5 frames with...

5 frames with a Kodak Retina IIIc – by Thomas Merk

A complete photographic system in a little leather case: The Kodak Retina IIIc and an assortment of accessories.

After having been a professional photographer for 20 years working with Leicas, medium format and 4×5 cameras, I started around the year 2000 a new career as a writer of books and scripts for tv shows. And I switched completely to digital cameras, starting with a Minolta Dimage 7i (quite a revelation then) and arriving after a brief adventure with Canon DSLRs at Panasonic’s Lumix GH and GX series – a system I can use my Leica lenses with and which I still like and use, though mostly for producing videos.  

For 15 years or so I thought I would never touch an analogue camera again until following a whim I put a roll of film into an old Rolleiflex TLR of mine, snapped a happy dozen of pictures, and brought the Ektar 100 to one of the few surviving photo labs in the city of Munich to have it developed. 

And there I saw it in the shopwindow of the lab: A little leather box reminding me of a lady’s beauty case, filled with an plethora of photographic equipment at a price i just couldn’t resist.  

The little treasure chest contained a Kodak Retina IIIc, made in the 1950s in Kodak’s german camera factory “August Nagel” in Stuttgart. A beauty of a 35mm folder, compact enough to be easily pocketable but still a grown up camera that had everything an ambitious photographer could ask for in those days. It sported a 2/50mm Retina Xenon made by Schneider Kreuznach – a lens that plays in the same league as old Zeiss Planars and Leitz Summicrons – a coupled rangefinder, a selenium light meter (that still works), and – lo and behold – interchangeable lenses. Well, sort of, as it is only the front component of the Xenon that can be removed and replaced by either a f:5.6/35 mm wide angle component (called Retina Curtar Xenon) or a rather hefty Retina Longar Xenon f:4/80mm that transforms the sleek Retina into a monstrous beast once it is attached. 

In addition to the camera and these lenses (which I rarely use because of their rather cumbersome handling) the case houses an external viewfinder for the accessory lenses that goes into the cold shoe, a foldable sports frame viewfinder adjustable for both the normal and the tele lens, plastic shades for all three lenses, an assortment of filters, and a set of three closeup lenses with a parallax correcting range/viewfinder contraption. All in all a complete photographic system in a container that is less than half the size of an average present day’s camera bag. Amazing.  

And a pleasure to use, as long as you stick with the 50mm Xenon. In the twelve months I’ve owned it now, the Retina IIIc has become my trusty photographic companion – I take it with me every day even when I have to use a digital camera for professional reasons.  

Here are five frames from the first black and white films I shot with it downtown Munich (the first two in front of the famous “Hofbräuhaus”). Ilford Delta 100 (pics 1 to 3) and Fomapan 100 (pics 4 and 5), developed in Rodinal and scanned with a Nikon Coolscan 4000.

Friends forever

The sound of music

Posing for a phone

Father and son

Checking

If you want to read more about this camera you can do so in my blog http://zeitmaschinen.org/?p=508&lang=en
More of my pictures with this and other cameras you can find here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zeitmaschinen/ 

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Terry B
    July 11, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Thomas, I bet your eyes lit up when you first saw what was inside that outfit case! What a great find. There’s just something special about these cameras from the 1950’s and ’60’s. Often one doesn’t even have to take pics with them, simply holding them in one’s hands, playing with them and admiring the technology of old, is sometimes enough.
    I can appreciate your comment about the camera + tele attachment. I have four Tessar equipped Zeiss Contaflexes (built like tanks and weigh about as much, especially with a film back attached) and for which I have the f4/115mm Tele Tessar. This is some monster and makes for a somewhat heavy combination. But it looks good. :D)

    • Reply
      Thomas Merk
      July 11, 2018 at 10:59 pm

      Hi Terry,
      i know what you mean with playing with the cameras – i do that sometimes while watching TV: cocking the shutter, looking through the viewfinder, matching the rangefinder patch, pressing the release button and listening to the softly purring sound of the full second again and again … I love the way these german manufacturers of the 1950ies solved every photographic challenge with purely mechanical means and how each of their cameras features its very own set of audible and tactile sensations. A Leica is so different from a Rolleiflex or a Retina or a Contaflex and that makes owning more than one of these mechanical marvels so enjoyable. I had a Contaflex III a long time ago and loved it. The accessory lenses of the Retina remind me of the Pro-Tessars of the Contaflex which were heavy chunks of glass and metal too – but much easier to focus because the camera was an SLR. Hold on to your Contaflexes – i wish i had held on to mine.

  • Reply
    Julian Higgd
    July 11, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    Love the look of these Retinas. I may have to hunt one out. I feel the same about my Voightlander Vito CLR.. Bravo to you.

    • Reply
      Thomas Merk
      July 11, 2018 at 10:20 pm

      Hi Julian, i think the Vito CLR is a very nice, cuddly camera, about a generation older than the Retina IIIC when folders got out of fashion and coupled light meters were the latest craze. The corresponding Kodak would be the Retina IIIS i think, but it is by far not als elegant as the CLR.

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    July 12, 2018 at 10:50 am

    I have a Retina 11c with a 50mm Xenon 2.8 (no built in meter) as well as a Rolleiflex and Rolleicord all as new and from the mid 50s. “Playing” with them often is actually a very good idea as the slow shutter speeds can get sticky if they are unused for a time. If the slow speeds of any between the lens shutter sticks open, just operate them over and over again without film of course and it may take 20 or so actuations and usually they will come right.
    I prefer the Retina 11c to various Leicas of a similar vintage I have owned.

    • Reply
      Thomas Merk
      July 12, 2018 at 1:47 pm

      Hi Graham,
      congratulations to your IIc. I think it has the better looks than the IIIc as the light meter somehow looks like an afterthought to me. It’s good to have, but once the selenium cell passes away into the happy hunting grounds you wish you had a IIc in the first place. The Xenar is a fine lens – i have one in a Rolleicord, it’s definitely a match for the Tessar in the more Carl Zeiss oriented cameras. And what you said about playing with old cameras in order to keep them fit is exactly what i tell my wife when she lifts an eyebrow at me fiddling with my “toys”:-)

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    July 13, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    Thanks Thomas,
    Without fact checking again, I seem to remember that after WW2, Kodak were “given” the German factory making cameras that became Kodak Retinas. In my opinion they were the best cameras that Kodak ever made. (I started in photography in 1948 with a Kodak Brownie box camera I still have)

    • Reply
      Thomas Merk
      July 14, 2018 at 1:02 pm

      Hi, Graham,
      Eastman Kodak had their german factory given back after WW2. They bought it in 1934 i think and produced the Kodak Retinas before the war there. Actually my uncle gave me an old Retina I many years ago. He used the little camera for taking pictures of his rather ambitious hikes in the bavarian alps. I still own the camera and shoot a film with it once in a while – works like a charm 80 years after its production date.

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    July 14, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Hi Thomas,
    Thanks for that update. I’ve since read a little more of the Retina history. I’m sure my Retina will still be going fine long after my Canon 5d4 gives up and no doubt it will outlast me. It’s good to see the start of a revival of film.

  • Reply
    Dave Tada
    July 17, 2018 at 2:47 am

    Hey Thomas, nice write up on your site! Funny i was checking here to see if anyone already did an article about this fantastic camera.. I have one retina iia, one iiic and two IIICs. I love these them! Have you tried the version with the heligon (rodenstock) lens? Both are great, but my daily user is the heligon one 🙂 Such an under appreciated camera. Compact, sturdy, and i cant believe how sharp that 50 f2 is 😉 I was going to post a link to some retina snaps but wanted to make sure its ok with you first?

    • Reply
      Thomas Merk
      July 17, 2018 at 9:06 am

      Hi Dave, you are lucky to own a Retina with the Heligon (produced in my home town Munich). I would like to have one of those, preferably a IIIC. Must keep an eye open at Ebay. Do you think the Heligon is better than the Xenon? Please post your link to your retina snaps, i am looking forward to it very much. 🙂

  • Reply
    Dave Tada
    July 18, 2018 at 2:22 am

    Yeah, it’s a great lens on a great camera 🙂 Tbh, I haven’t noticed a huge difference. I believe it might be a little bit sharper in the mid/edge area, but i think the center might be a little sharper on the xenon wide open(?) I’ll have to do some testing 😉 In the meantime here’s some snaps from my retina iiic’s:

    http://davetada.tumblr.com/tagged/kodak+retina+iiic

  • Reply
    Thomas Merk
    July 18, 2018 at 10:30 am

    Spare yourself the testing – it’s dull. Take some of those exciting pictures instead that can be seen following your link. Thank you very much for that, these are great photographs shot with a great camera.

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