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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Cameras, Photography

Kodak Retina Reflex IV

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Quirky. That’s how I’d best describe the Kodak Retina Reflex IV. Fortunately, it’s quirky in an endearing way.

Kodak Retina Reflex IV

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.

Kodak Retina Reflex IV

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.

Kodak Retina Reflex IV

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, which is an astonishing $2,090 in 2013 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. But buying there is always a crapshoot because the cameras are donated and 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. 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.

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.

Oak trunk 1

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. Maybe my meter is off. Here’s one of those ISO 100 shots.

Car noses 2

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.

Flare in the front yard

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.

Dog on the deck

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.

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Cameras, Photography

Kodak Retina IIa

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I last had Kodak Retina lust four years ago, which led me to buy a Retina Ia and a Retinette IA. And then I didn’t much enjoy the experience of shooting with these German Kodaks. The Retina’s viewfinder was so small it was nearly useless. The Retinette had some mechanical problems that prevented me from finishing my test roll. Feh. At about this time I bought my first Japanese rangefinder, which was so much fun to shoot that I bought several more and didn’t give the Retina line another look.

Sometimes I wonder if the universe or fate or whatever is trying to tell me something. In the space of a few weeks last year, three camera collectors whose blogs I follow all wrote fawning praise for their Kodak Retina IIa and shared some mighty nice 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. Retina lust had returned. I tried to put it out of my mind, because I was having so much fun with several 1970s SLRs I bought last year. But 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.

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

Matrix

I had much better luck with my IIa than I had with my Retinas of yore. I think 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.


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