5 Frames with the Kodak Retina 1a & Very Expired Ilford FP4

Word is, Folding Kodak Retinas are a lovely piece of kit, provided your winding mechanism isn’t broken. I had a beautiful Retina iia with a dodgy winder. F2 Schneider lens, nice clear rangefinder, I sent it to Dave, my camera wizard, full of hope. In the interim I bought a Retina ia as a possible donor. The difference between the two models were that the one lacked a rangefinder so had a smaller top section, and the lens was an f2.8, other than that the one and two were identical. They were manufactured side by side by the Nagel company in Stuttgart, Germany. Official lists state they were manufactured from 1951-54 but some people think it was as early as 1949. The build quality of both is superb and, while not cheap, they are still relatively inexpensive, for the time being. Well, my iia was unfixable, ok probably not unfixable per se but it needed hugely expensive professional help which made it unviable.

Thankfully the donor 1a hadn’t been disassembled for bits so I thought I would give it a go. It cost me the princely sum of £20, and that with a Gossens auxiliary shoe light meter that works beautifully. The camera is heavy despite being small. It is no bigger than my hand and slides easily into a jeans pocket. Loading film is much like any modern camera. The back is opened by a lever revealing a standard looking film bay. There is a pressure roller on the back plate along side the pressure plate. Mine also has a red sticker, proudly proclaiming that it was serviced by Kodak in 1961.

On top, to the right of the viewfinder tunnel you have the winding lever, a release button for jams and such like, the shutter button and some nice engraving, to the left you have the auxiliary shoe & rewind knob with the film reminder containing six long dead film stocks.

On the back is the worlds smallest viewfinder (5mm x 2.5mm) and some zeiss bumps. On the bottom is the film rewind release knob and the button to open the front. The lens is a Schneider Kreuznach Retina Xenar 50mm f2.8 with a synchro compur shutter. Aperture is f2.8 – f16 & shutter speeds range from bulb & 1 sec to 1/500. Flash is the usual X & M and focus is via a knurled dome on the side.

The button on the base is pressed to open the door. In order to close it the focus must be at infinity, at which point it allows you to press the top and bottom locking buttons. The shutter is virtually silent and mine is quite accurate down to about 1/10, after which it’s a bit slow. Winding is done by the lever, on top of which is the film counter. The counter on these counts down to zero, at which point it locks and will not fire unless you wind it past the locking point. The biggest sticking point is the viewfinder. It is so small you often can’t find it and have to move the camera from your eye so you can see where it is. It gives you an idea of framing, but not a lot more. I love this little camera. The lens is sharp enough and the experience of using such a beautifully manufactured item is one of the reasons why we shoot vintage cameras in the first place. It’s not a camera for quickly changing scenes but on a sunny day, using sunny 16 and zone focusing it is just the thing to put a great big smile on your face.

The film.

I bought an Alden bulk loader containing an unknown amount of “Mistry” film. Once the test roll was developed, the writing on the side of the frame identified it as FP4 safety film. As FP4+ came out in 1990 the assumption is this is 80s film. I had about ten rolls to play with and shot it at 64 & 125. I developed it +1 it in Rodinal, ID-11, HC110 and caffenol (stand) and the results were pretty good. Rodinal was way too grainy, the others were ok but HC110 was the nicest. It was in the developer for 14:51 @ 20c but I think this was too long.

My first experience of HC110 was the bellini Euro HC. Beautiful stuff. The timings on massive dev were spot on and the results were great. I then bought some of the new formula Kodak HC110 and got loads of thin negatives, so I increased the time by 10% and changed the agitation scheme to 5 every 30 secs as per a Kodak datasheet. I have since reduced the time to +5% after getting some dark negatives. It would be interesting to know if anyone else has experienced thin negatives from the new formula of HC110. As for the Mistry FP4, It was dark. I wasn’t sure if I had over exposed or over developed.

Either way, I didn’t have high hopes. I scanned the negatives using a pixl-latr and the Forster 35mm carrier and took them into Lightroom. The results were astonishing. I am a digital shooter and am use to pixel peeping, thats a bad idea with this stuff, the grain is epic however, viewed in the correct way, the images are really nice. I have two rolls of FP4 left plus some 1992 Orwo NP27 and can’t wait to get out there and shoot some more expired film.

Thanks for reading

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23 thoughts on “5 Frames with the Kodak Retina 1a & Very Expired Ilford FP4”

  1. Nice pics Peter and a very good camera. I have a 2c with the f2.8 lens. All excellent like new. I’ve been told that the f2.8 is a better lens than the f2, but of course slower. As I understand they became Kodak cameras during the American occupation of Germany after WW2. They are a much more substantial camera than is usually associated with the Kodak name. Bristol also appropriated BMW car engine designs and no doubt much more was taken to be used by occupying countries.
    Sometimes the Retina slow shutter speeds stick if they are not used often enough. The secret is to spend half an hour running each slow speed without a film and they will eventually come right. They work with a different mechanism than the fast speeds.
    Yes compact but heavy. I love their foldability. Still a great camera only lacking interchangeable lenses compared to Leica or Contax. Although theoretically the front element can be replaced with a Tele element and I think a wide angle with their own viewfinders. But I’ve never seen a set of them.

    1. I picked up a mint Retina iic and that is just wonderful. Its the same F2.8 lens but the bottom winder is much more robust. Image quality is fantastic. Its only minor flaw is the fact that you often lose the first frame in a session thanks to a sticky shutter. It needs a CLA but for now I will see if use frees it up. I have some Adox CHS 100ii in at the moment. I developed half of the film in FX-39 and it is superb. Its grainy for a 100iso film but the tonal range is some of the nicest I have seen 🙂

  2. Really interesting write up with some nice photos!
    I enjoyed your experience with the film
    I’ve never used bulk film nor a loader before and also getting some really really old film to look this good is a nice bonus !!

  3. Very nice, Peter! I have a retina II sitting here with the f2 lens, waiting for the right Action. And thank you for the HC110 info, I just got myself a pack of tmax 400 and a bottle of developer. I wonder if the same recipe changes apply here too ;))

    1. Most people claim the new recipe of Kodak HC110 is identical to the old. I was comparing it to Bellini euroHC which is superb but the Kodak was a bit thin. Give the bottle a good shake before you start 🙂 the agitation scheme I used, 5 every 30secs came from a Kodak data sheet. Its one way of making things bolder. Tbh the negatives, though thin, were eminently usable so I wouldn’t worry too much, I just like mine to be bold lol.

  4. True fact: the Retina 1a was the first camera on Mount Everest! Hillary didn’t trust Tenzing to handle it, which is why all the photos are of Tenzing. In any case, it performed admirably – those photos are iconic.

    Yes, I thought he’d choose a more rugged camera, such as a Leica thread mount, but hey … you shoot with what you got 🙂

        1. Me? Service one? Lol nooooo. Dave at camera repair workshop in blechley Milton Keynes does lubricating and shutter work but draws the line at wind mechanisms on them. By all accounts the mechanism on my iic is stronger so the iic, iic & iic are the ones to go for. I will be sending mine to Dave for a re-lubricate in the next few days but first I need to email him and make sure I didn’t put him off with my iia which was unviable. The bottom line is I have found Dave to be honest and helpful. He will tell you if he is happy to work on stuff and he doesn’t charge a fortune, unlike some.

    1. Excellent little hit of history. For the short time they manufactured them, Kodak made excellent cameras. One of the local legends around here, Fred Herzog, used a Kodak Retina II in his early days. I’ve serviced many of them and they’re really well made items.

  5. Marco Andrés Tapia

    The images are superb. Definitely analogue. The Kodak Nagel cameras are indeed gems. Certainly agree with the comments above.
    The Retina iic [my preference, the silicone light meter detracts] and iiic have these features:
    – Lens: f/2.8 50mm Schneider Xenon C or f/2.8 50mm Rodenstock Heligon C (6 element)
    – Interchangeable front component (bayonet)
    – Alternative lenses: f/4 80mm, f/4 35mm, f/5.6 35mm
    – Viewfinder: bright-line, with outlines for 35mm, 50mm & 80mm lenses, and parallax-correction marks
    – Coupled rangefinder
    [for more info: http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Kodak_Retina_IB/IIC/IIIC#Type_029_Retina_IIC%5D

    1. Camera repair workshop in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, UK. He did a lovely job servicing my Yashica Mat and my Pentax S1000

  6. An excellent camera, great lens. I have a similar one, and I do enjoy taking it out every now and then. Thank you for your article, is nice when people use and love the stuff I use and love 🙂 .


    1. Thanks. I couldn’t agree more. There are so many write ups about Leica iii and Rolleiflex but try and find one about a Zeiss ikoflex ii or a Fed 3a and you are scratching for scraps. That’s why this is such a great resource 🙂

  7. I bought mine c1960 from a local pawn shop and it has served me well. Superb with B&W. Strangely I’ve never shot colour through it. Cost me £12.10 shillings with carry case. Slower speeds are a bit sluggish now but 25th sec up OK.

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