Collecting Cameras

Kodak Retinette II

Kodak’s first Retina camera was introduced in 1934, kicking off a long line of fine 35mm cameras over the next 30 years or so. I’ve long been interested in trying an early Retina, and so I was pleased when this 1939 Kodak Retinette II (type 160) was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.

Kodak Retinette II

Even though this is a Retinette and not a Retina, it used the same chassis as the Retinas of the time. In fact, except for trim differences it is identical to the 1941 Retina I (type 167). Mine has a 50mm f/3.5 Kodak-Anastigmat lens in a Compur shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/300 sec. You can also find Retinette IIs with a 50mm f/4.5 Kodak Anastigmat and a Gauthier shutter with speeds of 1/25 to 1/125 sec.

Kodak Retinette II

As you can see from how nicked up the finish is, mine has been well used. I was very happy to find that everything seemed to work. The cocking lever is firm, the shutter button pushes properly, and the shutter sounded good on all speeds. All the controls (focus, aperture, shutter speed) moved easily.

Kodak Retinette II

My Retinette II measures distance in meters. I’ve seen other Retinas and Retinettes with scales in feet, but I don’t know if the Retinette II could be had that way. The frame counter atop the camera counts up, so after you load film set it to 1. There’s a mount for a cable release next to the shutter button. There’s also a tripod mount on the camera bottom.

If you like Retinas and Retinettes, check out my reviews of the Retina Ia (here), Retina IIa (here), Retina IIc (here), Retinette IA (here), and Retina Reflex IV (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

Unfortunately, the lens is hazy. I gently wiped the lens to see if it was just coated in schmutz, but no dice. It’s always a crapshoot whether haze is going to be a problem — I’ve shot some ugly glass and gotten fine results. So I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 200 and went to town.

It was a problem this time.

Au Bon Pain

Thank heavens for Photoshop and its Dehaze adjustment, which made these photos usable. Not perfect, but usable. The photo above is the best of the bunch. To save the one below I ended up overcooking the sky.

Trash truck

But them’s the old-camera breaks. Let me get right to my real gripe with this camera: its itty bitty viewfinder. It’s hard to see through, hard to be sure the camera is level, hard to be sure you’re looking through it straight on. When I framed this shot, the big monument was centered in the viewfinder.

Toward the monument

I have a lesser gripe with this Retinette: the position of the metal pointer against which you set focus. For landscape photos, it’s essentially underneath the lens. You have to turn the camera over to set focus. Its position is much more useful for portrait photos.

Tiny taxi

Other than that, I enjoyed shooting this Retinette. I took it to work and left it in my desk over the next couple weeks. On days I decided to step out for lunch, the Retinette came along. Closed, it’s small enough to slide easily into my back jeans pocket, where it rode undetected until I wanted it.

nada

I took it to all of the places I normally go around Downtown Indianapolis, shooting four or five photos an outing until I exhausted the roll. Given the bright sunshine I made most if not all of these photos at 1/100 or 1/300 sec. at f/8 to f/16. Such settings are probably this camera’s sweet spot anyway.

Balconies

Rewinding the film isn’t complicated. You’ll find a lever on the back below the winding knob. Move it to the left and the rewind knob turns freely.

Five Guys

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Retinette II gallery.

I was a little sad when I’d finished this roll in the Retinette II. Despite my two gripes, I very much enjoyed pocketing an 80-year-old camera for Downtown photo walks, and was impressed with how sturdy and solid all of the controls were after this many decades. I hoped that the lens’s haze would not affect the photos. Sadly, it did.

One of my Flickr followers saw my photo of this camera, where I noted the lens haze. Turns out he has experience with this camera and told me exactly how to remove the front element for cleaning. It doesn’t sound too hard. So maybe this Kodak Retinette II will live to shoot again in my collection.

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

Kodak Pony 135 Model B

I’ve achieved the Kodak Pony 135 trifecta, having now owned and shot now all three models: first the original, then the Model C, and now this Model B. I wasn’t exactly striving for this goal, mind you. But an old friend’s father sent me his entire camera collection a couple years ago and this Model B was in it. It was only a matter of time before I put film through it and secured this particular hat trick.

Kodak Pony 135 Model B

The 1953-55 Kodak Pony 135 Model B, like the original Pony 135, steps the photographer up from the basic Brownies Kodak sold. Its 51mm f/4.5 Anaston lens, probably a Cooke triplet in design, was a serious improvement on the meniscus lenses in most Brownies. Its Kodak Flash 200 shutter operates at 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/200 seconds.

Kodak Pony 135 Model B

Like the original Kodak Pony 135, you have to extend the lens barrel before you can shoot photos. Twist counterclockwise, pull, twist clockwise until it locks. To collapse it, twist, push, twist.

Kodak Pony 135 Model B
Kodak Pony 135 Model B

If you like simple cameras from the 1950s, by the way, you might also check out my review of the Argus A-Four (here), the aforementioned Kodak Pony 135 (here) and Pony 135 Model C (here), as well as the Kodak Signet 40 (here) and the Agfa Optima (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

Kodak sold this camera to amateurs who wanted to shoot color slides, Kodachrome and Ektachrome. Kodacolor negative film existed, but not in 35mm format until 1958. These were all seriously slow films — Kodachrome of that day was rated at 12 or 16 ASA, yes twelve or sixteen. Kodak Plus-X was rated at a comparatively blazing 80 ASA then. When using fast modern films, this camera’s camera’s maximum aperture and range of shutter speeds seem limiting. But in context of the time, they were fine.

Ice cube croutons

Kodak discontinued Kodachrome and Plus-X some time ago. So I loaded Agfa Vista 200 color negative film into this Pony and took it out onto Indianapolis’s Massachusetts Avenue. My wife and I made it an evening out.

Liberty Street

But first I had to cure a sticky shutter. I’d just learned that on cameras like this carefully flowing a couple drops of lighter fluid into the slot for the shutter cocking lever usually does the trick. It freed the shutter immediately!

Mural

And yes, you have to cock the shutter on this Pony. You also have to guess exposure and set aperture and shutter speed, as well as guess distance and focus manually. The budding early-1950s photographer got no help from the Pony 135 Model B.

Mass Ave

But as that photographer’s skill grew, he or she could get good performance from the Pony. Mine suffers the vagaries of age. I got a lot of haze in most shots, especially when the sun wasn’t perfectly behind me. The lens wasn’t dirty, and I can’t see any haze or fungus among the elements, so I just don’t know what was wrong. Photoshop corrected the problem well enough on many frames but couldn’t cure it on many others, including the one below.

Bench

I also took the roll on a lunchtime walk in Fishers, the town in which I work. With the sun directly overhead my shots suffered from far less haze.

Tree on the path

Because I’m a terrible guesser of distance, I generally shoot cameras like this at f/8 or smaller apertures and shoot distant subjects so good depth of field makes up for my bad guesses. But I did try moving in fairly close to these plants near my home. It went all right.

Foliage

See more from this camera in my Kodak Pony 135 Model B gallery.

These Kodak Pony 135s are all pleasant to shoot. They’re light and easy to use once you get the hang of setting aperture, shutter speed, and focus. My only complaint is that the 51mm lens felt too narrow. I prefer my Model C’s slightly wider 44mm lens. But really, you can make lovely photographs with any Kodak Pony. I hope you won’t dismiss them as junk just because of the Kodak name.

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