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The Kodak Retina IIa is my favorite of the long lived Retina series, the epitome of a classic small fast lensed 35mm folder.    What makes it so good? It's small size, superb 50/2 Xenon or Heligon lens, better than average finder, quiet leaf shutter, and the simple straightforward design which translates to pleasurable shooting.    The IIa was produced only from 1951 to 1954, yet over 100,000 were produced.  In a nutshell, many Retina fanatics feel the earlier Retinas had less of the desirable features, while the later Retinas sacrificed too much size and weight for additional features.  The IIa is Type 016 in Retina nomenclature.

All shooting controls except f/stop are easily seen from the top, including the frame counter, shutter speed, and focused distance, and depth of field scale.  The hinged back opens by pulling downward on the clasp at the rewind edge of the camera.   While the Retina IIa lacks the magnificent finish of the Zeiss Contessa or Voigtlander Vitessas, the Retina is the simpler, quicker photographer intuitive camera design.   The IIa was among the best sellers of its day, so they are not that hard to find. Yet, it is difficult to find one in mint condition.   This sad state of affairs is due to the damn photographers out using Retinas to take pictures.  

The chrome button on the bottom front open the clam shell.  The rear button near the tripod socket is the rewind.  To close the camera, turn the lens to infinity and push in on both buttons on the top and bottom of the lens supports, while closing the front door. 


Notice there is a 2nd release behind the shutter release.  Sometimes the single stroke film advance will jam.  Push the film release to release the film, complete the advance stroke, and un-jam the camera.   

Retinas tend to be repaired by Retina specialists. On the IIa, the most breakable part is probably the cocking rack, which cocks the shutter via the lever advance.  Making sure you regularly push thru to the end of the film advance stroke will help prevent repairs.   Shutter/RF/VF cleaning and calibration is no more troublesome than any other classic mechanical camera.  They all eventually will need service.

Closed the IIa is a pocketable package without need of a camera case. The single stroke film advance also cocks the shutter.  Be sure to push the advance lever all the way to the end of its travel.  The film counter is manually set. 

While the Retina II is very similar with knob wind instead of lever film advance, the II  has a smaller exit pupil on the finder which results in a noticeably smaller view, as well as a less convenient film counter, bothersome film counter film interlock,  and a less convenient top lens location for the flash connection.


It's the lenses, either the 6 element 50/2 Schneider Xenon or Rodenstock Heligon.  What has made Retinas beloved of their owners is the quality of the lenses.  In good working order, the little IIa gives wonderful results.   Rotating the knurled ring changes shutter speeds: it makes no difference whether the shutter is cocked or not.  The little green lever changes the sync between M for flashbulbs or X for electronic flash.    The pic on the right shows the underneath of the lens assembly: the PC flash connection, the very conveniently large focusing lever, and the aperture selection lever.    The Schneider 50/2 Xenon version was officially sold in the US.   The Rodenstock Heligon was sold in other markets.   Very early IIa's have the Compur-Rapid shutter, with a combined sync setting for M flashbulbs 1/25th and slower, and electronic flash.  Which flash? Remember the IIa does not have a hot shoe, and no TTL flash which requires a certain flash unit.   You can use most any flash which has a PC cord connection to connect to the bottom of the shutter PC connection.


Closed, the lens recesses back almost all the way to the film.

The less expensive Kodak Retina IIa was not as well finished as the magnificently finished Zeiss Contessa,  but the IIa was far better designed to make it a better, faster picture taker.  If you are new to Retinas, you might be surprised that such a fine classic camera was made in America in the 1950's.  That is because, they weren't made in the USA.   Kodak Retinas are German made in Stuttgart, in the former Nagel factory that Kodak bought in the early 1930's. 


Long discontinued, most of these IIa accessories are difficult to find today, but the dedicated Retina fanatic will eventually find them:

Birds of a feather: Compact 35mm Rangefinders:

the Kodak Retina IIa, Canon QL-17 GIII, and Zeiss Contessa

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Revised: November 26, 2003 Copyright  2002  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.