For the $50 film camera project, I picked up my “new” Kodak Retinette 1A on Ebay for $19.99 + $12 postage (that’s Australian dollars, so even less in USD).
The project was almost immediately fun! It’s always a bit of a rush to win on Ebay… if you’re like me and don’t bid too often, I guess. 😛 After some misadventure with the self-timer (which was also fun — I’d never taken a camera apart before) I started shooting on film (maybe only the second time since leaving high school).
I hunted down a bit of info on my new baby: it looks like it was made sometime between October 1959 and February 1961. The lens is Schneider-Kreuznach Reomar f/3.5 50mm, and the shutter is Pronto.
This camera does not take batteries! Which means no metering and no auto-focus (shock horror)! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of manual focus, I just don’t use it enough. Now I have the perfect opportunity! Although, the Retinettes were the less expensive (viewfinder) answer to the Kodak Retina rangefinders, so it’s pure guess work for estimating your distance and setting the focus wheel.
This Retinette has an aperture range of f/3.5–22 and shutter speeds of 1/250, 1/100, 1/60 and 1/30 seconds as well as a bulb setting (as long as you hold the shutter down — no off camera trigger).
To set the shutter and advance the film you use the “rapid wind lever“, which then allows you to release the shutter. Make sure you get into a habit of cocking the shutter before you shoot lest you miss your shot!
I was pretty amazed that a camera this old came with a self-timer! There’s a little red lever below the focus ring that turns on the timer. Once the timer is on you have to take a timed shot… In this case, red means stop! It was one of the first things I pushed and I had to take the camera apart and loosen the timer cogs to get the shutter to fire.
Also pretty sweet is the viewfinder, which not only has a frame to estimate your view, but also has a couple of marks inside it indicating the real framing when you’re up close. So, it actually warns you about parallax error! The worst of it is at 3 feet (or closer, but you probably won’t be focused any closer) and gradually extends back to the normal frame at 8 feet.
Shooting with the Retinette
If any of the specs sounded negative they shouldn’t! It’s kind of cool to attempt to shoot with very little idea of the focus, pretty much guessing on the aperture and shutter and no real idea if the film is advancing properly. You just need to throw caution to the wind and be prepared for your photos not to come out!
Once you get past the first couple of rolls I think you have an idea of what the camera is capable of, but until they’re developed you really don’t know if the thing even works. My first SLR had a dodgy mirror when I first bought it, which didn’t flick up when the shutter fired. Very disappointed when those first rolls of film didn’t come out (especially after spending ages trying to roll the damn things onto developing spools — what a pain!).
This time I didn’t expect things to work too well, and indeed they didn’t. My first roll of film wasn’t getting wound on properly. I think it’s because I didn’t stick the end of the film into a little groove on the reel (didn’t even know the groove was there — RTFM). Some of the film got torn and the whole thing just jammed up after about 15 shots. I tried to wind it back up in an unlit room under a blanket, but alas, the film was too badly torn.
I was afraid that the second roll of film wasn’t getting wound on either. So, having only taken a few shots I sacrificed them and opened the back the make sure it was all tidy in there. It was and I realised almost immediately that you can see the rewind wheel turn when you advance the film — a much less destructive way to check it’s working!
Turns out my exposure guessing skills aren’t too horrible, but if you have no idea where to start to shoot without metering, have a look at George McKinney’s Photography Blog for a really good exposure chart.
I haven’t digitally processed these at all. If I were to do so I might tweak some levels and rotate the pathway ones a little — in throwing caution to the wind I might not have framed things as well as I could. 😛
I was surprised at the images that came out of this 48 year old camera! I thought they might look old, perhaps there’d be warping or vignettes from the old lens. However, as you can see from the flowers, the colour is quite bright and if you guess the right focal distance, you get a reasonable shot.
I even tried some panning shots, but with no way to see the result and optimise the settings they aren’t the best I’ve seen. Not too bad though (considering)!
$50 camera project Flickr set: film 1
I mentioned in my intro to participating in this project that I wanted to use some more interesting films, but I can’t get them developed locally. They have to be sent away, or I have to find a darkroom that I can use. Perhaps I will in the not too distant future, but for now I’ll have to settle for regular Kodak colour.
If you’ve forgotten what it’s like to shoot manually with film, or never have, but want a challenge… get out and give it a go!
these look great. i have seen one of these for sale near me and am tempted to buy it – these pics may have made the choice for me
can i ask what film you used exactly here? do you scan the negatives or the prints?
It’s a pretty nifty camera. Good fun, I say! Glad you like the pics 🙂
I really didn’t use anything special, Kodak Colour ISO 400 and I got them printed at the shop and asked them to put them on CD. So, I guess whatever method most developing places use to do the CDs! I should ask them next time I’m there.
Sadly, I never got set up for film photography. When I finished school I had dreams of setting up a darkroom, but we moved and I started a science degree and I didn’t pick photography back up until I went digital.
I bought one of these on eBay some time ago and just now loaded a roll of 200-speed Fujicolor into it. I probably buggered up the first several photos until I realized that the camera’s scale is in meters, not feet. I’m a rank amateur with manual controls and stick to the Sunny 16 rule. I’ve had decent luck using it with my other old cameras. I’m encouraged to see how well your photos turned out from your Retinette.
If you can stick to sunny 16 with success I’d say you’re in the bell curve, not even close to rank amateur (a rank amateur wouldn’t even know the rule and be on auto all the time 😉 ).
I think sunny 16 was my general guide. I think a few different releases of the 1A actually changed the focus scale. I think mine is in feet, but in the manual I have there is a scale for feet and meters, another camera might only have meters.
Have fun with it!
jim whetstone says
I have owned my own retinette 1A since 1963 and have shot over 20,000 images with it and it still works perfectly. I shot a roll a few years ago on the suny 16 rule and got great results. I now shoot Nikon D300 but will never let go of my Kodak. I paid $50.00 for it in 1963
Jim — that’s cool. Do you have any of your images online?
Great shots! I used a Retinette 1a in the early 90ies, but sort of advanced to a Pentax SuperA SLR. Recently scanned some old images and realised that I wanted to shot Retinette again, so I´m waiting for one of ebay right now. Hopefully it´s in order.
I put up some pictures on my blog today. It´s funny, I dont remember how I sorted out exposure back then, but maybe someone told about something like the sunny 16 rule- but anyway, most of the time it worked out quite well (although there are quite a few blurry closeups too, due to the lack of precise distance measuring 🙂 )
Thanks Kristian 🙂
Good luck with your eBay purchase!
In my previous post about the camera I wrote how I managed to freeze the whole thing before shooting anything by activating the self-timer (not a good idea!), but I was able to take it apart and turn it off and clean it a bit. Your comment, and listening to TWiP today, inspired me to take some more photos with the Kodak. I wasn’t even sure if there was film in there and I think I exposed some of it, but all good fun. 😛