Retina 1a

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by coryammerman, Jul 8, 2014.

  1. I don't recall if I've made mention of it before on this forum or not, but my wife and I welcomed our first child (a daughter) into the world back in January. As many of you already know, being a new dad has plenty of rewards, but it does tend to eat into your photography time, especially when your wife works as much as mine does. A couple of weeks ago, a friend was having a going away partly downtown and I used the opportunity to have the sitter come by a couple of hours early so I could walk around a bit and shoot one of several cameras that I've had sitting around, waiting for me to run their first roll of film through. I had a bit of a hard choice to make, but since I was most likely going to be carrying it around all night, I narrowed it down to one of my fixed lens rangefinders. In the end, I wound up choosing the Kodak Retina 1a.
    There's plenty of information on the web about Retinas in all their various iterations, so I'll just give a brief rundown. The Kodak Retina 1a (type 015) was produced from 1951-1954 by Kodak AG in Stuttgart, Germany. It was the first of the Retina series to employ a lever film advance that simultaneously cocked the shutter. Early production models were equipped with a Compur-Rapid shutter, but the vast majority employ a Synchro-Compur shutter, giving speeds from 1-1/500 seconds plus bulb. The 1a came with a choice of three lenses, a Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar 50mm f/2.8, a Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f/3.5, or a Kodak Ektar 50mm f/3.5. The 1a has neither a rangefinder nor a light meter, only a small viewfinder at the top of the camera that can best be described as "terrible." It is, without a doubt, the smallest viewfinder I've ever had the displeasure of trying to use. God help you if you want to try to see the whole frame with glasses on. Kodak also decided to put the aperture lever on the bottom of the lens, which makes it nearly impossible to change aperture with the camera to your eye.


    So, zone focus only, no meter, can't change aperture with the camera at eye level, no a whole lot going for it, right? Well... there is the lens. It's pretty good. At least the Schneider f/2.8 version mine has is.


    I accidentally left my hand-held meter at home and, unfortunately, neither my Sunny-16 nor my distance estimating skills were up to par. I got several shots that were badly out of focus and quite a lot of them were severely overexposed. Many required quite a bit of recovery in post, so keep that in mind when the evaluating the results shown here.

    This section of Main Street is only open to trolleys and pedestrians. You have to watch for the cross streets, though. I've almost stepped out into traffic while not paying attention.
    I forgot. Horse and carriages are allowed as well. These are run by a company that sells tours of downtown.
    There are a lot of mom and pop stores and restaurants on Main St. Most are only open during the day.
    I've been meaning to check out the Peanut Shoppe, but I've never made it down there when it was actually open.
    This is the Main Street Trolley station.
    Here it is again, viewed from the splash pad next door. When I'm out and about with a SLR, I tend to avoid taking a lot of pictures here. There are usually a lot of small children playing and I don't want to be seen as "creepy dude with big camera." Not as much of a problem with a small rangefinder that's almost as old as my dad.
    I did take a few pictures on adjoining streets, but most of them were either not very interesting or too badly screwed up. I liked this one well enough, though.
    Last shot on the roll. This guy pulled his Caddy (I think it's a '56) onto the sidewalk, parked, and went into a grocery store across the street. I don't know if he got a parking ticket, but I got a shot of his car. Would have been a better shot it that stupid Prius hadn't pulled in behind right as I was taking it.
    So that's it. Film was Kentmere 100 developed in T-Max 1+4 for 7 mins. Scanned on Epson V600 @ 2400 dpi. Thanks for looking
  2. Great shots, Cory. Maybe not the last word in convenience, but certainly capable of producing top notch results. Maybe the Caddy driver got lucky and the officer on duty admired the car enough to let the owner get by with a warning.
  3. Cory,
    I have several 1a's and never really used them much as they have fogged viewfinders. So last month I decided to get one cleaned and use it. I had it cleaned by Dave Easterwood (recommended in a post on rff) and boy did he do a nice job. The viewfinder and lens (Xenar f3.5 )are super clean and it seems like it is brand new. Quite reasonable and no shipping charges to New Zealand. Anyhow, I have a roll of film in it now and am anxious to finish it off to see what it can do. The Xenar f2.8 has a larger filter size than the Xenar f3.5 - not sure why it was necessary to make the glass bigger for the f2.8.

    While I agree with your comments about its lack of features and the quality of the lens, I do not agree about the viewfinder. I have heard this before from others about how squinty it is, but I think people just use it wrong. I hope this doesn't sound trivial, but what I do is just relax my eyes and use it at the natural distance my eye falls from the viewfinder. That is, I don't try to twist my head towards the viewfinder, I just keep my face parallel to the body of the camera (pivot point being my nose which is touching the camera). I keep both eyes open and the image appears in the middle of my vision, like one of those tv screens where you can view what is on another channel in a mini window? No squinting, no neck injuries - just a nice view of what I want a picture of. On other cameras, I do try to get my eye up close, but not on this one. I think of it as a different system. I have no idea if that is how it is to be used but it works for me. I used a microscope in the past quite a bit and I know that closing your other eye (at least for me) is not a good idea.
    Really liked the shot of the doorway and the horse and carriage.
  4. Congratulations Cory!
    The next years of your life will be the best!
    Great shots by the way.
    -And as to family eating up your photo time.. nonsense! You now have the best opportunities!
  5. Cory,

    Congratulations for the pictures. My favorite is the first. But what city is that?
    About the viewfinder. While of course a collimated finder is more comfortable, the "old" type is not that bad (I speak from Retina IIa experience). Concurring with David: just bring your eye close enough that you can see the fuzzy outline of the frame. Resist the temptation to "peek into corners". Your framing should be OK.
  6. Fine essay and a pleasing collection of urban images, Cory, with an excellent range of tones, despite your exposure problems.
  7. The lens is giving a very nice vintage look.
    Kent in SD
  8. Excellent Cory, the little Retinas are landmark cameras, and together with Kodak's 35mm cassette, really put "miniature" photography on the map.
    Many just couldn't stump up the readies for a Leica, so Kodak neatly filled that gap with the little Retina. The Nagel built cameras were always nicely made, and with even better styling and convenience.
    Your B&W photos are a testament to how well these old cameras can still produce the goods. As Darin has stated, the new family just opens up a whole new world of pictures, you just may need a close up kit for the Retina!
  9. 1955 Cadillac and a nice old car.
  10. Hi Corey, three weeks ago I found/bought a Retina 1b in amazing condition. I learned 35mm photography on my Dad's 1a in the early 70's. I never took a bad shot with it. So now I have film in the camera and I'm ready to shoot film for the first time in 10 years! I'm thrilled with my "new" camera and I hope to post an image here soon. I won't be doing my own processing so a little more time will be involved. Congratulations on your new baby!
  11. Congrats, Cory. I look forward to some pics of the little one with one of your classic cameras. I'm a fan of the Retinas and currently have film loaded in a Retina III S. Hope to have shots to share soon!
  12. Thanks for the comments everyone. Despite it's shortcomings, the Retina really is a nice little picture taker. I'll have to take her out again and take a light meter next time and see what she can really do. I have an accessory rangefinder, but it is way out of adjustment and I've yet to figure out how to adjust it.

    Mike- I agree that the image quality makes up for the lack of convenience.

    David and Bernard- While "terrible" may be a bit strong when describing the viewfinder, it's definitely not one that I was describe as "a pleasure to use." I think next time I may just frame the image in the part that I can see and allow for room to crop later. Bernard, the City is Memphis Tennessee.
    Darin- that's a lovely shot. I've literally taken 1000's of shots of my daughter over the last few months. Mostly with digital, but I did grab a few with an OM-1 over the holiday weekend.
    Rick- I was able to salvage most of the images, but unfortunately many were just too dense to be saved. I would say my exposures were, on average, 2-3 stops over. Good thing black and white film has good latitude.
    Kent- The lens does have a very pleasing character to it. The shot of the Caddy especially has a vintage feel thanks to a little flare.
    Tony- There's no arguing the Retina's importance in filling the gap between the Leica's and other contemporary cameras. In it's time, though, it wasn't exactly what one would consider cheap.
    Art- I've long been a fan of 50's cars (that's for the correction on the year). I was quite pleased that the owner showed up when he did, illegal parking and all.
    Katherine and Andy- Looking forward to seeing some shots from those Retinas. Please share with us when you can.
  13. Nice results from you Retina, Cory. I also want to wish you all the best with your new baby. Kids offer endless opportunities to use our cameras.
  14. Thanks Kris. I cant wait until my daughter gets a little older and we can start getting out and about a little more, opening up more photo opportunities.
  15. Exciting times ahead, Cory. I've only been to Memphis a dozen times in my life, but know it's full of photo opportunities. Is Pink Palace Museum still open? Took a science club on a field trip in the late 1980's and took the wife and sons many years later. Loved the recreation of the old stores there.
  16. Corey Congrats and welcome to fatherhood. The ops are great now and the subject is cooperative. I too recently came in to this model and it's successor and using the same film, I shot a roll too. I've been wanting to do a post, but I never get to it. I am generally OK in guessing exposure and tend to compose/shoot at infinity so that is not really too critical for me and forgiving small apertures help too ! I too was wondering what city this was. I have never had the pleasure. Memphis looks mighty fine. I think you did a great post. I'll ride your bandwagen and drop one of my photos from last Fall

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