Kodak makes a SLR: Retina Reflex (Type 025)

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by hunter_compton, Aug 9, 2021.

  1. The Kodak Retina Reflex (later denoted as Type 025 to differentiate it from its successors) was the beginning of the end. It was the first SLR camera made by Kodak at their German based Kodak AG, and simultaneously one of the last models of camera to be produced by that firm.

    Started by Dr. August Nagel in Stuttgart, Kodak would consolidate the film but retain its leadership under the name Kodak AG. With the intention of producing a line of precision miniature cameras, Kodak AG would launch the long lived line of folding 35mm Retina cameras in 1934 along with the 135 film cartridge.

    While the Retina series of folding cameras are widely regarded and comparably successful, by 1957 the series was starting to falter. Competition from Japanese camera firms such as Asahi with their Pentax and Germany’s own Zeiss Ikon with their Contaflex had proven that the concept of a 35mm SLR was profitable and Kodak needed an entry into this market segment. Thus, the Retina Reflex can only be seen as a reactionary impulse to a losing battle. In a decade, the last Retina Reflex would come out of Kodak AG and the German camera industry would be supplanted by Japanese SLRs. That said, is the Retina Reflex a bad camera?

    Production of the original Retina Reflex began in 1957 and ended in 1959, the short production time was due to the introduction of the Retina Reflex S as its successor.

    Retina Reflex Ad.jpg

    Those familiar with the Retina IIIC will be at home with the Retina Reflex, as it is largely an adaptation of that camera to an SLR and the two share many components. That said, this is perhaps an asset rather than a detriment as later iterations of the Retina Reflex added additional features through questionable design choices, and in the process lost some of the ease of use and simplicity of the original Retina folders.

    The Retina Reflex is a leaf-shutter SLR using a Synchro Compur shutter and the same convertible 50mm f/2 Schneider Xenon or Rodenstock Heligon C lenses as the Retina IIIc and IIIC. These lenses are not truly interchangeable as with their successors, but instead use a fixed rear element and interchangeable front elements which allow for the effect of an 80mm f/4, 35mm f/4 and 35mm f/5.6 in addition to the standard 50mm.

    Much like the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex, the Retina Reflex is a leaf shutter SLR with a reputation for unreliability and complexity. Leaf shutters have the advantage of flash sync at all speeds, but the design of an SLR led to a high level of complexity and influenced the choice of convertible lenses in this initial model.

    An SLR necessitates the ability to see through the taking lens when the film is not being exposed. History would vindicate that the focal plane shutter is far superior for this application, as it doesn’t need to move until the moment of exposure, but in 1959 this was not yet determined.

    The leaf shutter SLR is a complex beast, it requires many actions to take place at the moment of exposure. When the camera is cocked, the shutter blades are open and the aperture is wide open. The reflex mirror is down, and a capping shutter covers the film plane. When the shutter release is pressed many actions take place in under 1/30th of a second. First the shutter blades close. Then the reflex mirror flips up out of the path of the film plane, followed by the capping shutter at the film plane. While the capping shutter and reflex mirror are moving, the aperture is stopped down from wide open to its desired position. Then the shutter blades open again for the desired duration and close again. The camera is now unwound and stroking the film advance winds the film, replaces the capping shutter and reflex mirror, opens the aperture and opens the shutter blades, preparing the camera for the next exposure. As such, there is no instant return mirror on this camera and the viewfinder is blocked out until the film is wound.

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    The viewfinder on this camera is an ordinary ground glass screen with a horizontal split image rangefinder in the center. As compared to the Retina IIIC series, the viewfinder is larger and allows direct composition, but is not quite as bright as later SLRs with fresnel screens.

    The controls on the top and bottom of the camera are almost identical to that of the IIIc or IIIC. On the bottom is the right hand single stroke film advance lever, film rewind button, tripod socket, and concealed door release. Much like the folders, the door release needs to be rotated 45 degrees to expose the door release button, preventing accidentally opening the back. Starting on the left, the top plate of the camera features the rewind knob with film reminder indicator, cold shoe atop the pentaprism housing, subtractive exposure counter, shutter release button and light meter dial.

    IMG_0287 (1024x768).jpg

    Like all Retinas the exposure counter is subtractive, and so it counts down the number of exposures left. It also locks the film advance when you get to the last exposure, so if you have a Retina that doesn’t work, check if the exposure counter is at “1” and try advancing the dial by pressing down on the central lock button and moving the dial using the advance button on the back of the housing. Later Retina Reflexes moved the exposure counter to the bottom of the camera in what is widely regarded as a bad move.

    The light meter is the same single range selenium meter made by Gossen as used in the IIIC. Unlike later Retina Reflexes, the meter is entirely uncoupled to the aperture and the Type 025 lacks the fragile meter coupling string of the later cameras in this line. There is no match needle or settings visible in the viewfinder, and the meter reads out only in EV. Thus, the meter reading must be made and the EV setting transferred to the shutter for proper exposure.

    The shutter assembly is where the Retina Reflex deviates most from its folding predecessors. As opposed to a large outer dial for shutter speed and small bottom lever for aperture, the Retina Reflex has two large concentric dials about the shutter housing which control shutter speed and aperture. As opposed to the folders, the aperture and shutter speed combinations can both be read off the top of the shutter housing. Using the EV system, the shutter speeds and aperture scales are linked unless the aperture scale is pulled back slightly, which decouples it. Normal operating procedure would be to find the appropriate EV value off the light meter, transfer it to the EV scale on the right side of the shutter housing and then rotate the shutter speed ring which will transfer through the range of aperture and shutter speed combinations appropriate for the lighting level. While this is complex to describe, it’s actually quite easy in practice with a working meter. Even if the meter is defective, the uncoupled nature means that the camera is still entirely usable without it, just choose the shutter speed first and then pull back on the aperture dial and set the aperture.

    The shutter assembly and lenses are unit focusing, and move position based on the helical on the body at the rearmost of the shutter housing. Range markings are also visible atop the shutter housing as is a depth of field scale for the 50mm lens.

    The Synchro Compur offers a range of speeds from 1 second to 1/500. It is flash synced for both electronic and bulb flash through a PC socket on the body, with sync type chosen with a switch on the left of the shutter housing. The sync switch also has a self timer function and there is a button at the 5 o’clock position that must be depressed to change between M-sync, X-sync and the self timer.

    The convertible lenses are of a bayonet mount design. There is a lever near the lens with a red dot which when pushed in allows the front element to be rotated 120 degrees and detached. It can then be replaced with any of the 80mm or 35mm elements, which are quite massive indeed.

    IMG_0288 (1024x768).jpg
  2. I acquired this camera a few months ago. Overall it was in quite good condition, with only a minor scratch over the logo on the prism housing affecting the cosmetics. Functionally, like many of these cameras today, it worked but the slow shutter speeds seemed off and the automatic aperture was lagging. The latter is a problem because the aperture needs to stop down from wide open before the shutter reopens. If the aperture lags, it will not have closed when the shutter opens and closes again or will be closing when the shutter is open. This will result in overexposure.

    Fortunately, Chris Sherlock the Retina master came through, as he has a series of instructional videos on the Retina Reflex series on Youtube:

    (It should be noted that while the Retina Reflex Type 025 is easier to service than its successors as it lacks the meter coupling string, it’s still a very complex apparatus. I would encourage only advanced amateurs to attempt service.)

    With Chris’ videos in hand, I was able to disassemble the shutter and aperture assemblies, clean, and lubricate them to ensure proper function. I also took the opportunity to replace the pentaprism in my camera. Desilvering of the pentaprism is common in these cameras, but pentaprisms from the Minolta XG series are drop-in replacements and I was able to get a replacement for that camera and install it.

    The meter on my example seemed accurate, and I confirmed it was by comparing it in different lighting settings to a DSLR.

    With my camera now firing on all cylinders, I chose to put it through its paces. I shot some Ilford FP4+, Fuji C200 and Fuji Provia 100F in this camera to get a good idea of how it performed. In addition to the standard 50mm f/2, I also had access to the 80mm f/4 telephoto lens.

    Ilford FP4+:

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    Fuji C200:

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    Fuji Provia 100F:

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    Overall, I am very impressed with this camera. I have never seen anything bad said about the Schneider-Xenon lenses on Retinas, and those on the Retina Reflex do not fall short, even if they may be technologically inferior to their fully interchangeable successors. Overall lens sharpness is excellent, and even wide open the 50mm f/2 shows only minimal light falloff in the corners and good center sharpness. The 80mm f/4 also looks quite good.

    I found the handling of the first generation Retina Reflex to also be quite good. Criticisms of later Retina Reflexes tend to center on the front mounted shutter release, bottom mounted exposure counter and oddly placed aperture control, none of which are present on this model. The bottom mounted wind lever is unconventional, but I had no problems using it by slightly adjusting my right hand grip and swinging my thumb outward.

    The viewfinder is slightly dim as compared to modern SLRs as it has no fresnel screen, but it was easy to compose with using the ground glass and the horizontal split image makes checking focus easy. I liked composing with this camera, as it lacks the aperture previews and meter displays in later SLRs, leading to an uncluttered viewfinder. Most photographers accustomed to SLRs will lament the lack of DoF preview or instant return mirror, but coming from a background of shooting only rangefinders, I did not miss these features.

    Despite being 62 years old, my selenium meter did not miss a beat. I bracketed the first few frames on my roll of Provia and found that the meter was exposing exactly where I wanted within half a stop.

    Some people malign the subtractive exposure counter, but I prefer those over additive counters. I can’t be the only one who likes knowing how many exposures they have left, instead of seeing which exposure number you’re on and questioning whether that was a 24 or 36 exposure roll you loaded. It’s a little bit odd to reset the counter when you get to the end, but not difficult once you understand the procedure.

    Now there are some criticisms I have of this camera, it may be small, but it’s heavy being made of all metal. The convertible lenses mean that half of the standard 50mm f/2 is behind the shutter making for a compact package, but the large size of the accessory lenses offset this advantage. The strap lugs are also notably undersized, and there is no hot shoe. The accessory lenses have no stop for their maximum aperture, and you need to remember to only open the lens up as much as possible with that lens attached, or your images will be underexposed.

    Overall though, I found the camera easy to use. The controls were positioned where convenient, and nothing required odd contortions to use. Some procedures are specific to this camera, so reviewing the manual may be necessary before each outing, but I don’t find that detracts from its usability. The images I got from this camera were great. The Schneider-Xenon 50mm f/2 is a well respected and sharp lens and while the accessory lenses I had access to were also good, their large size meant that I didn’t enjoy using them as much. I’d recommend sticking to the stock 50mm lens for this camera.
    LMar, Julio Fernandez, kklow and 4 others like this.
  3. Great writeup and photos Hunter. Thanks for sharing.
  4. Now that's a brilliant résumé on the Retina Reflex, Hunter, well-researched and well-written with great illustrations and photographs. I've never laid hands on a working Retina Reflex and I admire your tenacity it getting yours operational. As a fellow New Zealander I'm always pleased to see Chris Sherlock given the credit he deserves. Not only is he an authority on all things Retina and Retinette as well as several other marques, he's a really helpful guy. Thank you for a truly awesome contribution to the Forum.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2021
  5. Superb write up and excellent pictures, thank you. I've got a Retina Reflex somewhere, also a Kowa, which don't work and helped to put me off leaf shutter SLR's. Although I since acquired a Ricoh 35 Flex which does seem to be operational. I'll try and do a post on it soon.
  6. "Much like the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex, the Retina Reflex is a leaf shutter SLR with a reputation for unreliability and complexity."

    Not this furphy again.

    The Contaflex series (those with a Synchro-Compur shutter, anyway) are very well made and reliable SLRs. Criticism of them for failing to work in recent decades is only a reflection of the fact that they are old and have usually not been serviced since manufacture. If they fail to function correctly it's little wonder.

    Let's revisit that comment...

    Much like the Rollei twin lenses, the Retina Reflex is a leaf shutter camera with a reputation for unreliability and complexity.

    Much like the Leica rangefinders, the Retina Reflex is a 35mm camera with a reputation for unreliability and complexity.

    You could make the same criticisms of almost any 1950s–1960s model camera, that has never received any servicing. Expect an M3 or 2.8F to work perfectly without ever having been attended to in almost sixty years? Dream on.

    The biggest difference between servicing a Contaflex and M3 is you've a pretty fair chance of not needing any replacement parts to make the Contaflex good again.
  7. Leaf shutter SLRs were all the rage in 1950s Germany - as well as the 2 already mentioned, Agfa, Edixa, Voigtlander, and Braun (Paxette) made them, and from the East, there was the Pentina.
  8. Nice post.

    Even though it was American-branded, it had the "fett" lines of the Federal Republic.

    A surprisingly good one if it works. Pentina - resurrection and life

    Nikon did a leaf shutter SLR too

    One of the reasons was flash synch was 'easier' with leaf shutter
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2021
    John Farrell and James Bryant like this.
  9. John Farrell likes this.
  10. Note, I said reputation. I may not be in agreement with that, and I concur that any 50+ year old camera should have a CLA performed for proper evaluation. However, if you visit any forums where either of the above cameras are mentioned, you will find evidence that people consider them complex and unreliable. Add to that the fact that technicians who will service a Retina Reflex are in the single digits, and you earn a reputation.

    I do not appreciate my words being twisted to construe points which I do not advocate.
  11. As it says the Retina Reflex was one of the last, but not the last camera from Kodak AG.
    It also isn't the last SLR, as they also produced the Instamatic Reflex:

    Kodak Instamatic Reflex - Camera-wiki.org - The free camera encyclopedia

    It uses two PX825 (I believe) alkaline cells. I have wondered about
    using a single 3V lithium cell in place of the two, with washers to fill
    out the space.
  12. I quoted you, directly. Then I twisted your words to construe a point I advocate. Are your words copyright? And if so, would not my comments be fair use? Any reader with a modicum of intelligence would realise I have not quoted you verbatim, other than in the first instance. So, settle down.

    However, if you visit any forums where either of the above cameras are mentioned, you will find evidence that people consider them complex and unreliable.
    I do not disagree with this. A lot of people do consider the Contaflexes to be unreliable. But, a lot of people are wrong. As we shall see, these opinions do not stand up to critical examination. They're ridden with logical fallacies.

    I think that I have the runs on the board when it comes to trying, in good faith, to help numerous Contaflex owners ascertain what ails their particular example, and how to best mend them. I have been dealing with these Zeiss SLRs for a lot of years now. And I can tell you, that if you dig deeper into forum content about non-working Contaflexes, you are going to establish that, in virtually every instance, the topic of a discussion has never been professionally serviced by a competent technician. In other words, it's been bought online, at market, handed down from a friend or relative, or come to the owner by some means that has not included any service. Such cameras usually will not work very well at all. Don't take my word for this, by the way. Some basic research will soon confirm the above.

    Actual instances of recently serviced Contaflexes subsequently failing, are vanishingly rare.

    Why is it, then, that various premium quality German cameras: to take just a few examples, the Rollei twin lenses, Leica rangefinders, Linhof 2x3' & 4x5" technical cameras (to name just a few) are so highly regarded for their quality, durability, and reliability? Focal plane shutter blinds can stiffen and crack, escapements stick, high speeds taper or cap, RF prisms black out, brass wind gears can wear out. Leaf shutters will stick. Helicoids will need re-greasing. How can they be such praiseworthy benchmarks for quality photography, when they can, and most assuredly, do, suffer from all these maladies, and more?

    It's because owners of said cameras are not using examples from the 1950s and 1960s that are in "as found" condition. They've been worked on. CLAd (probably, many times, in the case of so many Leicas). Of course they're going to work reliably!

    There is a great deal of cognitive dissonance in play on the part of classic camera owners/users. We, all of us, have our favourite types. (I personally own and use examples of all I makes I have cited to date, and more, I have broad tastes).

    It does not bother me, in the slightest, if most people dislike the Contaflex SLRs. All the more for me. And, no, they are not perfect cameras, either. They are, however made of excellent, durable, materials, and fitted with excellent Tesser lenses. Including the 126 variant and cheaper Prontor shutter versions, Zeiss Ikon actually sold very nearly a million of them between 1953 and 1972(ish). If they were flaky, unreliable prospects for long term use, they would not have sold so well at their price point in the market.

    If any particular person is inclined to take the stance that the Contaflexes are unreliable, I am fine with that. If they are also inclined to accept that an M3, M2, M4, Rolleiflex, or virtually any other German camera from the same period is "unreliable". Because I can tell you right now, that anybody who thinks they have a decent chance of using any of those in their original condition without getting them looked at first is absolutely dreaming.They are all as "unreliable" as a Contaflex which has never been serviced, and to suggest that the Contaflexes are not inherently reliable is not comparing like with like, and revisionist. When not so old, they were well regarded SLRs, beloved particularly by flash photographers.
    Gus Lazzari likes this.
  13. ]


    But Nikon didn't built the Nikkorex. It was built for Nippon Kogaku Tokyo, by Mamiya.

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