Sunday, December 11, 2011

Retina IIa Review

If you are a collector of cameras, or a user of vintage cameras, there is one model that you should own -- the Kodak Retina IIa. You really would be hard-pressed to find another camera that fits in a pocket, has an all-metal construction, completely manual, and has a 50mm 2.0 Xenar lens.

First, a little bit about the Retinas. With the exception of the Kodak Ektra, The Bantam Special, Medalist, Chevron, and the Super Kodak Six-20, Kodak's premier metal-bodied cameras came out of the Nagel factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Eastman Kodak purchased the Nagel Kamerawerk in 1932, which became Kodak A.G. The first camera from the factory to use 35mm film was the Retina I, which appeared in 1934. A long series of cameras with the Retina (and lower-priced Retinette)designation appeared, ending with the Retina Reflex Instamatic camera in the 1974.

While other Retina models followed the IIa with advances such as meters, better rangefinders, and interchangeable lens elements, I think the IIa best embodies what makes a pocketable 35mm camera of its combination of quality and features. The strut-mounted lens allows the cover to collapse over it, protected from just about anything. The Schnieder Xenon f/2.0 lens in a Compur shutter with speeds from B to 1/500 sec., with X flash synch is excellent. The Retina IIa was sold from 1951-1954, meaning my two examples are both nearing 60 years old. Yet, the smooth operation of the camera and near-silent shutter is far better than many cameras of more recent vintage. The Retina IIa also features a "cold shoe" for use with an external flash (using a PC synch connector near the edge of the lens), or one could possibly use an external albada viewfinder for easier framing. Like many of its contemporaries, the Retina IIa viewfinder is rather squinty. Glasses-wearers are always at a disadvantage with the small viewfinders. The RF focusing patch works pretty well, except in low light situations, such as when I took these flash shots at a recent Ann Arbor Crappy Camera Club meetup at the Wolverine tap room. I used a small flash bracket and a modern Sunpak flash with a diffuser. The flash was set on Auto, and the camera was set at f4 and 1/50 sec to catch ambient light in the background. The beauty of a Compur leaf shutter is that the flash syncs at every speed.

This shot by Ross Orr with his Fuji 6x9 (Texas Leica) and Tupperware flash shows me with my Retina IIa setup:
Mark & Retina
(photo courtesy of Ross Orr)

This camera has the name "Edgerton" inscribed front and back. I bought this camera at an estate sale of a long-time collector in the Detroit area. I often wonder if Harold Edgerton had previously owned the camera. That would be pretty darn cool. My other Retina IIa was given to me by Bill Brudon in 2001, and that one is in even better shape, but the rangefinder needs to be adjusted.

Finally, a few samples of the shots taken with the setup described above, using Kentmere 400 b&w film:


Anton said...

I obtained one of these cameras a while ago, but it turned out to be a lemon and I could not get it working. I would still like to see the results from the Xenon lens one of these days.

Detroit Maintenance said...

my grandfather gave me his retina. i love using it, it feels great in your hands and your pocket. i have a self portrait that i took with it back on my 27th birthday (when i got the camera)
here is a link if you are interested...


CameraKennis said...

How nice! I like this camera. Still looking for an undamaged Retina but they are hard to get here in the Netherlands.