Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Kodak Retina Automatic III

Automatic exposure control on a Kodak Retina? You bet, and it was about time. Yet some of the Retina cognoscenti look down their snoots at these, the Retina Automatics. They decry the whole series as a cheapening of the line.

Kodak Retina Automatic III

Kodak produced Retina Automatics in its German factory from 1960 to 1963. The Automatic III, which debuted in early 1961, sat atop the line and featured a coupled rangefinder. It also packs a four-element 45mm f/2.8 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar lens set in a Compur leaf shutter that operates from 1/30 to 1/500 second. The Automatic II was largely the same but for lacking a rangefinder. The Automatic I was further decontented, stepping down to a lesser lens and shutter.

Kodak Retina Automatic III

Through the 1950s, photographers aspired to well-made rangefinder cameras. The Retina was Kodak’s entry into that competitive market. But by 1960 the 35mm SLR was supplanting the rangefinder camera atop the heap of aspiration. Kodak surely added automatic exposure to the Retina as a way to keep photographers buying just a little bit longer.

Kodak Retina Automatic III

The Automatics’ usage is a little wonky compared to the modern autoexposure standard, but I expect that 1961 buyers weren’t bothered as such things were yet far from settled. There is no in-viewfinder exposure display — it’s only on the top plate. Having to move the camera away from your eye to check aperture is a pain. Fortunately, the Automatics won’t let you fire the shutter when it can’t get good exposure at the selected shutter speed. So you only need to check the aperture when you’re concerned about depth of field. These are also shutter-priority cameras, which feels odd today when aperture-priority autoexposure clearly won that battle (but, of course, lost to programmed autoexposure).

If you don’t like messing with any of it you can set exposure the old-fashioned manual way — this is a fully mechanical camera, after all. Given that these all use selenium exposure meters (made by Gossen; look for the name embossed in the glass), your chance is better than even that the meter has given up anyway. When buying a camera with a selenium meter, look for one that’s always been stored in darkness or with its meter covered. It increases your chance of success. This Automatic III was so stored, and its meter reads accurately enough.

That said, when my test roll (Kodak Gold 200) came back from the processor I ended up reducing exposure in Photoshop by a half stop on most images, as super sunny summer days washed things out. I blame the blisteringly bright days because I shot two other rolls of color film in other cameras at about the same time and got similar results from all of them. Regardless, this was a perfectly pleasant and functional Retina.

On 116th St.

This camera’s design is common to German camera makers of the time, down to the giant, knurled shutter button perched aside the lens board. I haven’t enjoyed using those on other cameras for being awkward to reach and having too much travel, but this one was fine on both counts. It operated smoothly, too.

Under construction

Downtown Fishers, Indiana, is heavily under construction. I wonder if 20 years from now someone will come upon this post and be astonished by seeing these then-stalwart buildings unfinished.

Under construction

This was a perfectly delightful camera to take on a photo walk, even though I carried it in my hands the whole time. (I left the leatherette case, to which a strap is attached, at home. I find them to be cumbersome, and so use them only for storage.) And as downtown Fishers transforms from sleepy little village of single-story homes into a modern, dense city center, there’s always something new to see when a camera is in my hand.

Apartments

I’ve always lived in well-established cities with all of their problems. I admit to a little prejudice against shiny, new cities like Fishers, flush with tax revenue from its upper-middle-class residents. It’s easy to build to a grand vision with that kind of money. Given how many of those residents choke I-69 each morning on their drive to work in well-established Indianapolis, I wish some of their taxes went to restore the crumbling infrastructure of the city whose existence frankly allows Fishers to thrive.

Flowers

Oh! Sorry, this is a camera review, not a screed against wealthy suburbs. Let’s move from Fishers to my Indianapolis front yard and its blooming garden. My gardens are no longer blooming, so it’s nice to see this image from just a few weeks ago as blooms were still popping.

Coneflowers

Any Kodak Retina is a reasonable camera to use in this modern age simply because the lenses are so wonderful and the usage isn’t too complicated. One, maybe two test rolls are all you need to learn any Retina and then make great images forever.

Lilies

What it is about Retinas that make me want to use them to shoot family gatherings? For the most part I use only auto-everything cameras for such duties because they’re fast and easy to use. But every time I have film in a Retina I seem to get it out when the family is around. Someday I’m going to learn to choose slower shutter speeds and smaller apertures so I get enough depth of field to cover my focusing sins, as in this photo. There’s my wife Margaret and my son Garrett, who does not look rapt as Margaret weaves her tale.

Grilling out

I focused better for this photo. There’s my son Damion and my dad, who is taking his turn telling a story, as Margaret listens.

Grilling out

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

Just as I shook my fist at wealthy suburbs, I also shake my fist at anyone who looks down upon these autoexposure Retinas. They’re fine cameras. And they go for very little compared to the better-known folding Retinas. I got mine for under $40 shipped. A Retina Automatic is a fine way to dip your toes into the Retina waters. If you do, I wager you’ll like it and buy more Retinas.

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Photography

Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom

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Inexpensive cameras were crap during my 1970s kidhood and only slightly better during my 1980s teenagerhood. A basic new camera could be had for under $25, but most of them had limited utility and were cheaply made. A camera my dad gave me as a gift was typical, boasting a plastic lens and a camera-shaking stiff shutter. I recorded hundreds of childhood memories with it, but most of the prints are blurry.

By the mid 2000s you could get an entry-level digital camera for about the same money, adjusted for inflation, which works out to about a hundred bucks. And that’s what I paid for this Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom when I bought it as a gift for my youngest son.

Kodak EasyShare C613

This camera was introduced in 2007, the same year as the iPhone. That first iPhone’s camera couldn’t hold a candle to this Kodak, but as we all know smartphone cameras soon became good, even brilliant in some ways, and put an end to the entry-level digital camera. While there is no substitute for a wafer-thin camera that’s always with you and connects seamlessly to social media, I do regret the loss of Kodak’s digital camera business. You see, no other camera maker renders color as appealing as Kodak. Oh, I know appeal is subjective. Hang in there with me; photos from this camera follow. You’ll see.

Kodak EasyShare C613

On the surface there isn’t much to the C613. You get a few modes, 3x optical zoom, and built-in automatic flash. It’s meant not to confuse the casual snapshooter. That’s definitely what my youngest son was when I bought it for him. But it’s been a reliable performer all these years.

Kodak EasyShare C613

The 6-megapixel C613 packs a 36-108mm f/2.7-4.8 Kodak AF Optical Aspheric lens. (If you’re a Millennial or younger, you’re probably chuckling that this lens is Kodak AF.) Most users probably just left the C613 on Auto, but this camera also offers an image-stabilization mode, a macro mode, and a host of scene modes such as snow, beach, and sports. It also takes 640×480 QuickTime video. If you dig into the menu, you’ll find a surprising amount of control including the ability to set ISO (80, 100, 200, 400, 1250); adjust white balance; choose among multi-pattern, center-weighted, and spot metering; and choose multi- or center-zone autofocus. The C613 stores images on an SD card, but also offers limited built-in storage. Two AA batteries power it.

In 2009 I borrowed this camera from my son for a day. My church had a concert in its parking lot and I was on the crew. I wanted to photograph the event in spare moments, but my comparatively bulky Kodak Z730 wouldn’t fit into any of my pockets. My son’s svelte C613 did, though.

And then wow, did this little camera perform! It delivered excellent sharpness and candylike color. This is Nancy, who organized and hosted the event.

Praise and Music Festival

We rented this stage. The C613’s lens was probably at its widest angle, 36mm equivalent, which added good drama to my easy camera angle.

Praise and Music Festival

In spare moments I pretended to be a concert photographer, even though I’m sure I looked ridiculous with this little plastic camera. This bassist went along with the charade, deliberately posing for me as he casually fingered his instrument.

Praise and Music Festival

That concert was a remarkable experience for reasons that have nothing to do with the C613. I told that story here.

Eight years on my youngest son is preparing to leave for college and I’m preparing to move in with my new wife. These big transitions for both of us made it necessary to clean out his childhood room. We sorted his things into three piles: keepers, things to donate, and things to pitch. He put the C613 onto the donate pile, thanks to a capable camera on his Android phone.

I palmed this little camera and later installed a spare SD card and fresh batteries. I first photographed flowers in my yard. I love macro photography. But the C613 often struggles to focus in macro mode, especially when the lens is at all zoomed. I frequently had to do a little dance with the C613, repeatedly adjusting framing and pressing the shutter button halfway in hopes the autofocus system could grab onto something. Sometimes it simply wouldn’t. And of course you have no control over depth of field. But when it manages to focus, it does reasonable work.

Basket o' flowers

The autofocus system works best on high-contrast subjects, like this yellow flower on a dark green background.

Yellow

Most of the time I shot the C613 at the wide end of its zoom range simply because that’s where it goes when you turn it on. 36mm is a great focal length for everyday walk-around photography. Or drive-around photography, as is the case in this photograph.

Wrecks

But shooting wide reveals the C613’s fatal flaw: barrel distortion, gobs of it. These two photos are certainly not interesting in and of themselves, but the first shot shows this barrel distortion well. The second shot shows it corrected, which I did easily enough in Photoshop: open the RAW editor, set distortion to 14, set scale to 104%. At 36mm, those settings worked every time.

Window awaiting painting Window awaiting painting

That distortion goes away more the farther out you zoom. None is evident on this max-zoom (108mm) photo off my deck.

Back yard

I checked the flash’s performance in a few photos. It appears, appropriately, to be optimized for shots across a room in your house, such as of your kid on his birthday. This photo of my Kodak Monitor is about as close as you dare get when using flash. Any closer and the flash washes out the subject and creates a spotlight effect. This post is already too long or I’d show you that flash also did a good job illuminating a shadowy close-up subject against a well-lit background. The C613 sets flash to “auto” every time you turn on the camera and guesses when flash is needed. Sometimes the C613 guesses well, other times not. More than once I shot a scene twice because the C613 thought I needed flash when I really didn’t.

Monitor

I did take these recent photos into Photoshop to correct distortion, fix little exposure sins, and tweak color to my liking. But every one of the photos I’m sharing here were plenty usable right out of the camera. The concert photos far above had no post-processing and look great.

View through the hosta

This shot of the oak in my front yard is my favorite from my test. Sure, I had to notice this scene and the subtle light play to be able to photograph it. But the C613 captured it well.

Oak

You can see more shots from this camera in my Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom gallery.

The C613 a passable little digicam. It’s not perfect — on top of the barrel distortion and fussy macro-mode autoexposure, the screen washes out entirely in direct sun and its color fidelity is terrible, so you are never sure you got the shot. But compared to any camera of this inflation-adjusted price class forty or even thirty years ago it’s a stunning performer. I would have died and gone to heaven as a kid for a camera this good at this inflation-adjusted price.

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Photography

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.

Pink

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.

Playground

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.

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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.

Photography

The vagaries of old cameras

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Photography

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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Photography

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!

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