Tuesday, March 8, 2011

About using vintage cameras - Kodak Retinette IA

In January 2002 Mar and I spent a weekend in Paris for the first time. We were together for only five months then and I keep very dear memories from that trip.

One of these memories is the camera that Mar had with her. Her mom let her take the camera she had been using since she was young, a Kodak Retinette IA. I remember being fascinated by its old looks and the odd film advance lever on the bottom side. But, most of all, I remember the challenge of having to estimate your focusing distance and also how nice did the black&white pictures that we took come out.

Years after that, as we had already discovered our passion for photography, Mar's mom let us take the Retinette. We had it checked by a camera repairman, the last one still active in Salzburg. Even before we got the camera back, I was eager to start using it again. This was my first serious experimenting with film photography.

The Kodak Retinette IA is a viewfinder camera. That means that there is a viewfinder that allows to frame more or less what the lens will see.

Kodak Retinette IA - TTV
(Nikon Coolpix S200, 6.3mm, 0.3s, f/3.1, ISO 100)

"More or less" because you are not actually looking through the lens, as it happens with a reflex camera, so there is a small perspective difference, called parallax, which is especially noticeable when looking at close subjects. In fact, the Retinette has quite nice parallax correction aids, but there is no way of seeing what is in focus. The focusing is done by estimating the distance to your subject and setting this estimated distance on the focusing ring. In fact, the whole lens turns as it is focused. There are some quite whimsical graphic aids for the distance ranges corresponding to portrait, group photo and landscape.

Kodak Retinette 1A
(EOS 40D, EF 50mm f/1.8, 4s, f/8.0, ISO 100)

The lens is a Schneider Kreuznach Reomar 45mm f/2.8. The focal length (45mm) is very close to the diagonal of a frame (24x36mm means an approximate diagonal of 43mm), which makes it a normal lens. After taking a picture, film advance is accomplished by pulling a lever in the bottom with your right thumb. This same lever automatically cocks the shutter for the next shot.

What I love about the Retinette is its simplicity, compared to our previous cameras. You just need to worry about shutter speed, aperture and focus. Film speed has to be decided only once, as you choose which film to load. All the remaining energy can be effectively used to try to make great pictures. That means composing, excluding, simplifying, ... instead of fumbling with exposure metering modes and back focusing issues.

When using the Retinette for the first time after we had it serviced it was a wonderful surprise to see how incredibly smooth everything worked. I wonder if any of our modern cameras will be in such great shape in 40 years...

There is something that I feel, very difficult to describe but still very real, when I operate a vintage photographic camera. It is a mix of reverence, as this device was already in the world before I was born, and kind of a comforting feeling, because in spite of its age, it still works perfectly. You know you have a piece of fine craftsmanship in your hands, whose designers are most probably already dead, but I like to think that they would smile if they could see me. In a similar way some people, especially the elderly, smile at me when they see the Retinette in my hands, probably having happy memories of a time long gone.

Kodak Retinette IA (camera-wiki.org)
My Retinette IA flickr set

Maker Kodak (Stuttgart)
Model Retinette IA, Typ 044
Type Viewfinder
Lens Schneider-Kreuznach Reomar 45mm f/2.8
Shutter Prontor 250S 1/30 - 1/250 + B
Film type 35mm (135)
Year 1963-66
Country West Germany


  1. Loved reading this! ;-)
    No tens botonet de "Segueix-me"? Jo et vull seguir!!

  2. Light, love having you here! :)
    Ja he afegit el botonet de seguidors, a la dreta...