Common wisdom cites Kodak as the creator of the home photographic hobby in the late 1880s and into the 20th century. It is correct, to a degree. Early cameras were massive contraptions of wood and brass, kind of elite cabinet making, complemented with a crude lens and media holder. They were not easily portable, more of a luggable. There were only a few such style cameras made by Kodak, where they bought out the competition and available new technologies. Kodak took over manufacturers such as Blair, Folmer and Schwing or Rochester and continued with their product lines to be made famous as Kodak models.
Kodak’s contribution in bringing photography to the masses was via selling volumes of simple, no-frills, cheap cameras. Box style or folders, cameras were still too large to be truly defined as so-called vest pocket cameras. Kodak’s business model relied on selling film, so as long as competitor’s cameras used Kodak made film, Kodak had no pressing incentive to produce better cameras.
The early 1920s saw new winds blowing from across the ocean. Germany, heavily burdened by reparations imposed at the Versailles agreement’s, was in dire need of hard currency. Reparations payable were equal to about 100,000 tonnes of gold, nearly half of all the gold mined in the world till date, and quoted in gold. There was no practical way for the post-war German government to come even close to that. Guess it was meant to devastate the German economy for generations to come.
An alternative to the non-existent gold was hard valued goods, such as steel, coal and industrial products. Germany gradually defaulted on these payments, so France, followed by Belgium, invaded the Ruhr valley, cutting away the productive mining and industrial area. That had left Germany with one option to gain hard currency – industrial export.
Assuming the winning nations of WWI had noble and just intentions, the pressure on the German economy brought upon hyperinflation and unrest, which within two decades brought Hitler to power and caused a human-made disaster and the holocaust. As said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Back to photography. In the early 1900s, Kodak’s mainstay was medium format films. The new photographic wonders from Germany, by Leitz, Zeiss and Ihagee, amongst others, used a new format, the 35mm film. Kodak was no longer the only game in town. The European made cameras were better than Kodak had ever made or capable of making. Even decades later, the top five American made cameras*, three of which were Kodaks, could not practically compete with the imports. Later on, In the 1940s, when Kodak tried making homegrown fully featured cameras, the results were unpractical devices such as the Chevron and the Medalist.
With a market receptive for a better camera, homegrown makers as Universal and Argus at one wing and the German imports at the other, Kodak needed a camera to hold the fort. It had to be advanced enough to appeal to the upcoming generation of demanding photographers and priced to compete. Leica cameras were sold at about $200, so this could be used as a reference point.
Developing such a camera line is a tedious process, and I am not sure if Kodak could meet the quality offered by the imports. Kodak needed a solution fast. German manufacturers were easy prey, so Kodak shopped there and ended up buying a new startup headed by August Nagel, an ex Zeiss camera designer. Nagel made medium format folders and a few miniatures, all held in high regard by the industry. Kodak brought their marketing network and the financial muscle to the deal; Nagel brought expertise, experience, and innovation. Kodak pointed Dr. Naglel in a direction and wisely left him to do his wonder.
Nagel’s single most important achievement was in a minor detail, which had later become a part of most cameras made: the 35mm cassette. The format had been available earlier, but the single cassette configuration and daylight replacement made the difference. Kodak keeps mum about the cassette origin, do not explicitly says that it is their development.
The early camera prototype in the Retina line was a monoblock, but the first production camera was a small folder, or klapp, fold in German. A similar concept to the popular folders of the time, but smaller, shorter focal length, attention to detail, better finishes, advanced features, and best of all, palatable price. The price for the first Retina was USD 52.50, cheaper than other similar cameras. This price equals just under USD 1,000 in today’s worth. The early models enjoyed moderate sales, to be picked up later with each consecutive model.
The war stopped the supply of all European imports to the US. The first post-war Retina, the 010, suffered from production inconsistencies and saw slight changes and finishes as parts supply built up.
The classic Retina line included 34 variations, the earliest introduced in 1934, with the last introduced in 1960. Two other Retina camera models, the S1 and S2, were made later, but they had little in common with the classic Retina line.
There were three model families, defined by Kodak as Retina as I, II and III. However, this selection does not mean much. Excluding the odd ‘S’ models, the classic Retinas have 26 klapp and eight monoblock bodies, 19 viewfinders and 15 rangefinders, 15 series I, ten series II, four series III, two marked Retina only and three marked Retina Automatic. All that in happy disarray. Post-war camera models began with 0, but overall model numbers and order of introduction do not correlate. All that means nothing to an individual camera but is very confusing to the collector.
Retinas were made in Germany and, to a smaller extent, assembled UK and France for the local market. That is why some models are freely available in some countries or continent while scarce elsewhere. This is also demonstrated in the model numbering, such as IIa, IIb and so on, where cameras are almost identical but destined to different markets.
As early models progressed, there were sometimes unremarkable differences. The models kind of evolved rather than redesigned. Changes could be in the exposure counter placement, rewind release location, wind and rewind knobs diameter and height, while the rest remained unchanged. See the sketch below for a demonstration of series I evolution. New models came to market while earlier models were still on the shelf. Add to that, while transitioning, some models carried a mix of fresh and previous features, and lenses or shutters cheerfully intermingled, so model identification could sometimes prove difficult. It is also evident with models with or without an accessory shoe and speeds variants
The influx of single lens reflex cameras made interchangeable lenses a must-have. To make up for that, in later Retinas, the front lens element could be replaced with either wide or long lenses, with matching viewer compensation masks.
The table below lists the Retina models by introduction year order. I sourced the data from four printed books, complemented with reliable (I think) online sources. Not surprisingly, data does not line up, with different information stated. I will appreciate corrections and clarifications where needed
This page came to being as I could not find my way within the Retina models. I have 15 Retinas on the shelf, ranging from I to III. I will add specific information later.
|Retina I||119||1936||Klapp Viewfinder||39,000|
|Retina I||126||1936||Klapp Viewfinder||39,000|
|Retina II||122||1936||Klapp Rangefinder||5,000||Europe only|
|Retina I||141||1937||Klapp Viewfinder||30,000|
|Retina II||142||1937||Klapp rangefinder||50,000|
|Retina I||143||1938||Klapp Viewfinder||22,000||Europe only, same as 141|
|Retina I||148||1939||Klapp Viewfinder||15,000|
|Retina I||149||1939||Klapp Viewfinder||10,000||Europe only|
|Retina I||010||1946||Klapp Viewfinder||70,000|
|Retina I||167||1946||Klapp Viewfinder||2,000||Retinette|
|Retina II||011||1946||Klapp rangefinder||50,000|
|Retina IIa||150||1948||Klapp rangefinder||5,000||Europe only|
|Retina I||013||1949||Klapp Viewfinder||110,000||Europe only|
|Retina II||014||1949||Klapp rangefinder||180,000|
|Retina Ia||015||1951||Klapp Viewfinder||140,000|
|Retina IIa||016||1951||Klapp rangefinder||40,000|
|Retina Ib||018||1954||Klapp Viewfinder||161,000||Europe only|
|Retina IIc||020||1954||Klapp rangefinder||136,000||Interchangeable lens|
|Retina IIIc||021-1||1954||Klapp rangefinder||100,000||Interchangeable lens|
|Retina IIIc no meter cover||021-2||1957||Klapp rangefinder||110,000|
|Retina IB Single Viewer||019-1||1957||Klapp Viewfinder||20,000|
|Retina IIC Big C / Big window||029||1957||Klapp Viewfinder||19,000||Europe only|
|Retina IIIC Big C||028||1957||Klapp rangefinder||68,000||Interchangeable lens|
|Retina IB Double Viewer||019-2||1958||Klapp Viewfinder||20,000||Europe only|
|Retina IIIS||027||1958||Monnoblock rangefinder||45,000||Interchangeable lens|
|Retina IIS||024||1959||Monnoblock rangefinder||19,000||Europe only|
|Retina Automatic I||038||1960||Monoblock rangefinder||61,000||Europe only|
|Retina Automatic II||032||1960||Monnoblock rangefinder||48,000||Europe only|
|Retina Automatic III||039||1961||Monnoblock rangefinder||77,000|
|Retina I BS||040||1962||Monoblock viewfinder||13,000|
|Retina IF||046||1963||Monoblock viewfinder||37,000|
|Retina IIF||047||1963||Monnoblock rangefinder||30,000|
|Retina S1||060||1966||Monoblock viewfinder||140,000|
|Retina S2||061||1966||Monoblock viewfinder||100,000|
Early retina cameras evolution:
Retina camera images and information
Introduced in 1934. Sold in the US at $57.50. Shutter release on the body, optical finder proud of the top. Film rewind lever mounted within the film winder knob. Top and bottom black. Speeds: T, B, 1-300. Common lens: Schnider-Kreuznach, 3.5/50. Shoe: None.
The film rewind lock moved to the back of the top cover. Speeds: T, B, 1-300. Common lens: Schnider-Kreuznach, 3.5/50. Shoe: None.
Retina I 
Frame counter moved to wind knob side. Wind and rewind buttons smaller, rewind made taller. Proud optical viewfinder. All black body. Europe only. Speeds: T, B, 1-300. Common lens: Ektar / Xenar, 3.5/50. Shoe: None.
Retina I 
Similar to earlier models, added cold shoe on some production series. Optional polished aluminium or chrome coating on top and bottom. European models avilable with Ysar and Angenieux lenses. Speeds: T, B, 1-500. Common lens: Ektar, 3.5/50. Shoe: On some production series.
Retina II 
First Retina rangefinder / viewfinder. Short winding lever, close to the body, extending out. Pull up shutter release. Europe model, fairly rare. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Ektar / Xenon, 3.5/50, 2.0/50. Shoe: None.
Retina I 
Similar to #126, with or without an accessory shoe. Shutter knob on top instead of the lens barrel. Bright top and bottom, proud viewer. Frame counter larger than earlier models. Speeds: T, B, 1-500. Common lens: Ektar / Tessar, 3.5/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina II 
Similar to #122, but for the US market. The winding knob replaced the lever in #122. Speeds: B, 1-300. Common lens: Ektar / Xenon, 3.5, 2.8 /50. Shoe: None.
Retina I 
Similar to #141, Europe distribution. All black. Speeds: B, 1-300. Speeds: B, 1-300. Common lens: Xenar, 3.5/50. Shoe: None.
Retina I 
Bright finished top and bottom. Rewind release moved out from frame counter. Taller top housing. Two pins mounted on the frame counter for better grip. Double exposure elimination, with ‘T’ eliminated as well. Speeds: B, 1-300. Common lens: Xenar / Ektar, 3.5/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina I 
Same as the #148, just minor trim changes. Speeds: T, B, 1-300. Common lens: Xenar / Ektar, 3.5/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina I 
Post-war Retina, mixed with Retinette parts. Came in several configurations under the same model name. Top and bottom bright metal finish. Speeds: B, 25-125. Common lens: Kodak, 3.5 – 4.5 /45. Shoe: None.
Retina I 
First post-war Retina. Offered also with Zenar and Rodenstock lenses. Made of prewar parts complemented with newly made parts, so models may be inconsistent. Some models offered with a cold shoe while others with two threaded holes to accept same. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Ektar / Xenar, 3.5/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina II 
Similar to the #150, for the US market. No strap eyelets. Model numbers preceded with EK. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenon / Heligon, 2.0/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IIa 
First true rangefinder. Retractable rewind button. Cold shoe standard. Strap eyelets. Europe distribution model. Speeds: B, 1-300. Common lens: Xenon / Ektar, 2.0/50, 2.8/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina I 
The first model with the viewer embedded in the body. Bright chrome top and bottom. Cold shoe standard. No synch on early units, X on rest. Wind and rewind shorter. European model. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenar / Ektar, 3.5/50, 2.8/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina II 
Similar to #011. Minor design changes.Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenon / Heligon, 2.0/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina Ia 
First Retina with lever winding. Shutter cocks with film winding. Film rewind release by the shutter trigger. Frame counter at the bottom. Strap eyelets added. European model.
A #15 variation has the frame counter within the rewind knob. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Ektar / Xenar / Heligon, 3.5/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IIa 
Lever winding. Frame counter within the rewind button. Rewind release button by shutter trigger. Strap eyelets. Some models X synch only. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenon / Heligon, 2.0/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina Ib 
Winding lever at the bottom. Rounded sides as opposed to earlier bevelled corners. Strap mounts on the top housing. Bellow covered by two metal shields. Larger viewer window, embedded in the top cover. Self-timer marked V per German convention added to X/M. Filter diameter changed to 27mm from 32mm. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenar, 2.8/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IIc 
Rounded body sides instead of bevelled before. Bellows covered with two folding shields. Strap lugs mounted on the top cover. Timer marked V on the synch lever. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Heligon / Xenon, 2.8/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IIIc [021-I]
Uncoupled Selenium meter with hinged cover. Else similar to the #020. Interchangeable front lens element with matching add-on viewer for 80mm lens. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenon / Heligon, 2.0/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IIIc [021-II]
Same as the Retina 021/1, minor changes in the meter. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Heligon, 2.0/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IB [019-1] Single Viewer
Refined body style. Selenium meter, uncoupled. Large viewer window. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenar, 2.8/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IIC  Big C / Big window
Same as the #020, large viewer window. European model. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Heligon / Xenon, 2.8/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IIIC  Big C
Similar to #021, uncovered meter lens and large viewer window. Interchangeable front lens element. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Heligon / Xenon, 2.0/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IB [019-2] Double Viewer
Same as the 019 / 1, but with two viewer windows. Looks like a rangefinder, yet it is a viewfinder. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenar, 2.8/50. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IIIS 
Monoblock body. Full lens interchangeable. Uncovered Selenium meter lens. Auto parallax correction. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Interchangeable.Shoe: cold.
Retina IIS 
Similar to the #207, but with a fixed lens.Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenar, 2.8/45.Shoe: Cold.
Retina Automatic I 
First monoblock Retina. Shutter lever at front. Coupled Selenium meter. Camera select shutter / aperture combination. With low light condition viewfinder flags ‘stop’ and camera seizes. Speeds: 30-300. Common lens: Reomar, 20/45, 2.8/45. Shoe: Cold.
Retina Automatic II 
Coupled Selenium meter. Three-zone focusing marked with dots. With low light shutter locks and ‘stop’ message in the viewer. Shutter release at the front by the lens mount. Speeds: B, 30-200. Common lens: Xenar, 2.8/45. Shoe: Cold.
Retina Automatic III 
Similar to the #032 but with a coupled rangefinder. Common lens: Xenar, 2.8/45. Shoe: Cold.
Retina I BS 
Monoblock Retina, similar to 038. Coupled Selenium meter. Shutter lever at front. Camera select shutter / aperture combination with added manual override via a needle in the finder. Accessory shoe recessed into the top cover. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenar, 2.8/45. Shoe: Cold.
Retina IF 
Similar to the # 38. Rewind knob pops up with pressing of the rewind release. Frame counter at the camera bottom. Aperture ring shows value in the finder window. Built-in flashbulb socket covered with a pop-up reflector. A V625U battery used for the flash. Speeds: B, 15-500. Common lens: Xenar, 2.8/45. Shoe: Cold. Flash bulb socket. PX625 battery for the flash only.
Retina IIF 
Light exposure shows in the viewer. Integral flashbulb socket covered with pop up reflector. Accessory show recessed in the top cover. Frame counter at the bottom. Rewind knob recessed in body pops up when rewind release activated. Requires V625U battery for the flash. Speeds: B, 1-500. Common lens: Xenar, 2.8/45. Shoe: Cold. Flash bulb socket. PX625 battery for the flash only.
Retina S1 
Retina made simple. A modern to that era Instamatic / Retina blend. Boxy shape, mostly plastic, taking 126 drop-in cartridges. Accepts flashcubes that turn at each shot. No strap eyelets. Added symbols to distance ring for a simple distance estimate. Speeds: B, 30-250. Common lens: Reomar, 2.8/45. Shoe: Cold.
Retina S2 
Same as the Retina S1 # 061, with added Selenium meter coupled with the aperture dial. Speeds: B, 30-250. Common lens: Reomar, 2.8/45. Shoe: Cold.