The second-generation Kodak Ektar H35N dazzles and shines. Quite literally.
With metallic skins and a built-in star filter, it’s clear this camera was made to stand out. Amongst a plethora of new plastic 35mm point-and-shoot bodies released in the last few years, the Ektar H35N has something most of the rest of them don’t.
It shoots half-frame. Users get half the real estate per image but double the exposures. This brings the cost of shooting that precious Portra 400 down from something like 55p per shot to 27p per shot, depending on how much it’s priced where you shop. 36-exposures morphs into 72.
So, is this camera double the fun or double the trouble? And how good is the new coated 2-element glass lens?
That’s what this review will explore (and more!) today.
Disclaimer: While Reto sent us a review copy of this camera, this post is not sponsored and I am not paid to say anything about this camera. They had initially sent a pre-production version but then provided a final production version, so I am reviewing what you would get if you bought one today.
Bringing Marie Kondo into this, I can say without reservation that this camera sparks joy. It’s light, carefree, and seriously cool. I took it with me on a trip to Bologna, Italy where the queen of all films, Portra 400, took the honors of being the first roll of film shot in the silver Ektar H35N sent by Reto. Following that weekend, I headed up to Nottingham for Analogue Spotlight 2023, this time loaded a more humble and seriously underrated film, Colorplus 200. Lastly, to round off the review, I took the H35N out on the town after dark to test out the bulb shutter and star filter under the beautiful lights of Cardiff Central with Dubblefilm CINEMA 800. This camera is not without it’s limits however, so without further ado, let’s dive in.
About Reto Pro and the Kodak Ektar H35N
Where did this camera come from? Who makes it and why?
The Kodak Ektar H35N is made by a company called Reto Production Ltd. aka The Reto Project. The reason why it says Kodak on it is because they have licensed Kodak’s name and sell the product under the licensee, Reto Production Ltd. Check out our initial news article on this camera when it was released in September 2023.
“The Kodak and Ektar trademark, Kodak logo and trade dress are used under license from Kodak.” – Reto Pro
Reto stands for “REINVENT TOGETHER” and while the Kodak licensee company was formed in 2018, the young analog-loving team has been together since before that making products like the Reto 3D film camera and the Reto ultra wide and slim. Their goal was to modernize popular affordable camera designs like the Nishika N8000 and the Vivitar UWS and build a love for analogue photography.
Features and Specs of the Kodak Ektar H35N
The new Ektar H35N is priced at £54.51 or 65 USD.
The main features and specs are:
- Half Frame = 2x images, half the real estate
- Manual Wind And Rewind (winding knob does not pop out)
- Optical Lens: 22mm F11 (F8 with flash on), Coated
- 2-Element Lens: 1 Glass Lens, 1 Aspherical Acrylic Lens
- Shutter Release: 1/100s, Bulb Shutter
- Flash: Built-in
- Filter: Built-in Star Filter
- Power Supply: 1*AAA Alkaline Battery
- Dimensions: 110(W) x 62(H) x 39(D) mm
- Weight: 110(g)
The camera is incredibly lightweight and small enough to put into a large trouser or pants pocket, jacket pocket, small purse, etc. It’s smaller than my phone (Samsung Galaxy A52) in every dimension except width! It also has a tripod mount and a place to use a cable release.
One mechanism to note here, and I have to thank Johnny Martyr for pointing this out to me, is that the aperture changes when the flash is engaged. Without the flash on, the lens aperture is fixed at F11. Yet, switching the flash on, this changes to F8. Johnny mentioned trying to test the camera to see if the F8 aperture could be used without firing the flash.
Testing the camera without battery or film inside, I inserted the cable release and viewed the aperture through the opened back of the camera. It does indeed open up to a larger aperture when the lens is rotated toward the flash on setting.
The aperture switch can also be done with the regular shutter, but to avoid the flash firing, the battery must be removed from the camera first. Once the battery is out, you can use the flash knob to alternate between F8 (“flash on”) and F11 (“flash off”). You can see the different apertures engaging when the knob is rotated.
Cool, right?! I’ll leave a link to Johnny’s review at the end of the post so you can read more of his thoughts on the camera.
Another “hidden” (or simply non-marketed) feature is the ability to shoot multiple exposures with this camera. I didn’t test this out myself, but Dave over at The Old Camera Guy YouTube channel has! Check out his review and multiple exposure workaround via the link at the end of this post. He uses the bulb shutter to make double or multiple exposures on the H35N!
Aesthetics & Ergonomics
For me, overall, the camera has a generally pleasing aesthetic. If you watch my YouTube channel, you might know that in the past I said I preferred the AgfaPhoto half-frame design to the original Ektar H35.
So, has this changed with the H35N?
I still prefer the design of the Agfa, there’s something about the top bar of the H35N that aesthetically, I can’t settle with. However, this is completely personal taste and no fault in the camera design at all.
The black and silver designs are my favorite out of the options provided by Reto. While I’m not a fan of the metallic skin looks, I’m sure some people love them. It’s nice to have a selection of colors and designs to choose from. Aside from this, the camera is still nice to look at and with that Kodak label on there, it has a serious cool-factor.
Ergonomically, it feels nice in the hand, natural to hold, and there is a small thumb indent on the back which is comfortable.
I like the lens rotation which turns the flash on and off. This is a neat design and the switch for the star filter is in a convenient place to toggle. It’s not easy to toggle by accident. You have to apply a little bit of force to engage or disengage it. Overall, in this version, it seems Reto made the camera more sturdy as that was something the first version struggled with.
The winding of film is easy and rewinding is much improved over the last version. It feels much more solid, I don’t feel like I’m going to break it, and it has a nice sound to it. Something to watch with the winding is when it’s cold out, the knob can start to hurt your fingers, especially if it tightens up towards the end of the roll. I’d recommend of course wearing gloves in the cold!
At times, I thought a 36-exposure roll was done at frame 60 due to the winding getting harder. Yet, the camera should be able to capture 72 frames. I think this is a function of the type of camera it is, that it could become harder to wind at the end. It never felt like it was reaching a break point though which is good.
Field Testing Features & Functionality
In addition to making the H35N more sturdy, RETO also added a few cool features.
First, let’s talk about the new bulb mode! This is my favorite addition to the H35N. Having a bulb mode takes this camera to another level of creative possibilities. It allows you to shoot at night or in low light situations and capture some light trails where before you couldn’t do this with the H35. The bulb shutter is separate from the main shutter and requires a cable release to engage it. There is no limit and you can keep the shutter open for as long as you wish.
When using the bulb mode, it’s essential to have a tripod mount, and this is something that Reto also added in their second-generation design.
Keep in mind throughout this review, the images are standard scans delivered from the lab, not high resolution. These images would be look even sharper if scanned at higher resolutions.
Let’s talk about the star filter. I LOVE it, but not for its obvious effect.
My favorite part about this star filter is that it can function as a general filter to keep out dust and other unwanted stray items from getting into the lens. I’ve kept this on all the time and it makes me less worried about putting it loosely in a pocket, purse, or backpack. However, I have forgotten on many occasions to remove it before shooting so I’ve captured a lot more images in the daytime than intended with the star filter on. This creates artifacts in the images from the sun’s reflections which are hard to remove in post. It could be a vibe though, no?
So, how does the star filter look at night? Well, I dedicated a whole roll of Dubblefilm CINEMA 800 (note no “T”) to testing this out. What I found is that I enjoy the star filter effect most when there are only a couple of light sources. When the whole scene is littered with lights, the effect can take over, which some people might find cool but I find it a little distracting. With one or two strong lights, it can add something unique and interesting to your images.
A New Glass Lens
Being an upgraded coated part-glass lens, I was expecting more impressive results than the original all-plastic uncoated lens of the H35.
The H35N doesn’t disappoint. The images are sharp, crisp, and beautiful!
In fairness to the H35, the images are still sharp from this lens. However, I did notice softness around the edges that doesn’t appear as much in the H35N. It’s only at the very edges that I notice a little softness in some images. We are talking about a camera that costs 65 USD though so it wouldn’t be fair to start getting picky about edge sharpness.
For the price, the lens (and camera overall) is fantastic.
What Film to Shoot When
Since the shutter and aperture are fixed for regular shooting (when bulb mode is not used), it might get a bit tricky to decide which film to load, especially if you are shooting over a longer period in various lighting situations.
I tested a variety of ISOs with this camera to see how they would look in different situations. ISO 200 and 400 both work well during the day outside with the H35N. Indoors is a different story. In dim lighting, it’s essential to use the flash, otherwise, your photos might turn out like this one below (brownie points for identifying the person on the right!):
800-speed film will also struggle indoors or at night with this camera without flash or using the bulb shutter.
Something that can help you decide what film to shoot when, is a light meter or a light meter phone app. I’ve used the Android Light Meter app in this scenario. If you go into the Camera meter, you can set the aperture and shutter speed to be fixed to the settings of the H35N.
Aperture (w/o flash): F11 (or as mentioned before, remove the battery and turn the flash on to have an aperture of F8)
Shutter Release: 1/100s
Then the camera meter will calculate what your ISO should be. You can then pick a film closest to this ISO for the weather on the day.
This might be hard if you are someone who shoots one roll, especially on half frame, over a few days or even weeks or months (please nobody say years haha), but in this case, I’d pick a film that has a wide latitude, like HP5 for black and white and/or Portra 400 or Ultramax 400 for color negative. I would never usually recommend Portra 400 since it’s so expensive but because you are getting double the shots here, it’s like getting two rolls for one and might be worth it for the latitude.
General rule, ISO 100-400 films will be great on sunny days but use the flash or bulb shutter in low light. This is also following general exposure rules with knowing the fixed settings of the camera. I didn’t have an overexposure problem shooting Portra 400 on a super sunny day as shown in these couple of example photos below.
Street Photography with the H35N
During my trip to Bologna for a street photography workshop with the fabulous Polly Rusyn (@dostreetphotography), I tested this camera out to see if it was usable for my usual candid street-style hip shooting. Initially, I expected blurry images, knowing the shutter was only 1/100s. And blurry images I got!
Of course, I need to stand still to get images that aren’t blurry, but this isn’t how I like to shoot street photography. I like to move!
Here are some examples of me standing still. If the subjects are moving quickly though, you will still get blurry images. Even with the high aperture, the shutter speed seems too slow to capture fast action.
So, I wouldn’t say this camera is ideal for candid hip-style street photography but you could use it if you stand still and shoot scenes that maybe don’t have fast-moving subjects. Here are a few semi-successful images:
Other than that, it wins points for being small, discreet, and quiet! Plus, donning a camera that looks retro never fails to gain you points with the public. A TLR is the ultimate people-pleaser, but the H35N gets a nice response too.
A Quick Word on the Flash
I had quite a surprise when getting my Bologna images back seeing this one below:
I had left the star filter on! In a way, I’m glad I did because I can show you what happens when…but it does obscure my friend there. This could be something cool to explore the creative effects of using the flash with the star filter. Otherwise if you want clear images at night with the flash, remember to disengage the star filter.
The flash has a short range, so subjects that are closer will be better lit. In this example below, the first one looks much better and you can tell in the second image, the further you move away, the weaker the effect of the flash. In the closer images, I am about 1.5-2 meters away. The one further back is about 3-4 meters away.
Here are more samples of the flash at close range:
Curious what it looks like to take selfies with this camera? Here ya go:
It’s not the sharpest as the camera cannot focus close up. Items start coming into focus around 1 meter and my arms are just a little too short to get my face that far away from the camera. You won’t be able to try macro photography with this camera! I tried to find if Reto published the closest focusing distance of this lens, but didn’t have any luck. From my tests and knowledge of similar cameras, it seems to be around 1 meter. Anything closer than that will be blurry.
What is it missing?
Self timer mode. For the target market of this camera, I’d love to see a self-timer on here, even a super basic one. It would be amazing to be able to take group shots with the photographer or self-portraits as well.
How Does it Compare?
The original H35 is slightly cheaper at £41.92. It doesn’t have the bulb mode, the tripod mount, or the star filter. The winding knob is less sturdy and pops out.
For me, I would buy the new version. The price difference isn’t huge and you get a lot more functions and capabilities, plus more sturdy parts.
Okay, let’s compare to the AgfaPhoto Half Frame:
Someone asked me if I still preferred the AgfaPhoto Half Frame. When I initially discovered it on eBay, I much preferred it over the original H35.
This was for a few reasons, but mainly price. The two cameras were very similar and the AgfaPhoto was half the price at 25 GBP. Now though, I can’t find that eBay seller anymore, and a few shops in the UK like Bristol Cameras are selling it for a lot more at around 30-40 GBP.
Because of this, I would recommend the new H35N over the AgfaPhoto half-frame to people who want a little more function in the camera. It’s great for people who want a fun, easy, creative lightweight camera to carry around. It’s economical being half-frame. All in all, it would make an excellent travel or everyday type camera.
If you aren’t excited by the bulb shutter and star filter, then perhaps consider the cheaper version or the AgfaPhoto half frame if you can find it for the 25-30 GBP price point.
I’m very excited about Reto and the products they continue to release. It’s great news for film photography that new things are being made and innovated. They always seem to have something in the works, so stay tuned for more here on 35mmc.com. You can also find more about Reto on their websites, link here for the Kodak products, and here for the Reto Project website. Follow their respective Instagrams at @kodakfilm.reto and @retoproject and discover more images made with the H35N with the hashtag #KodakEktarH35N.
Check out the video below for my full YouTube review!
Find more thoughts about the camera from other reviewers here:
Dave Mihaly Review
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