Camera Reviews

Kodak Retina Reflex III

From the 1930s through the 1950s, the finest 35mm cameras had built-in rangefinders to take the guesswork out of focusing. But during the 1950s, manufacturers began to introduce 35mm single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras. The Germans built leaf-shutter SLRs, including Kodak with its 1953 Retina Reflex. Kodak kept improving that basic camera over the next 14 years before getting out of the SLR business. The 1960-64 Kodak Retina Reflex III was the third, and next to last, of the line.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

The Reflex III, which the Retina cognoscenti also know as the Type 041, came with one of several 50mm lenses. Mine features the f/1.9 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens, which focuses to 3 feet. This is an interchangeable lens camera; twist counterclockwise and the lens comes right off. Eight different Schneider-Kreuznach lenses were available, ranging from 28mm to 200mm. Six different Rodenstock lenses were also available, ranging from 30mm to 135mm.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

All Reflex IIIs use a Synchro-Compur shutter that operates from 1 to 1/500 sec. That’s pretty speedy for a leaf shutter. It syncs to flashes via a cable, either M or X sync.

The Reflex III lets you set film ASA from a surprisingly slow 5 ASA to a surprisingly fast 1600 ASA. To set ASA, push up the little thumb lever on the camera back below the ASA/DIN dial that’s on top of the camera, and then turn the knurled setting wheel on the bottom of the aperture/shutter-speed rings until the arrow points to the ASA you want.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

The top plate is remarkably free of controls beyond that ASA setting and a film type reminder on the rewind knob. The shutter button is on the camera’s front. The winder and film counter are on the bottom.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

It’s not obvious how you use this camera, so let me share what I’ve learned. Before you take the first picture, set the film counter. Don’t forget, because when it counts down to zero, the shutter won’t fire. There’s a little slide control near the winder; push it repeatedly in the direction of the arrow until it shows the number of frames on your roll.

To open the camera to load film, twist the control around the tripod socket clockwise to reveal a little chrome button. Push it and the back pops open.

The winder is on the bottom, too. Winding the film cocks the shutter. To rewind, press the little button that’s in the crook of the winder arm and twist the rewind knob on the top plate.

To set exposure, first choose the shutter speed you want by turning the shutter-speed ring on the lens barrel. Then turn the knurled setting wheel until the aperture you want lines up with the shutter speed. If you then change the shutter speed the aperture changes with it, maintaining the chosen exposure. For example, if you set 1/60 sec. at f/8, then turn the shutter-speed ring to 1/125 sec., the aperture shifts to f/5.6. As you do this, two red pips on the focus scale move to show you the depth of field you will get. It’s a neat little system, really.

There’s one last way this camera doesn’t follow the modern SLR idiom. The mirror doesn’t return after you fire the shutter, leaving the viewfinder black. The mirror returns only when you wind to the next frame.

This complex machine is also “whoa, that’s heavy” heavy. It was also startlingly expensive in its day: $248.50 USD, which is equivalent to more than $2,000 today.

You’ll find Retina Reflex IIIs with two different meters on its face, one slightly smaller than the other. The smaller one is on Reflex IIIs from before 1962. Mine has the larger meter. Both meters were made by Gossen, and if you look carefully at the plastic cover you can see Gossen’s name in it.

If you like Kodak Retinas, by the way, I’ve reviewed several: a Ia (here), a IIa (here), a IIc (here), and a Reflex IV (here). I’ve also reviewed a Retinette IA (here) and a Retinette II (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Arista EDU 200 into the Retina Reflex III and started shooting. (I developed the roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.) For the majority of shots I left the shutter speed at 1/250 and used Sunny 16 to guess aperture. For the rest I set exposure based on what my phone’s light-meter app reported.

Stained glass

My Retina Reflex III was well used by its original owner, who was my sister-in-law’s father. It came to me with several issues. The ASA setting mechanism on my Retina III may be broken — turning the knurled knob moves both the scale and the selector, at different rates. But the meter is dead in mine, too, rendering that problem moot.

Fence

The coupled aperture-shutter speed setting doesn’t work properly on this camera, either. If I choose 1/500 sec. at f/1.9, and then twist the shutter-speed ring until I reach the minimum aperture of f/22, and then twist the shutter-speed ring back until the aperture is f/1.9 again, my shutter speed is only 1/125 sec. It should go right back to 1/500.

Suburbia

Sometimes after shooting and winding, the aperture blades closed all the way, blocking the viewfinder. I found that releasing the winding lever very slowly often prevented this. When it didn’t, I had no choice but to fire the shutter and wind again. Toward the end of the roll I realized that the camera was probably still making an exposure, so I tried just pointing the camera toward a subject to see what turned out. This is one of those photos.

Entrance

Finally, the focusing ring is stiff, so stiff that I had to be careful in twisting it not to twist the lens off the camera. Focusing was slow going. Of all of this camera’s faults, this is the only one that tried my patience.

Hoop

But after I did the hokey-pokey to set exposure and focus, the Schneider-Kreuznach lens went to work and delivered well.

VW and license plate

I shouldn’t be surprised; I’ve yet to meet a Schneider-Kreuznach lens I didn’t like. Unfortunately, shooting this camera was more frustrating than rewarding.

Tree shadow

See more from this camera in my Kodak Retina Reflex III gallery.

During the 1960s, rangefinder cameras declined sharply in popularity as the SLR took over. The Japanese found the right formula, starting with focal-plane shutters to open up top speeds of 1/1,000, 1/2,000, and even 1/8,000 sec. Their cameras were generally lighter and less complex. They were easier to use and felt good in the hand. Kodak decided not to change with the times, instead exiting the SLR business with the last Retina Reflex IVs in 1967. Kodak leaned hard into its Instamatic cameras and didn’t look back.

I’m not looking back at this Kodak Retina Reflex III, either. It simply has too many issues. But I’m sure that when it was new, once its original owner got the hang of it, he made scads of lovely images with it.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition

The Eastman Kodak Company turned 50 in 1930, if you measure it by the year that George Eastman first rented space in Rochester, New York, to make photographic dry plates. The name Kodak wasn’t coined until 1888, when the first Kodak camera was introduced. The company wouldn’t be named the Eastman Kodak Company until 1892. But as Eastman Kodak was counting it, 1930 was the golden anniversary. The company celebrated it by reintroducing a popular box camera first built in 1913, the No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C — the 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

They covered the camera in brown leatherette, trimmed it in goldtone, and affixed a golden sticker to the side proclaiming the 50th Anniversary of Kodak. (On mine, if not on most, the gold sticker has faded to silver.) The company manufactured more than a half million of them just to give them all away to children who turned 12 that year. Through this anniversary giveaway, Eastman Kodak wanted to encourage a whole new generation to embrace photography.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

This camera is a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, from the same retired pro who sent me the black No. 2 Hawk-Eye I reviewed recently. It is in good condition. The viewfinder is dim, but that’s par for the course. I swabbed it with isopropyl alcohol, which cleaned it up nicely. But it’s still a small viewfinder and challenging to compose in. There’s no landscape viewfinder, either, and if you try turning the camera on its side to compose landscape the camera rewards you by turning the image upside down.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

Because Kodak made so many of these, they’re inexpensive and easy to find. The portrait viewfinder does limit the camera’s usefulness, however.

If you like box cameras, I’ve reviewed a bunch: the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), the Ansco Shur Shot (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie in both Model D (here) and Model F (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). Or see all of my camera reviews here.

I put some Kodak T-Max 100 into this box Hawk-Eye and took it on a lunchtime walk around the neighborhood. I developed the roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.

Welcome to Zionsville

The images are all a little soft, but contrast is much improved over the black No. 2 Hawk-Eye I also have. It’s not impossible that I underdeveloped the roll from that camera.

Farmhouse steps

The shutter lever doesn’t stick very far out from the body on this camera, which I’m sure is a manufacturing fault and not the norm. It wasn’t a giant deal, but a couple times after composing my thumb couldn’t find the shutter lever and I had to turn the camera to locate it and then recompose.

Est. 1851

It’s always remarkable to me how capable a simple meniscus lens like the one in this No. 2 Hawk-Eye can be. You just have to make sure you’re standing at least six feet away from your subject, as that’s as close as these lenses usually can focus.

Ped Xing

I found the portrait-only viewfinder to be too limiting as I looked for subjects. A landscape-only viewfinder would have been less limiting for me.

CVS/pharmacy

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak Edition gallery.

It was fun to experience this Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition. But because of its portrait-only viewfinder I’m unlikely to use it again. My two Kodak No. 2 Brownies (Model D and Model F) function essentially the same, but are more versatile because they offer both portrait and landscape viewfinders.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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COVID-19, Film Photography

An abandoned bridge and a forgotten cemetery

We were just two weeks into stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought I was adapting okay, but as that second week drew to a close I felt myself going a little stir crazy. I felt a strong need to get away for a while. But where could I go?

My wife suggested I just take a long drive. “If you’re in your car, there’s nobody to infect you and you can’t infect anybody.” Brilliant. So that Saturday afternoon that’s just what I did.

I don’t like to drive aimlessly. I need to have a destination. So I chose one: the abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana, and the Civil War-era cemetery hidden near it. It’s about 40 minutes from home, giving me a good long drive there and back. I’ve never encountered another soul there anytime I’ve visited, so it would be a safe place to go. My Pentax ME Super was loaded with Kodak T-Max 400 at the time so I brought it along. The wonderful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens was attached.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

The bare-tree months are my favorite time to visit this bridge because it’s so visible. In the middle of summer this is mighty overgrown. You can’t even see the bridge from modern US 40 then. But at this time of year it’s easy to see.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

This bridge was built in 1923. It doesn’t look too bad for having gotten zero maintenance since it was abandoned, which was sometime between 1939 and 1941.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

Iron’s Cemetery is just northeast of the bridge. Little spring flowers grew all along the path leading to it.

At Iron's Cemetery

Inside the cemetery, you can see the other side of the bridge. At least you can during the bare-tree months.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Except for the sound of an occasional passing car, the only sound here is the wind. It was lovely to be out in the world in a peaceful place.

At Iron's Cemetery

There are always lots of interesting details to photograph in an old cemetery. Gravestone letterforms of the 1800s fascinate me. They have such style!

At Iron's Cemetery

Unfortunately, many of the markers here are in poor condition. Some of them are broken and lying on the ground.

At Iron's Cemetery

I hate to see any old cemetery in this condition. It’s funny — I won’t be buried in one when I’m gone, it seems like a waste of good ground. Cremate me and scatter my remains to the wind. But for those who did choose burial, good heavens, provide for the maintenance of those graves!

At Iron's Cemetery

But enough of that maudlin stuff. It helped me regain my internal footing to make this trip. I lingered here well past I stopped finding photographic inspiration, just to enjoy the quiet and the outdoors. Then I got into my car and drove back home.

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Collecting Cameras

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C

It’s a Kodak box camera that’s not a Brownie: the Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C

The Hawk-Eye or Hawkeye name is strongly linked to Kodak. Indeed, Kodak first made cameras with that name in 1899. But that’s only because Kodak bought the Blair Camera Company that year, which had bought the Boston Camera Company in 1890. Boston made the first Hawk-Eyes, box cameras for glass plates.

When Kodak took over, Hawk-Eyes became box cameras in the Brownie tradition. As best as I can suss out, the line began in 1913 with three models: one without a model letter, the Model B, and the Model C. They are all typical cardboard boxes covered in leatherette, producing eight 6×9 cm negatives on 120 film. The unlettered model and, it looks like, the Model B both offered two viewfinders, one in portrait and one in landscape orientation, and two apertures selected by a pull-up tab on the camera’s top. All three cameras presumably use the same meniscus lens, which is is probably at f/11 or f/16 (though I don’t know how the aperture control constrains that). The rotary shutter probably operates at about 1/30 second.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C

The Model C took away the landscape viewfinder and the aperture selector, probably making it the least expensive No. 2 Hawk-Eye. The only control on the camera is the shutter lever. Whichever position you find it in, up or down, you move it to the other position to make a photograph.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C

I couldn’t find out when Kodak stopped the original run of this camera in the US. I do know that Kodak also made this camera in the UK from 1926 to 1934. Mine’s one of those, as evidenced by the seal on the back that reads, “Made in Great Britain / Kodak Limited.”

Kodak also made this camera with colored leatherette. I’ve seen them in brown, blue, burgundy, red, maroon, and green, and with at least three different patterns embossed into the leatherette.

In the US, Kodak reissued this camera on the company’s 50th anniversary in 1930, in brown leatherette with a silver foil badge on the side noting the anniversary. They made a whopping 550,000 of them through 1934. I have one of those, too; a review is coming soon.

If you like box cameras, I’ve reviewed a bunch: the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), the Ansco Shur Shot (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie in both Model D (here) and Model F (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). Or see all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded Kodak T-Max 100 into this old box and took it for a spin. I developed the film in Rodinal, diluted 1+50, and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II. All of these images got a little sharpening and contrast enhancement in Photoshop. I rotated the image below to be level. The rest I left at whatever cockeyed angle I managed thanks to the small, dim viewfinder.

House in midafternoon sun

Holding the camera level was the biggest challenge of using this camera. When the subject had one large, strong element, I had an easier time of it because it was so obvious in the viewfinder. The tree was that element in this image.

Tree shadow

You’d think you could just hold the camera up and turn it on its side to get a landcape oriented image. Unfortunately, the image in the viewfinder turns upside down when you do that. It’s hard enough to frame a subject in the itty bitty viewfinder. It’s nearly impossible to do it with the image upside down.

Suburban street

All of the images were soft with low contrast. I’ve seen far better results from other Kodak boxes with meniscus lenses. Shake was also a problem on a couple frames. As slow as the No. 2 Hawk-Eye’s shutter is, I’m surprised shake didn’t affect more photos.

VW in the driveway

Conventional wisdom with simple cameras like this is to always have the sun behind you when you make a photo. The No. 2 Hawk-Eye enforces it by making the viewfinder wash out unless the sun is behind you and therefore your body is blocking it.

Statuette

See more from this camera in my Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, gallery.

This Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, is a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. I thank the fellow who donated it. He’s a longtime professional photographer and camera collector who retired a couple years ago and sent me a box full of goodies when he cleared out his studio.

It’s always fun to shoot an old box, and this time was no exception. I favor my two Kodak No. 2 Brownies, however. They both have portrait and landscape viewfinders, and their lenses are sharper and deliver more contrast.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Lonely little window

Lonely little window
Nikon N2000, 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor

Kosmo Foto Mono
Rodinal 1+50
2020

I live in a modern vinyl village. It’s not my cup of tea, but it made practical sense when Margaret and I got married and so here we are. We both hope to move on from here when the nest empties.

While we’re all on stay-at-home orders during the global pandemic, my photography is limited to my house and, when I take a walk, my neighborhood.

The houses all present well from the front, but they paid zero attention to what the sides and back look like. Windows, when they exist, are stuck wherever it made sense from the inside, without regard to how that would look on the outside. Our house has windows on the front and back, but the sides are huge, unbroken slabs of vinyl. Some houses have windows inserted in random places. The pictured house has this one window on this side, in the extreme lower left corner. It just looks weird.

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Film Photography

single frame: Lonely little window

Lonely little window

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Film Photography

Kodak T-Max 400 in Rodinal

Callery pear flowers

They say you should use Rodinal only with films under ISO 400 or you’ll get grain the size of bowling balls. But Kodak’s T-Max films are so smooooooooth. I hoped that would offset graininess when I developed a 35mm roll of Kodak T-Max 400 in Rodinal recently.

No Outlet

T-Max 400 is not as smooth in Rodinal as it is in D-76, which is what my favorite lab uses to develop its black-and-white films. Also, my flatbed scanner isn’t lab quality, and that probably contributes to these results. But these photos are entirely tolerable, at least to my eye.

Braches in silhouette

If I had a roll of T-Max 400 with critical images on it I’d want to develop it in D-76 to get “that T-Max look” from it. But for everyday la-de-da shooting Rodinal is more than fine.

Railroad bridge

I made these photos in my Pentax ME Super with my fabulous 50mm f/1.7 lens attached. We were all locked down at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. One stir-crazy Saturday afternoon I couldn’t take it in my home anymore and went for a long drive. I stopped for a few photos along the way, in deserted places.

Roadside cross

I also made some photos around the house, since I was in it pretty much all the time. This is why I chose the T-Max 400, actually: so I could shoot handheld indoors.

Musical cup

I diluted Rodinal to 1+50 to develop this roll. The solution clocked in at 19.3┬░ C, so I adjusted my development time accordingly, from 12:00 to 12:42. I used the Massive Dev Chart’s converter to calculate this time. As usual, I agitated in my Paterson tank using the swizzle stick to rotate the film on its reel. I agitated continuously for the first minute, then for ten seconds every minute thereafter.

Kodak T-Max 400 is perfectly acceptable in Rodinal. I’ll use this combination again, I’m sure.

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