Retina was the brand-name of a long-running series of German-built 35mm cameras, produced from 1934 until 1969. Retina cameras were manufactured in Stuttgart by the Kodak AG Factory (formerly Nagel Kamerawerk), which Kodak had acquired in 1931. These were sold with the Kodak nameplate, and typically referred to as the Kodak Retina cameras.
The Retina line included a variety of folding and nonfolding models, including the Retina Reflex single lens reflex camera. Retina cameras were noted for their compact size, high quality, and low cost compared to competitors. These cameras retain a strong following today, of both photographers and collectors.
Kodak also sold a companion line of less-expensive Retinette cameras, with similar looks and function.
- 1 History
- 2 Models
- 3 References
- 4 Bibliography
August Nagel was a prolific cameras designer and entrepreneur who was one of the founders of Zeiss Ikon, when he merged his company, Contessa-Nettel AG, with Zeiss and others to form that group in 1919. As well as being an owner he was an active designer of fine Zeiss cameras including miniatures. He left Zeiss in 1928 to form his own firm Nagel Camera Werks AG, and produced the Nagel line of cameras, including glass plate, sheet-film, and roll-film cameras. Some of his notable designs are the: Vollenda, Duo-620, Pupille, Ranca, and Recomar cameras.
After selling Nagel Camera Werks AG to Kodak in 1931, he continued to innovate including developing the Retina folding cameras around the new Kodak 135 preloaded 35mm cartridge. Prior to this, most 35mm film was loaded by the user into proprietary cartridges in a darkroom or light-tight bag.
Early 35mm camera development
In 1909 the international standard for 35mm cinema film had been established by Edison and others. By the 1920s 35mm film stock was common and economical, Cinema images ran across the film in a 3:4 aspect ratio (24mm x 36mm). Small portable lenses could not yet produce quality images on this small frame. While 35mm motion picture stock was used in several cameras, including the popular Ansco Memo, none were capable of excellence.
Prior to WWI, Leitz set out to design a high quality 35mm camera making a 2:3 aspect ratio image in parallel with the 35mm film, 24mm tall by 36mm wide. They developed the Leitz Elmar; a 50mm f:3.5 lens with 4 elements in 3 groups, based on the Tessar design. This was the basis of the Leica camera of the late 1920s. In 1932 Zeiss Ikon tried to upstage the Leicas with the Contax using a Zeiss Tessar 50mm f:3.5 lens also with 4 elements in 3 groups. By 1934 both of these cameras offered rangefinders and a variety of lenses. The Leica, Contax, Memo, and others used proprietary reusable 35mm cartridges, which the photographer hand-loaded in a darkroom.
In the early 1930s August Nagel was developing a 35mm camera and a preloaded disposable 35mm film cartridge, which would also fit in Leica and Contax cameras. Nagel was an expert in miniature cameras; his Vollenda miniature folder, along with the Ranca and Pupille collapsible cameras were smaller than the Leica and Contax cameras, but could use 50mm f:3.5 Elmar and other similar Tessar formula lenses in Compur shutters to create a larger 30mm x 40mm image on 127 rollfilm. The advantage of 35mm would be the elimination of the paper-backer allowing more images per roll of film.
The horizontal folding Vollenda 48 had most of the components of the Retina design: short bellows, metal door/cover, self-erecting metal lensboard, short focal length, compur shutter, and 50mm tessar style lens. By turning the door swing and erecting mechanism sideways and adjusting the aspect ratio the Retina basics could be achieved. In this format the Retina would be about 15% smaller than the Leica or Contax, with comparable image quality.
All of the early Retina cameras from the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s were folding cameras with a short self-erecting bellows, lens board, and folding metal door/cover. These folding Retinas came in four general model categories: Retina, Retina I, Retina II (rangefinder), and Retina III (rangefinder & metering), with the latter not emerging until the 1950s. The first two categories are similar with viewfinders, the II indicates a rangefinder, and III indicates a rangefinder and metering. Sub series were identified as a, b, c, B, and C, for example: I, Ia, Ib, and IB, or II, IIa, IIb, IIc, and IIC (capital letters have meaning).
The specific models within these series were differentiated by a three digit codes which didn't appear on the cameras, but in the literature, and can be identified by features and serial number ranges. For earlier models up to 1941 the three digits began with a "1" (117, 118, 119 etc.), and post WWII the three digits began with a "0" (010, 013, 015, etc.). Though confusing, collector values will vary immensely with the three digit code, and even minor variations of lens, shutters, and other options. Further confusion comes from the three digit codes for Retinettes being within the sequence for Retinas, for example: 147, 160, 012, and 017.
Folding Retina cameras used one of the following shutters:
- Compur (T,B - 1 - 1/300) - 1945 and before - Type: 117, 118, 119, 141, 143, 148, 149, 010
- Compur Rapid (T,B - 1 - 1/500) - 1948 and before - Type: 118, 119, 126, 122, 141,142, 148, 150, 010,
- Compur Rapid (B - 1 - 1/500) - 1946 to 1954 - Type: 011,013, 014, 015, 016,
- Synchro Compur (B - 1 - 1/500) - 1954 and after - Type: 015, 018, 019, 020, 021, 028, 029
Folding types numbers by model
Viewfinder - Models I
- Retina - Type: 117, 118, 119, & 126 (Note: these were just called Retina, but classify with I)
- Retina I - Type: 141, 143, 148, 149, 010, & 013
- Retina Ia - Type: 015
- Retina Ib - Type: 018
- Retina IB - Type: 019
Rangefinder - Models II
- Retina II - Type: 122, 142, 011, & 014
- Retina IIa - Type: 150 & 016
- Retina IIc - Type: 020
- Retina IIC - Type: 029
Metered Rangefinder - Models III
- Retina IIIc - Type: 021
- Retina IIIC - Type: 028
Folding Retina Types by Model and Year
The first Retina, Type 117, was introduced in 1934. Two successive models: the 118, 119 followed soon after with minor modifications to the Type 117. The more expensive Type 126 was identical to the 119, except it had a chrome finish on the top-plate, rather than the black lacquer of the prior three models. From then until 1940 each viewfinder variant was offered with a black or chrome top-plate model("schwarz" or "verchromt"), but all rangefinders (Retinas II) had only chrome top plates. After that only chrome top-plates were produced.
In the 1920s and early 1930s 35mm cameras were considered "miniature" or "candid" formats. Roll film formats of 6 cm width and wider were the norm, and enlargement was in its infancy. Vest pocket cameras using Kodak 127 (4 cm x 6.7 cm) were small but offered poor results.
Early Retinas competed with other popular early 35mm formats (miniatures), using excellent lenses to improve picture quality. There were collapsible lens models such as the Leica and Contax 35mm cameras which would accept the 135 cartridge, and offered interchangeable lenses. Several manufactures soon offered folding models similar to the Retina: Welta offered several small folding 35mm models similar to the Retina, including the Welti, Weltini, Weltix, and Watson. Balda made the Baldina and Jubilette. Zeiss Ikon offered the Super Nettel. Retina cameras also competed with older popular 35mm designs such as the Agfa/Ansco Memo cameras in box and folding configurations. US Kodak also offered competition with its Bantam series of pocket cameras using the more conventional paperbacked 35mm 828 roll-film; these ranged from near-toys to the very fine Art Deco Bantam.
The first Retinas were followed by two new models in 1936: the Retina I type 141 & 143 (latter had the black lacquer finish on the top plate) and the Retina II type 122. All of these had the shutter release on the top plate, where earlier cameras had the release on the shutter. The Retina I, which was the more popular of the two, was similar to the previous models. The Retina II was a more expensive model which included a coupled rangefinder. The Retina II type 122 had a problematic film advance lever and was replaced in 1937 by the Type 142 returning to the knob advance.
In 1939 a Retina IIa type 150 was introduced to replace the Type 142, but it was unrelated to the flash capable IIa series of the early 1950s. This camera would be released again post-war, with minor modifications, as the 1946 Retina II type 011. In the same year the Retina I Types 148 and 149 replaced the Types 141 & 143. The 148 had a chrome top plate, with the 149 having black leatherette on the top plate.
By the late 1930s there were many 35 mm cameras available to compete with the Retina line and other high quality 35mm cameras, including the very popular Argus Bakelite cameras in the A and C series. And the Kodak 35 was introduced in 1938 to offer an economy camera using the 135 cartridge.
These lenses were available on the following prewar Retina Types:
- Schneider Xenar 50mm f3.5 - Type: 117, 118, 119, 141, 143, 148, & 149
- Schneider Xenar 50mm f2.8 - Type: 122, 142, & 150
- Schneider Xenar 50mm f2.0 - Type: 122, 142, & 150
- Kodak Anastigmat Ektar 50mm f3.5 - Type: 126, 122, 141, 142, & 148
- Zeiss Tessar 50mm f3.5 - Type: 126
- Rodenstock Ysar 50mm f3.5 - Type: 126
- Angenieux Alcor 50mm f3.5 - Type: 126
- The Zeiss Tessar 50mm f:3.5 was a popular lens of the 1930s. The Tessar f:3.5 was the most common lens used on early Rolleiflex cameras. These were also used in collapsible and rigid tube mounts on the Contax cameras of the 1930s, as the base-level f:3.5 and f:2.8 lenses, Faster Contax mount lenses were Sonnar 6 element formula.
- The Schneider Xenar f:3.5 lenses were made with 4 elements in three groups modeled on the Zeiss Tessar. It has 10 blades stopping down to f/16. The Xenar f:3.5 was a common lens on postwar Rolleiflex cameras. The postwar Retina Xenon lenses were a different design of 6 elements in 4 groups.
- There were several lenses labeled as "Kodak Ektar" or "Kodak Anastigmat Ektar". Some were manufactured by Schneider and others by Kodak and/or others under contract. All are 4 elements in 3 groups on the Zeiss Tessar formula. However, photographers seem to have preferences. The origin of the lens can sometimes be determined by the serial number. In the 1930s the Ektar label was reserved for Kodak's best lenses.
- The Rodenstock Ysar is also a 4 element Tessar design.
WWII and 1940s
WWII began in Europe in late 1939; German cameras became unavailable in Allied countries, and the British blockade of German shipping soon prevented export to the US market. In the summer of 1941, the German government ordered a stop to all camera production at Kodak A.G., and after declaration of War between the US and Germany in late 1941, the facilities were nationalized and dedicated to war materials production. In that year Kodak introduced the 35 RF rangefinder based on the simpler Kodak 35.
Post war production resumed in 1945 with the Retina I type 010 (nearly identical to the pre-war type 149), followed by the Retina II type 011 in 1946, with the latter being nearly identical to the pre-war IIa type 150. Kodak's attempt at a high quality US built 35mm camera system, the Ektra, had failed and the company once again looked to develop the Retina into its flagship line.
In 1949 the Retina I Type 013 and Retina II Type 014 were introduced. These were substantially similar visually and mechanically to the prior Retinas I and II cameras, but with flash synchronization.
In 1951 the Retina Ia Type 015 and Retina IIa Type 016 replaced the prior models with the addition of wind levers rather than knobs, and automatic cocking of the shutter release. That same year Kodak discontinued the Kodak 35RF and introduced the first successful high quality US built 35mm camera, the all metal Signet 35 rangefinder cameras, a camera similar in size to a collapsed Retina IIa, but with a rugged rigid configuration. But the Retina IIa remained the most expensive of the Kodak 35mm cameras. In this era Kodak introduced the Kodak Pony series of 35mm cameras for the economy market.
The larger but sleeker Retina Ib Type 018 and Retina IIc Type 020 came out in 1954 along with the Retina IIIcType 021, which was basically a Retina IIc with the addition of a selenium light meter. Both the IIc and IIIc had interchangeable lenses, with 35mm and 80mm lens options available; however, the cameras could not be folded closed with the accessory lenses. NOTE: To avoid confusion, there was no Ic, IIb, IIIa, or IIIb. These higher end Retinas offered a number of accessories allowing Kodak to offer a viable camera system, competing with Leica, Contax, Canon, Nikon, and other top camera systems.
The fifth and final generation of folding Retinas (with capital-letter suffix)was introduced in 1957, the same year as the Retina Reflex system. These last Retina folders included the Retina IB Type 019, Retina IIC Type 029, Retina IIIC Type 028. This group was slightly taller than the predecessors, with mostly minor upgrades to the metering. The fixed-lens IB featured an exposure meter, which was not included on the Ib. The IIC had a rangefinder but no meter though it was also taller than the IIc; it was of limited production and not imported to the US. These soon competed, in 1958, with the US produced Kodak Signet 80 rangefinder camera system with an equivalent variety of interchangeable lenses and accessories. These were priced at about 75% of the equivalent Retina components.
These lenses were available on the following postwar folding Retina Types:
- Schneider Xenar 50mm f2.0 – Type: 011
- Schneider Xenar 50mm f2.8 –Type: 010, 013, 015, 018, 019
- Schneider Xenar 50mm f3.5 –Type: 015
- Schneider Xenon 50mm f2.0 – Type: 014, 016, 021, 028
- Schneider Xenon 50mm f2.8 – Type: 020, 029
- Kodak Ektar 50mm f2.0 – Type: 011
- Kodak Ektar 50mm f3.5 – Type: 010, 015
- Rodenstock Ysar 50mm f3.5 – Type: 010
- Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2.0 – Type: 011, 014, 016, 021
- Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2.8 – Type: 020
- Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f3.5 – Type: 015
Retina Reflex (SLR)
The Retina Reflex SLR camera systems were introduced in 1957 and produced in several interations to 1966. The first model shared the "C" series lenses with the interchangeable Retina IIC and IIIC folders (35mm, 50mm, and 80mm), with only the front of the lens detaching from the shutter (like the folders). It also shared the uncoupled metering with the IB and IIIC.
The second generation Reflex S of 1959 shared "S" type lenses with the IIIS Type 27 (below), and offered fully coupled metering. With these the entire lens detached allowing for a wider range of focal lengths, 28mm to 200mm. At this point economical Japanese SLRs were becoming available and the Nikon F of 1959 would set the standard for future camera system.
The Reflex III of 1961 and Reflex IV of 1964 brought minor improvements with the former offering a metering needle visible in the finder, and the latter allowing shutter and aperture settings to be visible in the finder. The Reflex IV was produced until 1967. From 1968 to 1974 Kodak AG produced an Instamatic Reflex (SLR) based on the Retina Reflex, accepting the S series lenses, but using instamatic 126 film cartridges and instamatic style flash cubes.
Kodak produced a series of non-folding (rangefinder and viewfinder) cameras under the Retina label between 1958 and 1966. The initial models were very similar to the last folding Retinas, 5th generation (capital letters series). The IIIS Type 27 had interchangeable lenses; however these used the S series lenses of the Retina later Reflex SLRs rather than the more limited C series used by the later folders. The IIS was slightly smaller (Retinette frame) with similar features but did not have interchangeable lenses.
Several models of "Automatic" Retinas followed, on the IIS frame, without interchangeable lenses, but with coupled (automatic)metering, where in auto-mode the meter adjusted the aperture. The Automatic II and Automatic III had an upgraded lens and shutter from the Automatic I. The Automatic I and Automatic II did not have a rangefinder, but the Automatic III had a coupled rangefinder.
The last cameras labeled as Retinas were the plastic-bodied viewfinder Retina S1 and Retina S2, produced from 1966 to 1969. These were reasonable amateur cameras but not of the quality of prior Retina cameras. The fixed lens/shutters are adjustable for speed, aperture, and focus. Neither offers a rangefinder, though the S2 offers coupled metering.
Kodak also manufactured the Retinette series of lesser-featured cameras from 1939 to 1960 in a variety of folding and rigid models.
- Retina (1934-1936)
- Retina I (1936-1950)
- Retina Ia (1951-1954)
- Retina Ib (1954-1957)
- Retina IB (1957-1960)
- Retina II (1936-1950)
- Retina IIa, Type 150 (1939-1941)
- Retina IIa, Type 016 (1951-1954)
- Retina IIc (1954-1957), with convertible lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach or Rodenstock
- Retina IIC (1957-1958), with convertible lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach or Rodenstock
- Retina IIIc (1954-1957), with convertible lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach or Rodenstock
- Retina IIIC (1957-1960), with convertible lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach or Rodenstock
- Retina IIIS (1958-1960), with DKL-mount lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach and Rodenstock
- Retina IIS (1959-1960)
- Retina Automatic I (1960-1962)
- Retina Automatic II (1960-1962)
- Retina Automatic III (1960-1963)
- Retina I BS (1962-1963)
- Retina IF (1963-1964)
- Retina IIF (1963-1964)
- Retina S1 (1966-1969)
- Retina S2 (1966-1969)
- Retina Reflex (1957-1958), with convertible lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach or Rodenstock
- Retina Reflex S (1959-1961), with DKL-mount lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach and Rodenstock
- Retina Reflex III (1961-1964), with DKL-mount lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach and Rodenstock
- Retina Reflex IV (1964-1966), with DKL-mount lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach and Rodenstock
- Retina IIa Type 016 by luis triguez
- Chris Sherlock's Kodak Retina and Retinette camera pages
- Historical Society for Cameras Retina Myths - Series 2 
- The Journal of Historical Society for Retina Cameras (Zeiss lenses) 
- Classic Camera Collectors Club Kodak RETINA cameras (lens list)
- Roger Hicks, "Historical Review: Retina IIa", Shutterbug, February 2004
- Kalton C. Lahue, Joseph A. Bailey, Glass, Brass, and Chrome: The American 35mm Miniature Camera, University of Oklahoma Press (April 15, 2002) ISBN 0806134348
- Brian Coe, Kodak Cameras: The First Hundred Years, Steyning Photo Books LLP; 2nd edition (August 11, 2003) ISBN 1874707375
- Douglas Collins, The Story of Kodak, Harry N Abrams; First Edition edition (October 1990), ISBN 0810912228
- Mina Fisher Hammer, History of the Kodak, and its continuations ..., The House of Little Books (1940), ASIN: B0013AOG9M
- Kalton C. Lahue, Collector's Guide: Kodak Retina Cameras, Petersen Publishing Co. (1973) ASIN: B001UUP1LC
- Mike Levy and Michael Levy, Selecting and Using Classic Cameras: A User's Guide to Evaluating Features, Condition & Usability of Classic Cameras, Amherst Media (July 1, 2001), ISBN 1584280549
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