Film Friday with a Kodak Retinette II and Expired Film By Jozef Gwizdala

Film Friday with a Kodak Retinette II

By Jozef Gwizdala

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My first film camera was purchased around 3 years ago in an antique shop in Poznan, Poland. After admiring an old-fashioned camera whilst walking down a backstreet in the old city, I decided to enter the shop that was selling this camera (the shop looked as though it had been left unchanged for the past 100 years). As I entered, I was coldly greeted by an old woman who once I expressed interest in purchasing something, lightened up. I had no idea how a camera worked back then so I asked her if the camera worked, which she assured me that it did. I knew that I should probably not trust her but once I found out that it cost 40 Zł (around £8), I decided that it was worth it, even if it didn’t work, due to the beautiful aesthetics of the camera. Once I got back to the hotel room I decided to find out what this camera really was.

The internet told me that my camera was a Kodak Retinette II that was manufactured around 1939 in Germany. There was a total production run of 41,000 and cost $74 in 1939 (which the internet informs me is the equivalent of around $1300 today. 35mm film had only recently been made popular with the launch of the Leica camera in 1925 which probably explains the high cost. However, the thing that struck me the most was the rarity of this camera. I could not and still to this day can not find any record or trace of one of these cameras being sold on the internet. I’m sure that there must be a few of these camera hiding in people lofts but it is also inevitable that these leather coated cameras have largely been broken and thrown away over the years. Regardless, I decided that I needed to try out this camera.

 

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My parents had stopped shooting film over a decade ago but had two rolls of colorama film left. The expiry date, 2005. I realised that this combined with an ancient camera would yield interesting results so I decided to give it a go. I wouldn’t recommend a beginner using a camera that was this complex but I definitely learnt a great deal from this camera although with no meter on the camera, I am sure many of the photos I took on the roll were ruined by my optimistic guessing. Although perhaps not applying enough tape to the broken hinge on the camera, flooding the negatives with light was the bigger culprit to the ‘interesting’ image quality.

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After keeping the shot roll of film for a couple of months on my shelf I finally got round to sending it off to AG photo lab in Birmingham to be developed. The photos I got back were certainly interesting. The majority were just light leaks but there were a nice handful that came out. One in particular was a self-portrait in my bedroom using the fully mechanical (and utterly unpredictable) self timer on the camera. The light leak and the ‘off’ colours in this photo added to the overall aesthetic if anything. I also managed to get a photo of a couple of friends in there which didn’t turn out so great. Perhaps the most amazing thing for me was the photos I took in London, just over the Thames, that came out in surprising detail.

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There were still light leaks but they were less prevalent than in other photos that I had taken with the camera. From this photo I can see how this would have been a fine camera back in 1939. I cannot help wondering what photos have been taken with this camera. Undoubtably, being made in 1939, this camera would have captured the Second World War and the aftermath. The events of communist rule of Eastern Europe. The list goes on and so does this camera’s legacy. However, the camera in its current state is perhaps better suited to the lomography movement but hopefully it will still be able to continue to produce in some shape or form the art that is photography.”

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My blog is – https://brigadelab.wordpress.com
My Instagram is – https://www.instagram.com/stzef/

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24 thoughts on “Film Friday with a Kodak Retinette II and Expired Film By Jozef Gwizdala

  1. Two websites to learn more about Kodak Retina and Retinette cameras: retinarescue.com and cjs-classic-cameras.co.uk
    Your nice little camera is a type 160 Retinette from just before WWII. I looked into mine and wonder why there is light leakage at the backdoor hinge, the edges of the door and the body overlap along the hinge. A test with film after taping the gap or filling it with a piece of (black) fabric between door and body might give you more insight. A thin string of (black) rubber or plastic foam in the overlap might resolve the leakage.
    This camera is indeed not very common on ebay etc. but not rare either.
    I wish you succes.
    Edo

  2. Yes, a camera is a light tight box with a piece of glass stuck in front of it and some light sensitive material inside.

    Once the light tightness is gone, so is the attraction.

    I happen to (unfortunately) own a Kiev 4A. Lovely camera, a cheap entrance into the rangefinder world (early Ukranian Contax copy, interesting bit of history), but it eats film instead of transporting it.

    Charming but useless.

    1. Most of my photography is done with light tight cameras however I think that light leaks can look beautiful when used for artistic effect.

  3. Interesting story to which I can add some
    “color”. My grandfather came to Ellis Island, NYC from Poznan escaping the persecution of WW2. He carried with him the same camera. Funny enough he spoke no English at the time and when entering Ellis Island they asked him his name which was Shapiro. He thought they had asked where he came from and said, Poznan. The immigration officer heard Pozin and hence that became my mother’s maiden name. We had the camera for years and it functioned perfectly. It became lost as family members died. Most probably my sister has the camera. I haven’t thought about it for decades and will look into where it is thanks to this story.

    1. Thank you for sharing that. It is perhaps one of the most moving things that I have ever read. I hope you find the camera and maybe some of the photos that were taken on it. Have a wonderful day.

  4. It’s always nice to see folks who are not very involved with vintage cameras or film, finding something and inspires them and giving it a go. Most people strictly relegate wonderful cameras like the Kodak Retina/Retinette series to their display shelves and where is the fun in that?!

    Despite it feeling more complicated to use this camera, it’s actually very simple as it features everything you absolutely need and nothing you absolutely do not need. It’s well suited for shooting outdoor scenes with slow speed print film where guessing exposure is as easy as Sunny 16 and accuracy isn’t that important. Shooting landscapes with it is a good idea too since there is no provision for confirming focus. Just set it to infinity and shoot! Your bridge photos are good examples of this. Closer focusing distances should be easy enough to hit when you’re stopped down.

    Considering that all the mechanics on this work, it’s a shame to toss it aside due to the light leaks, which probably have nothing at all to do with the door hinge. The leaks here are probably a result of deteriorated bellows. Bellows are expensive to completely replace but the owner of the following website is an expert with it and can even make them in different colors. http://www.certo6.com/

    If you don’t want to invest money in it, you can simply patch holes in the bellows with liquid tape which can be found at many hardware shops. Take the Retinette into a pitch black room and shine a flash light into the bellows through the back of the camera with the shutter held open. You will see all the pinpricks of light. Remember about where they’re at then spot some liquid tape on both the inside and outside. Leave the camera sitting open to dry for a bit then rinse and repeat the process till you’re confident all the holes are patched. Then give it a try.

    There may also be some fogging in the lens elements but there’s nothing you can do about that cheaply.

    I think that you’ll find that if you take care of the leaks and use a good, fresh film such as Kodak Portra 160, you’ll have quite a nice travel camera that fits easily in luggage and does not require batteries or charging but can take quite nice, sharp wide shots. Maybe with a little haze from the unserviced lens but still quite good.

    I hope you take it a step further and give this little guy the attention it deserves. A rare 35mm camera of the 1930’s and in black paint to boot! WOW! Quite a find, congrats and thanks for sharing!

    1. It is the camera that kickstarted my interest in photography. In fact I got hold of a new retinette from the 50s just yesterday.

      I think I shall take your advice and do some landscapes with it (I also just got a new lightmeter so that will make the exposure times easier!

      Luckily the bellows do not seem to be leaking light (however the liquid tape advice I shall always remember for I feel as if I may need it in the future). I will try and fix the hinge and see if that can solve the problem. I will also give a roll of Portra a try.

      Thank you for your kind and helpful comment:)

  5. I have an iPhone and use a free app called Pocket Light Meter. I am sure it is not as accurate as a real light meter, but I use it quite often when I try to manual expose a shot….probably similar app for Android…… just trying to help, I receive no money for the advertisement…..

    1. I use that app too when shooting with my F and F2, eyelevel finder equipped. I checked it against my D810 and my exposure meter equipped film slrs. Metering off a flatly lighted sidewalk (18& greyish) they all gave similar readings.

      So a free app like this, or a period exposure meter like a Gossen or a Weston… the app will be more accurate.

      And no, not being paid either.

  6. That’s awesome. Using old film cameras, especially with old film, is like a secret santa gift exchange. You might get something awesome. You might get something totally crap. But it’s almost always interesting and fun!

  7. if light leak is the only problem with the camera, please consider having it fixed while there are still people that know how to source the right material.

  8. Hi,
    cool pictures, your selfportrait came out quite mysterious, looks really epic. Shooting film is often a surprise espacially with an old camera without a lightmeter. Keep on going.
    Greetings from Austria!

  9. A most interesting post and a beautiful camera. Of course I checked eBay and I couldn’t find a single one. It seems rarer than the original Contax.

    I hope you are able to fix it up someday so that it functions like it should. Maybe some people like the ‘Lomography aesthetic’ but I certainly do not.

    1. Thank you very much! I’ve been researching other similar cameras and hopefully when I am confident enough I can fix it up a little and put new light seals in to get a better insight into the real ability of the camera.

    1. “..I couldn’t find a single one..” ..they were made in Germany (Kodak bought the Nagel camera factory in Stuttgart around 1930 ..Nagel had been on the board of Zeiss, but left to start his own camera company a couple of years before 1930, and Kodak was looking for a good quality manufacturing company to buy).

      So most second-hand camera shops in Germany have a wide range of Retina and Retinette cameras on offer. Some models took interchangeable lenses, others – like this one – had just a single fixed lens. Pretty much all the ones you find in German second-hand shops are in great condition, with properly-working shutters, no mould in the lenses, and with unpunctured bellows, so they don’t have light leaks.

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