The Olympus PEN EES-2 is gone (as detailed here), and filling its spot on the shelf is the camera I took in trade for it, a Kodak Retina I. This is the first folding camera I’ve owned, and like the Olympus PEN designs it’s rather an interesting engineering approach to the problem of reducing the size of a camera in the interests of portability. Whereas the PEN shrunk the body by reducing the exposure to 18x24mm and employing a very small lens in a shorter focal length (30mm), the Retina retains the full-frame 36x24mm but establishes the necessary distance between the lens and the film plane by extending the lens on a bellows when the camera is unfolded.
What this means in practice is that you get a very small and very smooth package when the camera is folded up; even moreso than the PEN, it slips easily into a pocket. The downside, of course, is that you have to unfold the camera every time you want to use it (or simply leave it open and carry it in your hand). In practical terms, this is not really a big deal for most types of photography – just open it up when you expect to be using it, and put it away when you’re done. Overall it is quite an elegant and practical way to make a camera easy to carry without sacrificing capability.
Operation is straightforward, but not quite a simple as most fixed-lens cameras. Aperture and shutter speed are set on the Compur-Rapid shutter assembly in the usual fashion. The shutter release is on the body, connected to the lens by a fairly simple plunger linkage. Winding the film forward advances the counter and operates a double-exposure prevention interlock. The major difference is that the shutter must then be cocked manually by means of a separate lever on the shutter body. Again, in practice this is not a major issue – anyone familiar with older medium-format cameras will certainly feel right at home. When one is first beginning to use a Retina, however, the additional step can lead to moments of annoyance at missing a shot because the shutter was not cocked automatically by the film advance.
All in all it’s quite a simple and robust camera, well-built and heavy. The Compur-Rapid shutter is one of the most widely used designs, so there are no mysteries there. The 50mm f/3.5 Schneider Xenar lens is not a world-beater, but it’s a very capable and quite sharp lens; even though it is not coated, it still renders colors well provided it is not pointed into the sun. The images the Retina produces have a pleasantly old-fashioned feel about them, appropriate for a camera built (in Germany for Kodak) between 1945 and 1949.
So there it is, the new-to-me Kodak Retina I. A little fussier and more work to use than the old EES-2, but with lots more shutter speeds (1/500 to 1 sec., plus B) and full-frame exposures, arguably a bit more capable as well. Then again, the Olympus had a slightly faster lens (f/2.8 vs. f/3.5 on the Retina) and a viewfinder that blows the Retina’s out of the water. Nonetheless, the fully manual controls suit my photography better than the mostly automatic PEN, and I find the Retina is a bit easier for me to carry around as well. I hope the recipient of the Olympus is as satisfied with it as I am with my new Retina.
26 June 2013: The Retina is the subject of a “Details” post, which can be found here.