two of the patents, one that appears to cover the head mechanism and one that describes the mechanism for extending, locking, and releasing the legs. Check out this page from the latter patent.

Here are some of the same details from my tripod.

Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1

Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1

Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1

Opening this tripod is simple – you unhook the leather strap that binds the legs together, and then just pull out the legs until the locking tabs snap into place. You can extend as many or as few of the four leg segments as you want. The legs are made of brass, with the first leg section painted black and the remaining sections plated in nickel. To close the tripod, on each leg you press in the top locking tab and push from the leg’s foot. The other locking tabs give way and the legs collapse in a jiffy. A metal guide is attached to one leg, and you lay other two legs’ feet into the guide’s slots. Then you wrap the leather strap around the legs and hook it closed.

Kodak sold this tripod for at least 26 years. Thanks to Google Books I easily found advertisements for this tripod (and its brothers, the No. 0 and the No. 2) from as early as 1911 (left, below) and as late as 1937 (right). Given that my Junior Six-16 Series II was made sometime from 1934 to 1936, it is contemporary to this tripod and makes a perfect display pair. My Kodak Six-20, which dates to 1932-1937, would also be a good match for this tripod.

I was fortunate that my tripod came with its original box.

Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1

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Kodak Retinette IA

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime. Here’s one of my oldest camera reviews, from 2008, when I was just learning photography.

I had so much fun taking photos with my Kodak Retina Ia that I figured this Retinette IA would be a hoot too. Boy, was I wrong.

Kodak Retinette 1A

I’m sure this Retinette was a very nice camera in its day. It cost $45, which was way more expensive than an average Brownie but probably quite a bargain for its fine German lens and brick-outhouse build quality. Retinette IAs come with three or four different shutters and two or three different lenses, but mine’s got a Pronto shutter and a 45mm Schneider-Kreuznach Reomar lens at f/2.8. That, and the fact that it has a cold (rather than a hot) accessory shoe, says it was made in 1962 or 1963.

Kodak Retinette 1A

I have written before about the perils of buying old cameras on eBay, and I learned as soon as I put my eye to the viewfinder that I fell into one of them with this camera. One of the pieces of glass inside the viewfinder had worked its way loose – maybe it happened in shipping, or maybe the seller just neglected to mention it in the listing. Whatever, the glass’s funky angle blurred the view – instant myopia! – making framing shots difficult.

I have written before about the perils of using a camera without reading the manual first. I took a bunch of shots before I realized that the camera’s focus scale is in meters, not feet. At least those shots looked exactly like they did through the viewfinder.

I have not written (but believe me, I have stories to tell) about the perils of old-camera mechanical problems related to age and disuse. I was able to shoot only 11 photos before the film jammed in the camera. I was able to rewind the film, and so I did, and so I called this experiment a failure.

The photos came back from the processor yesterday. Of the 11 I took, only five came out. Just one turned out to be worth sharing, but only after some digital processing to try to remedy underexposure. The processing gave it a bit of a grainy patina. You might guess I took this shot the day after Halloween. (If you’re really interested, click the photo below to see it, and the rest of the photos that turned out, in Flickr.)

Pumpkin trash

I chose to shoot with my Retinette IA this time because blogger Kristarella had so much good luck shooting with hers. Maybe she used up all the Retinette karma. Maybe I just had a bad few days with this camera. Either way, I’m glad I read her blog first or I would probably have succumbed to the same problem with the camera’s self-timer that she did. Anyway, this one’s back up on the shelf for now, awaiting the day I am up to fixing the viewfinder and winder. I should probably download a manual that day, too.

Feeling like I had fallen off my bicycle, however, I immediately got one of my old rangefinders off the shelf, a Minolta Hi-Matic 7, and loaded her with some Fujicolor 200. I had much better luck with her, and I’ll share those photos soon.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out all of my reviews!

Cameras, Photography

Kodak Retina Ia

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime. Here’s one of my oldest camera reviews, from when I was just learning photography.

One of the things I enjoy about collecting cameras is that good-condition examples of quality vintage glass and steel remain, and average people like me can afford to buy them.

However, I’m inclined to think that an excellent supply of Kodak Retina Ia cameras are available in top shape because of disuse. The Retina Ia offers no help to the photographer, who has to guess at the right aperture, distance, and shutter speed for each photo and hope for the best. Cameras that helped you with the settings were readily available, even within the Retina line — the Retina II series had a rangefinder, and the Retina III series had both rangefinder and light meter. I can hear the Retina Ia owner after running a couple rolls of film through: “Crimony. This guess-focus stuff is for the birds. Think I’m gonna buy a Retina IIa.”

Although Kodak’s mission was to crank out millions of inexpensive, low-quality cameras to make photography accessible to the masses, Kodak really invested in its Retina line when they introduced it in 1934. Made in Germany of German components, including excellent German lenses, the Retina was supposed to compete with, or at least carry some of the cachet of, the cream-of-the-crop Leicas and Voigtländers and Zeiss-Ikons. I don’t know whether Kodak hit those heights, but the Retina did become Kodak’s most celebrated camera.

The Retina Ia was made from 1951 to 1954. Mine comes with the Synchro-Compur shutter and a coated Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar f:3.5 50mm lens. When closed, you can put it in a coat pocket. Try that with an SLR! But be ready for your coat to hang funny, because this camera is heavy.

Kodak Retina Ia

A defining and endearing feature of the Retina through about 1959 is that they all folded open and closed. You can almost make out the bellows in the image below.

Kodak Retina Ia

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

Kodak Retina Ia

I ran a roll of film through my Retina Ia last weekend. I have little idea what I’m doing with f-stops and shutter speeds; most of my photographic experience has been behind a cheap point-and-shoot or my all-automatic Kodak Z730. But armed with the Sunny 16 rule, which says that on a bright, sunny day, set the camera to f/16 and the shutter to about the inverse of your film’s speed, I went out and snapped some photos. They turned out all right. I uploaded them to my Flickr space, but here are the images I liked best. This one is from the golf course behind my house. I stepped over my fence and right onto the golf path.

Golf path

This shot is from the cemetery behind my church, which was founded in 1839 on that patch of land.

North Liberty Christian Church Cemetery

My dogs are always easy subjects. This is Sugar, my 11-year-old Rottweiler, who’s been an outstanding dog. I was trying to center Sugar in the frame, and I had, as far as the viewfinder was concerned. It didn’t turn out that way. I can’t tell whether the shot suffered from parallax error or from the itty-bitty viewfinder’s vagaries. Whatever; I cropped it.


Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out all of my reviews!

Photography, Stories told

My first roll of film

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

When my grandmother gave me a quarter to buy the old Kodak Brownie Starmite II at a garage sale, I don’t think either of us could have predicted that it would spark a lifelong love of cameras, which would lead to a growing interest in photography when I reached middle age.

It was August of 1976. The nation had just turned 200, and I was about to turn nine. I saved my allowance to buy a roll of film. Money in hand, I went to Hook’s Dependable Drugs to buy some Kodacolor II. The instructions said to load the camera in subdued light. Taking it a little too far, I first tried to load the camera in my pitch dark closet, where I couldn’t see a thing. So I moved to the bathroom and loaded the camera by night light. And then I went out to shoot. I wrote about the experience here.

Not long ago I dug out my negatives from that first roll of film and scanned them on my new photo and film scanner. I was eager to see some of these images again for the first time in 36 years, for when I got the prints back from Hook’s later that August, I gave most of them away to the children I photographed.

As you might imagine, my photographic skills were terrible! Among my first subjects was our beagle, George. I still have this print, but poor George is just a dot on it as I stood way too far back. My scanner let me enlarge the image.


Neighborhood children were my subjects on most of the roll, however. These little girls are Muffy and Dawn, and they came to my back yard to be photographed.

Meredith and Dawn

I was so mad at my brother Rick for stabbing his rubber knife into the frame just as I clicked the shutter on Darin, who is Dawn’s older brother. This negative shows some signs of age and rough treatment.


This is another neighborhood Dawn, the younger sister of Mike. My brother and Mike have been friends for 40 years now. Sadly, Dawn passed away several years ago. This photo also features the side of our garage and a little bit of my finger in the bottom right corner.


One of the neighborhood girls was eager to try my camera, so I let her shoot me and another girl who I can’t identify. Perhaps if the camera had been held steadier I’d recognize her face!

Unidentified girl and me

Seeing these faces for the first time in 36 years was a delight. I wish I had shot more so I could have images of more of the many children in our neighborhood. Alas, we moved in October, and my next roll of film would be of children in our new neighborhood.

If you’d like to see all the images I scanned from this roll, click here to see the whole gallery.