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Kodak Retina II

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by gray1720, Dec 15, 2013.

  1. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Kodak. Let’s face it, it’s a name that is often associated with photographic sh*te, and the sad fate of the once-mighty corporation would seem to bear this out. But go back far enough and Kodak were highly innovative, inventing amongst others the first coupled rangefinder and the first fully automatic exposure camera, in 1916 and 1939 respectively. The company had also inherited George Eastman’s eye for a buy and in the early 1930s their German division bought the Nagel camera company of Stuttgart. which had just invented a light-tight cartridge that allowed simple daylight loading of 35mm film...

    In 1934 Kodak released the fruit of their acquisition. It folded like the then current roll film cameras, and was fitted with a very fast for its day f3.5 Xenar lens by the respected Schneider-Kreuznach factory and a top of the range Compur shutter. What really made the new camera, the first of the Retina range, special though was its size. Because it took Nagel’s 35mm cartridges, and folded as well, it was tiny, easily small enough to fit into a shirt pocket. It was also relatively cheap, at £10/10/0 a quarter of the cost of a Leica and a fifth of the cost of a Contax – though it must be remembered that the average wage of the day was around £16 a month so the camera was still way out of the reach of most would-be photographers, who would probably have to settle for a box camera, perhaps for the really impecunious a Kodak Hawkeye or an Ensign May Fair given away in exchange for coupons on packets. Nonetheless they sold well and the old Kodak standardisation policy (of making sure that there was no standardisation, with a plethora of lens and shutter variants) has been keeping collectors busy ever since!

    Following World War II camera production was restarted as part of the rebuilding of German industry and in 1948 a new model appeared, the Retina II model 014, which is the subject of this article. To look at it’s pretty damn cute. The body is tiny, similar in width and just slightly taller than an Olympus Trip 35, and whilst it is not machined out of old tanks like some of its contemporaries, it is satisfyingly weighty in the hand, which it fits comfortably – in fact, it can be popped into a reasonable size shirt pocket. There is no great excess of controls, just two knobs on the top plate, a film counter, shutter release, and an accessory shoe – though not a flash shoe as there is no sync socket. It also has “Retina II” in delicious flowing script on the top plate, and “Retina” in a slightly different script (it’s that Kodak standardisation policy again) on the leatherette of the back. The bottom of the camera carries a tripod socket, bearing the legend “Made in Germany”, the button to unfold the front, and a depth of field scale. On opening it, the front gently pops open, needing to be eased open until it clicks locked and fully open, revealing an f2 Retina-Xenon lens that seems huge by comparison with the rest of the camera, mounted in a rim-set Compur shutter speeded from 1 to 1/500[SUP]th[/SUP] of a second. The shutter hides a ten-bladed iris that I suspect would give really nice bokeh if you are inclined to notice such things, and a knurled knob operates a ring to adjust the focus. Interestingly, it lacks the folding foot of the pre-war Retinas, so seems to have been designed to be held in the hand from the start - perhaps a reflection of new and faster films?

    Yes, those are pennies propping it up - to give an idea of size!


    So what is the Retina II like to use? The first impression is that it’s pretty damn fiddly. The second and third impressions aren’t a lot better! It is not a difficult camera to load as that convenient cartridge just drops in, and the back closes with a simple catch, but that’s where the fun starts. The film counter needs to be reset by moving a knurled slide to the “A” position, then turning a knurled wheel just above it until the counter reaches one – though at least this one counts forward, unlike some Retina models that count backward and refuse to wind further than 1, fine and dandy until you forget to reset it...

    Opening the camera is simple, but then needs must to peer through the viewfinder. Did I say peer through? Squint at might be more appropriate – it’s tiny, about 5mm across, and set in a raised metal surround that makes using it with spectacles distinctly fraught. Luckily I don’t wear specs, but it is still pretty squinty. Having said that, the rangefinder patch is distinct and gives a very clear split image, so it’s not all bad, but it goes downhill when you grope round the front of the camera for that big knurled focussing knob, which appears to be designed to be impossible to find when looking through the camera. There is no easy way to move it, and matters are not helped when using it in portrait orientation by the need to have your finger or thumb in front of the viewfinder! It is actually much easier to hold the camera below eye level and use the focus scale, which makes one wonder why Kodak bothered adding the rangefinder.

    Do you want to check your depth of field on the handy scale? More fun because, if you remember, it’s on the bottom of the camera – so you need to turn the beast over, with the lens facing you, to use it! Kodak’s DoF scales of the time are actually quite clever and easy to read, with lines marked for each f-stop indicating the range, and an outside ring marked with the identical distances to the focussing scale, that you turn to line the distances up with the f-stops, but placing it on the bottom of the camera is a PITA.

    The aperture is adjusted by a sliding pointer, which can only be found when looking at the front of the camera, and of course you must remember to use the lever provided to cock the shutter. Thankfully neither of these is any more eccentric than any other camera of the period and if you forget to cock the shutter, the shutter release remains locked (as it also does if you wind the camera on without a film in it – a standard feature in most German cameras of the period) until you remember to cock it, when you can simply press the release again without having to wind on another frame. Having done all that, and realised that the snail you were trying to photograph is somewhere in the middle distance now that you’ve finally got the camera ready, the focus must be reset to infinity or the camera will not close again. Once you finish the roll of film, there is a knob to rewind it by, having moved the slider on the camera back to “R”, or you will tear your film. Winding and rewinding with a knob is slow and fiddly, and it is no wonder that lever wind and the folding rewind handle were rapidly and universally adopted once someone invented them, but a neat touch is that the rewind knob lifts out of a hollow shaft to make it easier to grasp.

    So it’s small, and terrifically fiddly to use – but I can’t let that beat me. In 1952, two Kodak Retinas made a famous journey. One, a pre-war version bought second-hand on the way out of New Zealand, made it to the highest point on Earth’s surface in the hands of Edmund Hillary, where it was used to take the iconic Kodachrome of Tenzing Norgay, ice axe aloft, atop the summit of Everest. The second, a Retina II variant similar, though not identical, to mine, was used by expedition photographer George Lowe and his recent obituary in many newspapers was marked by a photo of him loading it at 27,300 feet above sea level. If he could use it, encumbered by climbing gear, altitude and temperature, I’m damned if it will beat me!

    Photos from it, rather than of it, are currently pending as I’m wrestling with film flatness on my scanner, and correct colours to colour scans. Sorry!

  2. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Much cutting of glass, Dremelling and general fiddle-a*sing about, here's a pic. With a piece of non-reflective glass in the film holder it is noticeably sharper than without, so I can give a better idea of what that whacking great lens can do, but the texture of the glass obviously picks up a little as the sky is noticeably darker. One day I'll learn to process properly...


    Off the top of my head, probably about 1/100 at f8 on a very gloomy day, on Tri-X 400 hence the need for the glass.

  3. Roger_Provins

    Roger_Provins Well-Known Member

    Shouldn't be difficult to get a bit more life in it. Here's a quick go ....


    ... a bit too light ... but you should do okay with the original.
  4. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Yes, I need to have a go myself! How big was your file, Roger? I see a lot of artifacts and I'm wondering whether it's the texture of the glass showing through, or just compression? If the former, well, it cost me £2.50 in Hobbycraft - though it was a PITA to cut to size!

  5. Roger_Provins

    Roger_Provins Well-Known Member

    I just copied the photo from your opening post - very small file, 65k, you'll do much better from the original large file.
  6. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    I'm sure it's the extra compression from re-saving a JPEG.

    I'll see if I can make time tonight, but I've a couple of wet prints to do first...

  7. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    A truly Reithian piece! (entertaining, educational, and informative. :) ) Thank you, Adrian!

    I have a couple of Reitna IIs (type 142 and 014) and I quite agree with many of your comments - especially about the viewfinder / peephole! :) (Yes, I do wear glasses.)

    By the way, my tendency to pedantry I alluded to in the Contessa thread compels my to point out that I think your Retina II might actually be a type 011 - I only noticed when I was reading the bit about the depth of field dial, with my 014 next to me, and thought "wait a minute, mine's got a conventional DoF scale on the lens focus ring!"

    I'll add reviews of my Retinas to my to do list...
  8. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    You are quite right, Alex - now I look it's an 011! Oops...


    (currently modelling my Kodalux light meter - must post a photo this weekend, the meter is most unusual!)
  9. steveandthedogs

    steveandthedogs Well-Known Member

  10. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Well I've just - and finally - got my hands on a Retina for the first time, a Retina II with the rather mysterious 50mm f3.5 Ektar lens. It's a Type 142, from the spec, which makes it pre-war - 1937-39. It has separate viewfinder and (miniscule) rangefinder windows on the rear, but generally functions like yours, Adrian. I've loaded a film, but haven't had the chance to shoot it yet, but I rather like it - a solid little pocket (big pocket, anyway) camera that satisfies my love for German camera engineering. Look forwards to giving it a try.
  11. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Wow - I'm impressed you remembered my piece, Nick! Do show us some results, they are quite fun to use once you master the fiddliness - though, by the general standard of fiddliness of pre-war German cameras they are pretty good.

    Here's mine on a site that isn't Photof*ckit, with the abovementioned Kodalux light meter. It does actually work, and it's readings agree with my Weston, but really and truly it's a bit of a period toy, isn't it?
    [​IMG]On camera by gray1720, on Flickr

    [​IMG]Top by gray1720, on Flickr

    And, finally, the funky offset foot.
    [​IMG]Bottom by gray1720, on Flickr
    Benchista likes this.
  12. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    I had this 1B for a while...


    ...and it was a very nice piece of kit. Good lens, well built, surprisingly good handling and a very nice viewfinder. It was small enough to go everywhere with me and surpringly fast in operation, so not at all bad for grab shots. Some examples...

    Drink glass Swindon Pub Retina 1B 0518_025.jpg
    Floral display St James Street Bath Retina 1B 0518_033.jpg
    Vintage coach Swindon Retina 1B 0518_006.jpg
    Retina CNV28 Road maintenance A419.JPG
    Benchista likes this.
  13. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Well so far, I've not gone beyond having a play with it, and loaded an ancient expired film to test out functioning.

    And to be honest, for a pre-war camera, I'm massively impressed. Very good engineering quality. Some weird quirks - not being able to use the shutter release without a film loaded I knew about, And it makes sense, it's a degree of foolproofing. Not being able to close the lens board without focus at infinity surprised me, The lock for the rewind wheel as well as the rewind clutch is odd. The DOF readout on the bottom of the camera is just ridiculous. But this doesn't feel like most pre-war cameras I've used, it feels like an early 1950s model in terms of design and engineering. The shutter still sounds and looks pretty accurate. However tiny the rangefinder window, it's actually easy enough to focus. All the controls feel perfectly smooth and weighted. And this is an 80+ year old camera.
    It's as nice a little camera as I've played with. As nice a pre-war camera as I've used. I'm very surprised at how nice it is. Just hope the results keep up.
  14. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    I'd never thought of that, but you are quite right. The feel is completely different - I guess they were machined from solid rather than constructed from sheet?
  15. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Thinking about it, I doubt very much they were machined from solid - maybe cast?
  16. steveandthedogs

    steveandthedogs Well-Known Member

    Got a II, nice little machine.
    Also got a IIIc, bloody 'orrible. Uses anEV system, I think
    Roger Hicks described it as "poisonous"or something. He was wrong, it's way beyond that.

    gray1720 likes this.
  17. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Yes, I think it's a casting with additional sheet for detailing.
  18. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    If it's like Roger's old Werra 3 (the one he was writing about when he wrote that) with the interlocks on the rings, you're not wrong! It makes it a right PITA to use.
  19. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Ah, the joys of pre-automation. I've no great hangup with the system, but I can see why others do.
  20. steveandthedogs

    steveandthedogs Well-Known Member

    Ah yes. Much worse than the Werra, believe me.


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