5 Frames with a Kodak Retina IIc – By Howard Dale

This is one of my all time favorite cameras. Approx. 136,000 were made between 1954 – 1957. Kodak acquired German manufacturer Nagel in order to produce a camera that could compete with Contax and Leica. A folding camera, it’s gorgeous to look at and small, light and easy to carry. While I found the portability appealing it was really the lens that impressed me. This particular camera has a fairly fast (f2.8) Schneider Retina-Xenon lens. It’s sharp and I like the way it renders: delicate, almost pastel colors. I’ve read that it also has interchangeable lenses (achieved by swapping out the front element).

For all that I love this camera it can also be annoying.

First it requires you to use the infamous exposure value (EV) system i.e. rather than setting shutter speed and aperture separately instead you set an exposure value. After that when you change the shutter speed the aperture will automatically change with it. Sounds as if it could be quite useful, but I find it inconvenient and limiting.

Second you can’t close the cover until you set focus to infinity.

Third. The frame counter counts down. When it reaches one, the camera no longer winds.

Fourth. The film advance lever is on the bottom of the camera. Not what I’m used to, but maybe I’ll get used to it.

These are all minor inconveniences that I’m willing to tolerate for the lovely results the camera produces.

My website – www.aheadworld.org

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32 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Kodak Retina IIc – By Howard Dale”

  1. Pingback: Kodak Retina IIc - Type 020 (1954) - mike eckman dot com

  2. Very nice review, and wow! What great results you got! What film did you use in this camera?

    Regarding your nitpicks of the camera, I agree 100%. Kodak’s implementation of the EV system was poorly thought out. Many other companies had EV systems that worked much better so theres no reason they had to design it like this.

    1. Hi Mike. Thanks very much for you kind words. I took the pictures a while ago and I’m not entirely sure what film I used. Most likely something inexpensive and readily available like Kodak Gold 200 or 400.

  3. Hi, Howard. Great to see some examples taken with this fine camera.

    I added one to my collection last year as I was short on Nagel Kodaks, only having two very large early 20th century Kodak folders taking obsolete sized roll film. But I haven’t shot any film with it. I was intrigued by its having an f2.8 Zenon lens as the Zenon name is normally associated the fastest lenses of f2 and f1.5, as you probably know already. This f2.8 is a five element lens, so on paper should be superior to the type Tessar and its derivatives. Your results published here show off its attributes well, despite resizing for the web.

    I found that the lever wind is the smoothest of any camera I own; it really is a lesson on how to do it. Sounds like hand winding a fine watch. Whilst the EV shutters can be a bane on many cameras, the implementation on the IIc is different, well on my unit at least. Speeds are set as per usual on a rim set shutter, and the aperture is set using the lever underneath the lens, but the aperture and shutter are only EV linked if the aperture lever is pushed in and then the rim dial is moved, whilst keeping it held in. At other times, the tiny aperture lever is always held in a stand-off position by a spring so shutter speeds and aperture can be move independently. Have you checked this on your shutter?

    The diamond shaped rangefinder spot is incredibly clear as it is the viewfinder itself which is tinted. It does have frame lines, but these are set close to the v/f edges, so is not always easy to see them all at the same time.

    The one thing that did puzzle me was what you pointed out – the camera locks up after the last exposure an it did take me a while to figure this out. I’ve no idea when mine was manufactured; the serial number is 200894. How does this compare to yours?

    1. Terry. Thanks very much for the additional information, much of which I didn’t know. I’m away from the camera at the moment, but when I get a chance I’ll check the serial number and let you know. Thanks for the tips about how the shutter speed and aperture can move independently. I wasn’t aware of that.

    2. The pre-war 5cm F2.8 Xenon was a 5-element design, the post-war 5cm F2.8 Xenon is a 6 element design. Schneider also had a five-element “Xenar Special” 5cm F2.8, very different design from the 5-element Xenon. It is essentially a “truncated” 5cm F2 front group with the same rear group at the F2 lens. Many people make a big deal over the SN matching on the front group, rear group, and shutter fixture. I’ve found the groups are largely interchangeable as long as you keep Schneider Xenon groups together and Rodenstock groups together. SN on the shutter was most likely necessary to keep correct distance between front and rear groups, which would be slightly different between Schneider Xenon, Schneider Xenar, and Rodenstock optics. Some IIC (large C) bodies will take an F2 front module. Turns out the F-Stop mechanism will open up to F2, but is unmarked.

      1. Brian, I’ve not been able to find confirmation that the post-war f2.8/50 Xenon had 6 elements. Would you point me to the source, please?

  4. I modified the mechanism of a IIIc for a friend to disengage the shutter speed/F-stop coupling. Unscrew the F-Stop lever and file the bottom-side down, it’s obvious once the lever is off. I leave mine intact: if you like to bracket DOF, using the mechanism allows F-Stop change while maintaining correct exposure. The advance lever was moved to the bottom of the camera to make a place for the Meter on the IIIc. It takes some getting used to. Many Retinas have been put on Ebay as “did work, stopped working” because of the countdown meter hitting ‘1’. The Xenon lens, whether F2 or F2.8- is comparable to a collapsible Summicron, but has smoother bokeh. If you are a masochist- pick up the 35/5.6 and 80/4. Worst thought out interchangeable lens system ever. But they do give sharp results.

    1. Brian. Thanks very much for the information on how to disengage the shutter speed/f-stop coupling. Unfortunately, I’m so mechanically inept that I wouldn’t even contemplate doing something like that. One of my great regrets is that I am unable (maybe unwilling to try) to attempt even basic camera repairs.

  5. Hey Howard, love the look of this camera, the folding lens makes it a great pocket camersa? The images it has delivered, lovely rich colours and tones. The look very similar to what I get from my Voightlander CLR which I will be posting about in the future.

    1. Thanks Julian. I’ll look forward to reading your Voigtlander CLR review. I have a Voigtländer Vito B that seems to work, but which I haven’t yet tried. There’s something about Voigtländer cameras that I particularly like.

    2. Julian, I, too, am looking forward to reading all about your CLR, as I have a bit of a soft spot for Voigtlander. You question if it makes a great pocket camera. IMO, too heavy. Like the best of these 1950’s/1960’s cameras, they are quite substantially made and not what we’d identify today as being pocketable.

  6. We must not live too far apart, Howard. I know most of the locations of your shots on sight, even the header on your website (Rt.117 underpass in the Rockefeller Preserve, no?). Interesting to see how someone else sees the area.

    1. Spot on! The current header (I usually change it every month, but forgot to do so this time) is indeed the Rt. 117 underpass in the Rockefeller Preserve. I just took a look at your website. Great Stuff! I particularly enjoyed your manifesto, much of which I agree with even if I don’t necessarily follow your advice. I continue to be in awe of people, like yourself, who are able to repair classic cameras. As mentioned in another comment to this post – I wish I was able to do this.

      1. Thanks. Glad you liked the site. The manifesto was written in a fit of irritation, but then being a malcontent at heart, that’s a pretty common occurrence for me.

  7. Good review Howard. I have the earlier one with the same lens but no rangefinder. I’m still on my first roll of film with it but I hope the results are as good as yours.

  8. I am always impressed by the images you can get with a Retina, I have the IIIc with the f/2 lens and it’s really fantastic. The lens is so sharp with really nice color rendering. All the odd quirks the camera has is part of it’s charm, although going from dark to light is a bit annoying at times since it can be a two step process to get from either end of the shutter speed range.

    1. Joey. I too was very impressed by the sharpness and color rendering. I also have a IIa, which I have still to use. At one point I considered collecting all of the different models but didn’t follow up.

  9. My father gave me his when I was in Jr High School. Used it until I got my first SLR (3rd hand Canon AE 1 Program) in college. I once shot a roll of Kodachrome 25 speed slide film with it and all I can say is….OH MY GOD! I’ll have to get mine repaired some day and put it back into use. Thanks for a great article.

    1. Pete. Thanks very much. I used a Canon AE-1 for many years. Nice camera, but I prefer aperture priority to Shutter priority.

  10. My apologies, this comment isn’t directly related to this post, although the photos are, indeed, lovely — and I have enjoyed your engaging writing style over the last few posts while I was trying to find how to contact you.

    I’ve been trying to contact you through your website (aheadworld.org), but have been unsuccessful so far. I would love to talk with you about reprinting one of your images for one-time, limited/nonprofit use. Thanks in advance!

  11. Hi, Howard
    Just caught up with your review of the Retina IIc. I have a IIC and agree with your points. This retina is a great camera and beautifully engineered, and I think Nagel can be forgiven its quirky characteristics.
    The only serious gripe I have with the Retina is holding it. I’ve never found a way of holding the camera that gives me confidence with my grip. There are instructions in the “The Retina Way” for holding the camera, but I’ve found them of little help.
    Has anyone suggestions for handling these cameras.

    1. Hi Martin. I always have trouble holding folding cameras. I just muddle along. But then I don’t use them that often so it’s much of an issue. I recently used a Moskva 5 and didn’t have a clue where to put my hands. In the end I concluded that a tripod and cable release was the way to go.

  12. The IIc does give Leica-level images. Murderously sharp My only complaint about design is the rewind mechanism. You wear out your thumb and forefinger and don’t seem to be getting anywhere. It is tempting to open the back too soon (surely it’s completely rewound!) and there go your best shots.

    1. Thanks for the comment Robert. I don’t recall having any problems rewinding, but that’s probably just my aging memory.

  13. Chistopher Von Trapp

    Great review! Thank you for taking the time to review one of the Kodak Retina cameras. The build quality and photographic results from these cameras are fantastic in my opinion. They often don’t get enough respect compared to the Leica M’s and that is a travesty. These August Nagel designs are incredible!

      1. Cristian Romanoschi

        Great review! I have the ii c and ib. They are the same except that ib doesn’t have a rangefinder but does have an exposure meter. The counter reset is kind of strange. It locks when hitting 1 and the reset is not intuitive at all. Due to this issue i bought the ii c advertised as not working actually working perfectly. Both deliver the slow times with precision after 60 years no servising. The rewind is really slow and bad. I have over 40 film cameras of all ages and this is the first one where i have managed to open the door with the film exposed. You don’t feel when it gets free, it is not tensioned and you feel it coil back on the spool and you need to turn it like mad:) Pictures look awsome Leica/contax level. Great value for the money.

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