Kodak Retina IIa 35mm rangefinder folding camera

This is the first part of my review of the Kodak Retina IIa 35mm rangefinder camera. I’ll cover the use of the camera and show some sample pictures in the next part – in this part I’m going to describe the Retina and also my particular copy.

Kodak Retina IIa Images

My Kodak Retina IIa Camera

I wanted to buy a Retina ever since I stumbled across Chris Sherlock’s retinarescue.com site a few months ago. I would recommend any camera collector visit it and has a browse through not only because it’s an interesting site, but also because it’s written by someone who so obviously knows what he is doing. I often visit and it was the first place I went to when I managed to pick up my Kodak Retina IIa a few weeks ago.

One problem with the Retina series is their popularity drive their price to quite high levels. It’s not unusual to pay £50 to £80 for a Retina II and a good example of the IIIC model can go for hundreds. I was therefore quite pleased that I managed to pick my copy up from eBay for only £25.

Of course, any camera bought from eBay has no real guarantee that it will work, so I was pleased when the camera turned up that it is basically in working order. The shutter works at all speeds, the bellows seem to be light tight, the aperture is nicely smooth in operation and the pop out lens mechanism also seems to be working well. The rangefinder also appears to be accurate although it’s a big dull. Fortunately there are full instructions on how to clean and then re-calibrate the rangefinder on Chris’s site, so I can use those to fix that issue.

One slight issue which seems to have sorted itself out was the film advance lever which wouldn’t complete its travel and return. I had no experience of the Retina series so I didn’t know if this was normal behaviour, but it didn’t seem likely. I did some Internet research and confirmed that the lever should return to the closed position after advance, so I thought there was a problem, but after a few strokes the issue sorted itself out and the advance now works nicely.

When I look into the lens there are a few patches of what I suspect are mold growing – they aren’t the traditional spider web of fungus, just light blue rings. I have cleaned the outer surfaces of the lens (both sides – it just unscrews from the lens body) but they haven’t come off so I think they are on the inner surface. I’ll need to get the lens apart and clean it up.

The general cosmetic condition of my camera is good, but grubby. When I get the top off the camera to clean the rangefinder, I’ll probably pop the cover parts into the ultrasonic cleaner to get them clean. I’ll also investigate how much dismantling is necessary to remove the and / or clean the lens cover mechanism which is a bit dirty.

Inside my camera is a label, presumably placed there by the original seller, which says ‘Frith Bros. Ltd, The Camera Shop, Kingston’ and the leather case has the original owners name and address in which is in Hamworth, Middlesex. I like to find these sort of things as they add to the authenticity of the piece.

Kodak Retina IIa Description

I have to say that before I discovered the Retina series I had always viewed Kodak as a manufacturer of mass market, plastic cameras. I had no idea they also made quality equipment, and it’s obvious when you look at the Retina IIa that it is a quality piece of equipment.

The Retina series spanned a long period in camera history with the first model being produced in the mid 1930’s and the last models stopping production in 1960. During that time they went from being simple viewfinder models to rangefinder models with in built light meters. The model I have is a Kodak Retina IIa (type 016), which was produced quite late in the series from about 1951 to 1954. It does not have a light meter, but is equipped with a rangefinder which is coupled to the focus element in the lens.

In order to reduce the size of the camera it is made with a set of bellows and a lens which can be packed away when not used which makes the camera very slim to carry about. Releasing the lens and getting the camera ready to take pictures is achieved by pressing a small button on the bottom of the camera which unlocks the lens cover. On my camera, the lens doesn’t pop out when the lens cover is released it needs to be pulled open. I don’t know if it popped out when new.

As can be seen from the pictures above, the lens cover is hinged on the side, so once the cover is unlocked it can be pulled open to bring the lens forward and extend the bellows. From this position the shutter release button on the top of the camera is fully coupled to the lens, as is the film advance so the camera is as convenient to use as a conventional, non-folding version.

The aperture and shutter speed are set on the lens unit using the two dials provided – the shutter speed on the top of the lens and the aperture on the bottom. Since there is no in built light meter it’s up to the photographer to assess the correct exposure and set these two, but the focus, as I said above is coupled to the rangefinder and therefore is easy to set. One important point to remember is to set the focus to infinity before you close the lens cover because it will foul on the cover it it’s not fully retracted.

There are a good range of settings on the exposure with the shutter running from 1sec to 1/500sec and the aperture f/2 to f/16.

There were two different options available in terms of lenses fitted to the Retina IIa. My unit has the Schneider-Kreuznach 50mm f/2 Retina-Xenon unit, and the model was also available with the Rodenstock Retina-Heligon which was also a 50mm f/2 unit.

The shutter is a Synchro-Compur and has a really great sound. It’s quite quiet, but there is no mistaking the quality of the unit when you hear it. As the synchro in the name suggests, there is a flash sync socket and the camera will sync for either bulbs or electronic flash. Of course, being a leaf shutter the flash can be used at all speeds.

One oddity which I couldn’t work out until I found the handbook is the second button next to the shutter release. This is apparently a ‘film release’ button and it serves two purposes:

  1. You can use it to load the camera with a partially exposed film because it allow you to use the film advance lever without firing the shutter. So if, for example, you have a film which has frames 1 to 16 exposed in a different camera, you can reload it in the Retina and wind on to frame 17 or 18 without having to press the shutter release.
  2. It will release any mechanical ‘jams’ that occur in the mechanism.

So far I’ve had to use it for its second purpose a couple of times when the wind lever has stopped short of the end stop.

This is the first Retina in my collection and I’m looking forward to loading it up with a film and trying some shots. Once I’ve done that I’ll post on my impressions of using the camera and the sort of results I got with it.

Kodak Retina IIa Specifications

  • Kodak Retina IIa 35mm folding rangefinder camera
  • Manufactured in Germany c 1951 to 1954
  • Synchro-compur shutter
  • 1sec to 1/500sec + bulb shutter speeds
  • Coupled rangefinder
  • 50mm f/2 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens
  • Aperture range f/2 to f/16
  • 11 blade round aperture
  • Accessory shoe
  • Shutter release threaded for cable release
  • Count down frame counter built into film advance
  • Film Type reminder built into rewind crank
  • Flash sync socket – sync at all speeds
  • Film release button allow re-loading of partially exposed film
  • Ser No: 541602
  • Kodak Retina IIa Handbook available here.

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