Kodak Retina Automatic III Review
To see photos shot with this camera, click the appropriate Category at right.
I’ve begun the expansion of my Kodak Retina collection. So enamored I am with my Retina IIIc, that I’m determined to collect and use more of the Retina cameras. To collect a sample of every model is probably out of my reach (or would just be a little crazy), but I’d like to someday at least have a folding Retina I and II in addition to my IIIc. This German-made Kodak shares many characteristics with my Retina IIIc, but in a non-folding, auto-exposure rangefinder.
The Retina Automatic III was made from 1961 to 1963, and uses a Gossen selenium-cell-powered light meter to drive it’s shutter-priority automatic exposure mode. It can also be shot in full manual mode by setting aperture and shutter speed on the lens dials. It has an f:2.8 Schneider lens, and shutter speeds of 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500, plus B.
The camera takes no batteries, even in automatic mode, which I find remarkable. Also remarkably, the light-meter on mine still works accurately, so the auto-exposure system works great. The light meter needle on the top of the camera will also show you the proper exposure if you want to shoot in manual mode. I compared readings from this built-in meter to those from my Gossen Luna Pro light meter and they were pretty close.
In A (Auto) mode, you pick a shutter speed and the camera will select an aperture based on the meter reading. If the light is too low to get a proper exposure at your selected shutter speed, a yellow “STOP” will show in the viewfinder, and it won’t fire unless you change to a slow enough shutter speed or turn the aperture out of Auto. To set your exposure fully manually, simply turn the aperture ring away from A to your desired setting.
The light meter even locks in with a half shutter push, so you can meter then recompose your image, which is great for shooting in tough lighting conditions.
The viewfinder is big and fairly bright, and the center split-image rangefinder is easy to see and focus. It has nice bright lines framing your image, which are parallax-corrected, so they move as you focus closer to compensate for the parallax between the viewfinder and the lens. They’re only corrected horizontally though, so the framelines move left-right, but not up-down. To indicate the vertical parallax, there are two small marks toward the top of the main frame.
One thing that takes a little bit of getting used to is the odd placement of the shutter button on the front of the camera to the right of the lens. Once you take a few shots, it becomes easy to find and actually feels pretty naturally holding and shooting, but at first your index finger will probably be searching the top of the camera for the shutter button. You might find it easier to hold the camera with your index finger on top of the camera, and push the shutter button with your middle finger.
I find the camera easy and fun to use. I haven’t shot it enough yet to know if the lens is as remarkable as that of my Retina IIIc, but I’m impressed with this camera so far. For a $15 ebay purchase, it was a bargain. It’s in beautiful condition, and once I fixed the sticky aperture blades (details below), it’s worked great.
When I got this camera it seemed to be working, except that the aperture seemed always to be wide open no matter how I set it. After experimenting with it for a while I realized that the aperture was simply closing extremely slowly when the shutter fired. The way this camera works is the the aperture returns to fully-open position when the shutter is cocked (by winding to the next frame), and when you fire the shutter, the aperture is supposed to close very quickly to the setting you’ve selected before the shutter opens. I found that when I set the shutter to B and fired, the shutter would open, then the aperture would slowly close to the right setting. I figured the aperture blades simply needed some cleaning, so I removed the rear lens element and placed drops of Coleman fuel on the aperture blades. After repeated firing and adding drops of fuel, the blades started moving faster and faster. Soon I was able to see the aperture closing fast enough for the slower shutter speeds, but it took a lot of cleaning to get it to function fast enough for the fastest speeds. It’s worked great since, and it’ll probably keep working great as long as it gets used now and then.