Kodak Retina IIIC Review - Photo Jottings

Kodak Retina IIIC Review

 

The German built Kodak Retina IIIC is a compact folding 35mm coupled rangefinder from the late 1950s.  This finely crafted camera features a selenium light meter, and uses an exposure value scale to make changes in equivalent settings quick and easy.  Also included, and probably the most notable feature on this camera is the 50mm F/2 Schneider Kreuznach Retina Xenar C lens; it’s very impressive and has a lot of character; of course it’s super sharp stopped down a bit.

Another selling feature of this particular model was the ability to add different component lenses in place of the 50mm F/2 lens; they even put the framing guide lines with parallax correction for each lens in the viewfinder.  The standard lens is the 50mm F/2, but you can get two Curtar 35mm lenses, an F/4 or F/5.6, and a Longar 80mm F/4.  The four lenses attach to the front of the shutter in place of the 50mm, and use the optical group in back of the shutter left over from the 50mm lens.

Along with the ‘Schneider Kreuznach 50/2 Xenon,’ you could get a ‘Rodenstock 50/2 Heligon’ lens also, but these are not interchangeable between brands, you have to keep them separated including all component lenses.

Some people may not realize folding Retina models have a small and inconspicuous leather bellows behind the lens, but you can see it if you open the back and extend the lens.  Fortunately, the bellows is mostly covered by the shutter mount, and probably will not show small light leaks.

With the pleasantries out of the way, let’s check out the camera more thoroughly.

Name; Kodak Retina IIIC (028)

Manufactured by; Kodak AG.

Made in; Stuttgart, Germany.

Date of manufacture; 1958 to 1960.  My review camera was probably made in 1958 based on the serial numbers from the body and lens.  Approximately 68,000 produced for the entire run.

Price; internet searches of period magazine ads points to; local camera shop prices most likely less than $200, large discount mail order stores less than $150; and even less as time went on.  Current eBay prices range anywhere from $150 to $400 or more depending on condition and if it comes with the original box etc.

Build material; mostly metal with a very good fit and finish.

Box contents; not sure, at least an instruction manual, maybe a leather snap case in a deluxe kit.

Weight; my measurements; camera body, no film: 24.8oz (647g).

Dimensions; my measurements; 5.0″ (127mm), long; 3.5″ (88mm) tall; 1.9″ (49mm) deep closed, and 3.6″ deep 90mm extended.

Focal length; 50mm.  47° diagonal angle of view.

Aperture;  manually set in one stop increments only from F/2-22, however, the red EV scale can be set in half stops.

ISO; 5-1300 (DIN 9-33) manually set.  Used for setting EV scale only; it doesn’t change the meter reading.

Focusing distance; 2.6′ to infinity, or 0.8m to infinity.  Marked in meters for use in European countries, not originally for the US market.

Viewfinder; bright and clear, and a bit busy.  Bright gold colored framing guide lines for 35mm, 50mm and 80mm lenses, and each has parallax compensation marks.

Light meter; selenium type; uncoupled.

Approximate resolution; good film and technique will make very sharp 11×14″ prints.  See sample images farther down the page.

Lens; Schneider Kreuznach 50mm Retina-Xenon C F/2 six element in four groups design.  Make sure both front and rear groups are matched by numbers; see photos below.

Shutter and speed; Synchro Compur, has five straight aperture blades and five shutter blades; 10 speed shutter going from 1 second to 1/500 second, plus bulb mode.

Features; coupled ‘coincidence’ double image rangefinder focusing, self timer, compact design, sharp lens and selenium light meter.

Film; standard 35mm cartridges.

Flash; does not have a built-in flash.

Power; no batteries.

Accessories for this model; there are numerous accessories for the Retina IIIC, and I can’t name them all, but some of the most common for this particular Schneider Kreuznach model are; 35/5.6 Curtar lens, 35/4 Curtar lens, and an 80/4 Longar lens.  Also, there is quite an assortment of filters, close up lenses, and finders.  I don’t have any filters for my camera; however, I think it takes 32mm push-on, and 29.5 screw-in for the 50mm lens.

Crippling features and omissions; I could do without the dorky EV feature, which makes it harder to set just the aperture or shutter speed.  Has an dddball filter size.

Good features; excellent fast lens, and very compact design.

Quirks; when the subtractive frame counter is at number 1, the shutter will no longer fire; so if you forget and short-set the number of exposures you may miss some shots until you reset the counter.

Other versions; there is a long line of Retinas from the 1930s all the way through the 1960s.  Go here for a list of all the Retina cameras; and to retinarescue for some great reading and repair service.

Go here to see the owners manual, and make sure you tip the site owner.

Product shots with descriptions.  Click pictures for larger versions.

A very compact 35mm folding camera with coupled rangefinder.  The lens door opens up by gently pulling and moving the cover opposite of the small silver knob.

Here the lens has been extended and snapped into place.  Along the top front of the camera we have the: reflective light meter, (not shown is the diffusing screen for incident readings).  The middle rectangle is the rangefinder window, and the viewfinder is on the right.

When folding up the camera, make sure the focus is set to infinity, otherwise you can’t retract the lens and close the door; (which is done by pushing in the round buttons on the top and bottom of the lens housing).  As the Retina IIIC is a folding camera, it does have a leather bellows (not shown) just behind the lens.

Notice the shutter speeds are facing up, which makes them easier to read when holding the camera for picture taking, and looking down to check or change your settings.

The red numbers around the shutter make up the ‘EV’ scale, and are used for setting different but equivalent combinations of F/stops and shutter speeds.  So if the light meter suggests an EV of 12, and you set the combination of F/8 and 1/60s, then you decide you want to open up the aperture for a blurred background, you simply turn the ring to another setting, say F/4 at 1/250s and you’ll still get the same exposure, because it’s based on the equivalent amount of light.

On the bottom we have the film advance lever on the left that cradles the film release button. The black hole in the middle is not a tripod socket, but a positioning pin for a flash bracket.  The 1/4-20 tripod socket is at the right.  The tab with the arrow indicates the direction in which you turn the assembly to expose the back cover latch; push in to release the back cover.

The back of the camera is uncluttered, but proudly displays the Kodak Retina camera logo; the back of the top plate holds the viewfinder and film counter reset button, push in the direction of the arrow to begin resetting the frame number.

With the back cover opened we can see the metal film gate and sprocket wheel; however, the take-up spool appears to be black plastic.  The back cover holds the film tensioner and pressure plate.

The top of the camera shows the right and left rectangular strap lugs at the ends of the body.

The left wheel is for setting the type of film you’re using—as a reminder only, it doesn’t do anything.

The cold shoe is for mounting a flash or other accessory; triggering a flash requires a cable to the shutter PC connection.

The semi-circular window shows the subtractive frame counter, and number of exposures left.

Just below the frame counter we have the film release button that has an accidental release guard around it.  This button also allows you to take a double exposure if desired.

The shutter button is the small circular button to the upper right; it’s threaded for a cable release.

The large wheel on the right is for setting the exposure value from the light reading.  Here you also set the ASA or DIN to your film speed; doing this keeps the meter sensitivity reading matched to the film ASA, but it doesn’t make the meter more sensitive, you still have to set the EV reading to the lens.

Here are three component lenses for the Schneider Kreuznach equipped Retina IIIC.  The tiny 50/2 is on the left.  In the middle is a Curtar 35mm F/5.6. There is also an F/4 Curtar 35mm lens (not shown), and it’s almost as big as the 80mm Longar F/4 lens on the right.  All are Schneider Kreuznach Retina Xenon C lenses, with the protective containers in the rear.  All the lenses here screw on to the front of the shutter assembly, and use the same rear group to complete the optical formula.  Only the 50/2 is coupled to the rangefinder, the others have to be manually set to a different focus determined by the scale around the lens.  Rodenstock Heligon and Schneider Kreuznach lenses are not interchangeable.

Bad cell phone shot looking though the viewfinder.  The guide lines for each component lens is visible through the viewfinder, and each one has parallax correction marks; unfortunately, adding all these lines creates a busy and distracting viewfinder.  The lines are actually a fine light gold, not thick and rainbow colored as you see here.  The bright rangefinder patch is in the center but not too visible here because of the sun hitting the car.

Matching lens numbers.

Kodak apparently made matching sets of 50mm F/2 lens groups for use on the  Retina IIIC, and other Retinas.  The front and back groups are each composed of three elements in two groups, and both have a serial number visible on the retaining ring.  Internet chat suggests these serial numbers must match for the lens to work properly.  If your camera doesn’t have matching serial numbers, someone along the way has either lost, or misplaced one of the groups, and simply added another to complete the camera.  I don’t know if the lens will still work properly or not since my serial numbers match; however, the word on the street suggests the lens quality is compromised with mis-matched elements.

The pictures below are crops from the larger images above.

The front element has a serial number located around the retaining ring; this number must match the rear lens group number.

The serial number for the lens is also located on the face of the shutter.  The front lens group attaches to the brass threads on the right.

This view is from the open back cover, and shows the rear group numbers match the front.  Make sure you ask a seller if the numbers match before making a purchasing decision.

Sample shots below.

Here are a few samples for your viewing pleasure.  They’re 4000 pixels wide, so click image for a larger version.

F/8-11.  New foliage grows after a fire.  Very sharp, even along the extreme sides.  Kodak Portra 400.

F/8-11.  Housing project at high noon.  Kodak Portra 400.

F/8.  Ghosting and flare are prominent with the sun inside the frame.  Kodak Portra 400.

Taken wide open at F/2 and focused on the tree branch at left.  Notice the busy background highlight blur.  Fuji Velvia 100.

Shell delivery truck.  F/4, Fuji Velvia 100.

Home front at F/8, Fuji Velvia 100.

Test scene below.

All test shots are displayed at 4000 x 2667 pixels wide when enlarged, and that’s all the resolution included in the film.  Scanned on a Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED.

Tripod used, no filters.  Fuji Velvia 100.

F/2.  Good sharpness here in the central area with some veiling haze, and a bit soft as you go towards the sides.  Heavy light fall-off.

Moving down to F/2.8 gets rid of the veiling haze and bumps the contrast up, although the sides are still a little soft.  Light fall-off is still heavy in the corners.

F/4.  The whole image sharpens up nicely.  Light fall-off is greatly diminished.

F/5.6.  I think there is slight camera movement here, so this picture isn’t very useful.

At F/8 the entire frame is very sharp and light fall-off is mostly gone.  The lens resolution is maxed out at F/8; moving to F/11 causes some softening due to diffraction.

Conclusion.

The Kodak Retina IIIC turned in a great review, although that’s no surprise, the camera has received glowing reviews since it came out over 60 years ago.  There are a lot of good websites to check out that go in to the history, mechanicals and repair of the Retina IIIC, so I didn’t cover that here, I’m more interested in using the camera for taking pictures.

Overall, the Retina IIIC is quite easy to use.  The viewfinder is bright, (but has too many lines for the component lenses), and the rangefinder patch is easy to see.  Focusing is done using a small semi circular knob around the shutter assembly with a total rotation of just over 120°, and is damped perfectly in my opinion.  The distance scale is silver over black and easy to see, however, the shutter speeds are black on a silver background, and are too small for people with less than ideal eyesight.

The selenium light meter and exposure value system is really not useful for me.  Although the light meter on my camera seems to be fairly accurate, (which is rare after six decades), I don’t think it’s helpful for negative type film; you can guess or use the sunny 16 rule and get a good exposure.  If you’re using picky slide film, the selenium meter doesn’t seem to be accurate enough, so you’ll need a separate meter like the Gossen Digisix; it’s relatively inexpensive and gives good results, I use it for my slide exposures in tricky situations.

Of course the conclusion would not be complete without raving about the Schneider Kreuznach 50/2 Xenon lens.  It really is quite sharp wide open, and becomes very sharp over most of the frame at F/4, and about as perfect as a lens can be at F/8.  The ghosting and flare control would be considered decent for a modern lens, and probably excellent for back in the 1950s.  The only real downer for the lens is the background highlight blur is not very smooth, but oh well, you can’t have everything right?

Anyhow, two thumbs up for the superb Kodak Retina IIIC!  Please consider buying through my links and help support the site. Thanks for visiting!

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