An Unexpected Arrival – A Kodak Retina 1a

This little (and I do mean little) beauty was something of an unexpected purchase. I have recently won a couple of online auctions for a variety of vintage cameras from a German seller. Nothing was very expensive but owing to a query on our address, we entered into an email conversation. He was disposing of much of his collection whereas I am building mine up! It transpired that we are of a similar age and have both suffered similar health issues. It was all very amicable.

I was amazed when the second delivery arrived, as he had added two additional cameras that he knew I was collecting – both free of charge. On top of this was a note and a further camera which he thought may interest me. This camera was the subject of this post – A Kodak Retina 1a. It was in perfect working order and so we agreed a price. There is an old saying about ‘Taking the puppy home’! I couldn’t resist it!

The Kodak Retina 1a
The Kodak Retina 1a (Type 015) was manufactured in West Germany. It is a viewfinder camera and hence focusing is down to either experience, physical measuring or an external rangefinder! It was manufactured alongside the Retina version IIa from January 1951 until early 1954. This is a small folding 35mm format camera with short self-erecting bellows, lens board, and folding metal door/cover (Hence there is no lens cap!)

The first things that I noticed about this camera was that it is extremely well engineered and despite its small footprint (4.75″x3″x1.5″ when closed), it is deceptively heavy weighing in at a fraction over 500 grams (1.1lbs)

Lens & Shutter
The Retina 1a was supplied with a number of different lens/shutter combinations. Mine has a Schneider Retina-Xenar f:3,5/50mm lens with a SYNCHRO-COMPUR shutter. A full list of the different lens/shutter combinations can be found at

The shutter speeds run from 1 second to 1/500th second plus a ‘Bulb’ setting. It has both ‘X synch’ for electronic flash which operates at all speeds up to 1/500th second and ‘M synch’ for flash bulbs. ‘X’ and ‘M’ settings are selected by moving a small switch.

My version focuses from 1 metre to infinity but I am aware that the Retina 1a was also produced with a focusing scale in feet. There are small dots on the focusing dial between the 2.5 and 3 metre marks as well as between the 5 and 10 metre marks. These are to assist with ‘zone focusing’. If, for example, the aperture is set at f8, and the first dot lined up with the focussing mark, this gives a depth of field of between about 2 and 4 metres. If the 2nd dot is lined up against the focusing mark and the aperture set to f8, this gives a depth of field of between 4 metres and infinity. There is also a red dot to line the focusing scale with when using infrared film. NB. Important! The distance scale should be set to infinity before closing the case. If not, it will not close. Obviously, no attempt should be made to force it!

Film loading & Unloading
Film is loaded by releasing a catch on the side to open the hinged back. The rewind knob is lifted to insert the cassette and the film leader is threaded into a slot in the take-up spool. It is quite conventional in this respect. The back will snap shut. Once the film is loaded, the exposure counter which is set into a window on top of the film wind lever, should be rotated to a diamond mark to the right of the number 36. The film should be advanced several times with the winder, whilst firing the shutter between each advance. When the counter shows the number ’36’ against the mark, the camera is cocked and ready to shoot. If the camera is closed, the shutter is locked. Note that if the camera is ‘closed’ It can still be wound on. Instead of releasing the shutter (it’s locked), a button next to the shutter release can be pressed.

When the last exposure is taken, the film can be rewound by pressing the clutch button on the base of the camera and rotating the rewind knob until the film is fully rewound. The cassette can be removed by opening the back as previously described and lifting the rewind knob.

The Retina 1a differs from the Retina 1 in that the film advance is by a lever wind as opposed to a knob. The film rewind is by rotating a knob and does not have a crank. I found this a bit tedious! There are two buttons on the bottom of the camera. the smaller releases the front cover which should be fully extended until it locks into place. To close the camera, the distance scale must be set to infinity and the top and bottom closing buttons must be simultaneously pressed. The larger button on the bottom of the camera releases the film rewind clutch.

I ran a cassette of Fomapan 100 through my Retina 1a and found it easy to use once I had become used to the compact size. I am used to using an external exposure meter and I found all the shots reasonably exposed. I did have issues with three or four shots where close focus was not as good as I would have liked but that was almost certainly down to me. The lens is surprisingly sharp.

All in all, I am pleased that I chose to accept the offer of this camera and consider it a worthy addition to my collection of vintage cameras.

A manual for the Kodak Retina 1a can be downloaded here.

Below are a selection of different views of the Kodak Retina 1a.

The following are examples of my results taken around our land and nearby. Fomapan 100 developed in HC-110 and scanned with an Epson V600 scanner.

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