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Kodak Retina and Retinette Cameras Folding Retina FAQ

Whilst written originally and primarily for the Retina IIc and IIIc cameras, this faq will, in part at least, cover features found on many of the folding Retinas. If this brief resumé does not answer your questions, I have a copy of "The Retina Guide", (1965 edition) posted in the manuals section which should cover most operating queries for most models.

A characteristic of many of these cameras is that the whole thing locks up when the film counter reaches the end of the run. The procedure is detailed in the manual, but presumably you're reading this because you don't have one :-} So briefly, hold down the button next to the frame counter, cycle the sliding button on the rear of the camera a couple of times, then you should be able to press the shutter down, after which the film wind should work. If not, I'm afraid it's likely to be something serious. The film counter on these cameras is designed to be set manually to the number of frames available on the film when it is loaded. Once this number has been counted, the mechanism locks to prevent the film getting torn by an over-enthusiastic thumb.

These are fine cameras, with one weak point. As the film is wound, a small rack drives a pinion on a shaft to cock the shutter. Any stiffness in the shutter cocking mechanism can cause this rack to strip teeth, rendering the camera out of action. As careful as one normally is with a camera, it is especially important to ensure with these models that small particles of grit etc. do not get into this mechanism via the small hump on the lens surround. A little over zealous winding and bingo :-( ... look after it and you'll be thrilled with the quality. In the event of a stripped cocking rack, simply replacing the failed part (available at micro-tools.com) is likely only to be a short term solution. The cause of the fail probably lies in the need for lubrication and or cleaning of the shutter cocking mechanism, (repair instructions can be found at Rick Oleson's site), which has probably become stiff with age and putting too much strain on the mechanism. The operation of the film winder should be as smooth and light as that on any other camera, any roughness should be considered as forewarning of a failure. Another list of spare parts for various Retina cameras can be found at dmarr.com.

There is a distinction between the "small c" Retinas, as in "IIc", and the "big C" Retinas, as in "IIIC". The "big C" cameras succeeded the "small c" cameras, neither the IIc or the IIC have meters, both the IIIc and the IIIC have an un-coupled meter, all four of these have rangefinders. There are also Ib and IB cameras, which do not have rangefinders or interchangeable lenses, even though the front section of the Xenar lens is removeable in a similar manner to the "c" & "C" cameras. The IB cameras have an un-coupled meter, the Ib has none. The "large C" cameras have multiple brightlines in the viewfinder and therefore do not need an auxiliary viewfinder. The viewfinder on the "small c" cameras only shows the field of view for the standard 50mm lens.

The auxiliary viewfinder is needed when using the auxiliary lenses on the "small c" cameras, to give an idea of the field of view. The little wheel on the side can be set manually to compensate for parallax, it tilts the viewfinder forward a bit when set for a close distance. Setting the focusing distances on these cameras is a little complicated when not using the standard lens, as the rangefinder only couples accurately for the 50mm lens. First set the focus with the rangefinder and note the distance on the upper focussing scale. Then align that setting with the "T" symbol for the 80mm lens, or the little triangle for the 35mm lens, these symbols being under the lens, using the black or silver focussing scales respectively. Note that the rotating scale on the front of the auxiliary lenses is a depth-of-field calculator and performs no part in the actual focussing of the lens.

Before these cameras can be closed, which is achieved by squeezing the two little buttons above and below the shutter housing whilst closing the door, the lens needs to be set to infinity.

Another feature of these cameras, indeed of most of the Retinas since 1954, is that the filter thread on the 50mm (and 35mm f/5.6) lens is not a "standard", the only commonly available alternatives to the factory original 29.5mm thread being 32mm push-on items, though just to confuse matters, Kodak refer to their filters for these cameras as "32mm". The factory lenshood, suitable for both 50mm lenses and the 35mm f/5.6, fits in the bayonet mount around the lens and as such is unique to the range, though a 32mm push-on hood will usually prove satisfactory for the 50mm lens. The 35mm f/4 and the 80mm lenses both accept standard 58mm thread filters, which Kodak refer to as "60mm", this is the push-on size. The f/4 35mm, with it's original lens hood fitted, obscures about a third of the viewfinder, the documentation I have for it recommends the f/5.6 35mm for the folding Retinas. The lenshood for the 80mm component is of a very similar shape and size to that for the 35mm f/4, so it does still obscure the viewfinder, though it is less of a problem as the brightlines for the 80mm lens (on the "big C" cameras) are of necessity smaller than those for the 35mm lens. Both of these large lenshoods interfere with the rangefinder to a degree.

These cameras were available with two alternate makes of standard lens, Schneider "Xenon C", ("Xenar" on the Ib and IB), and Rodenstock "Heligon C". Due to the nature of the construction, with some of the optical system built into the camera behind the shutter, it is not possible to use Schneider auxiliary lenses on a Rodenstock equipped camera and vice-versa. Similarly it is not possible to use an f/2.8 standard lens on a camera designed to have an f/2 standard lens or vice-versa. It has often been documented that the front element of the standard lens is non-interchangeable with any other camera, indeed, both the lens and the lens mount have matching serial numbers. Whilst interchanging one Schneider f/2 50mm lens with another similar item may not be a problem, for example, (there appears to be no change of focus when this is tried on a Retina Reflex, though there is a very definite change of focus when an f/2.8 element is fitted), there is no way of knowing, without exposing a film, or careful examination of a ground-glass viewing screen mounted in the back of the camera, that a camera purchased with non-matching lens/lens-mount numbers has the correct front element for the rest of the camera. Note also that the lens-mount serial number usually appears both inside and outside the camera if fitted with a Xenon. In summary, the IIc and IIC cameras were fitted with f/2.8 lenses, the IIIc and IIIC cameras with f/2 lenses. Although the front element of the Xenar fitted to the Ib and IB cameras is removeable, like the other models, it is not interchangeable with any of the 35mm or 80mm elements. According to one source, a batch of IB cameras was manufactured with f/2.8 Xenons during a shortage of Xenars, again the serial numbers should match.

For those of you browsing second-hand listings, wondering what lens is suitable for your camera, the Schneider auxiliary lenses are called :
  • Retina Curtar Xenon C, 35mm f/5.6 or f/4
  • Retina Longar Xenon C, 80mm f/4
The Rodenstock lenses are all called "Heligon C", according to my reference, again available in in all three sizes.

An in-depth and comprehensive revue of the Retina IIIC, which covers much of the detail of the earlier models, can be found at CameraQuest.com.

Jeffrey Sciortino has written to recommend "Don's Antique Kodak Camera Repair":
      Don Fraina / 54 Meadow Dr / Spencerport, NY / (585) 352-0054
(Regrettably Don does not have a web-site or e-mail address)

I have no reference to sources of spare parts other than as mentioned above.

There are only three reasons the meter will not work on cameras like these, there are no batteries involved :
    i) The meter movement itself has broken, jammed or gone open circuit
    ii) The cell is no longer reacting to light
    iii) The connection between the cell and the meter is broken

If the mechanism of the meter has broken or jammed it will almost certainly need replacement, as will a non-functioning cell. Unfortunately the only option I am aware of would be to cannibalise another similar camera for parts. With a suitably sensitive test meter one should be able to check for output from the cell when exposed to light, continuity across the camera meter, (use a high-resistance setting to start with, else you may damage the movement if the meter is working), and also continuity from the cell to the meter.

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