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Kodak Retina 1b
From 135/35mm Roll Film to Everest

The Birth of Retina

Without Kodak releasing the Retina camera series, we may not encounter the commonly adopted 135/35mm film, or the evolution of film history may be quite different.

When Leica was using 35mm film with frame size 24 x 36 mm, the revolution of 135/35mm film is underway. What Leica adopted was from 35mm film used in movie shooting, and it made film not easily available, and needed to be preloaded into a specially tailor-made cassette before loading to the camera. This trouble and the expensive price tag of Leica made popularity of this 35mm format far from satisfaction.

In 1931, German company A. NAGEL combined with Kodak to form the Kodak AG, and started to produce Retina camera series, with the simutaneous release of a new 35mm roll film cassette, which Kodak designated 135 (what we are using nowadays). The guaranteed supply of this easy loading 135/35mm film removed the big headache of photographers.Camera's compact size after folding just occupying around 38mm x 120mm x 70mm made it easily slip into pocket. The fine craftsmanship of its bellow design combined with Compur shutter and Xenar / Kodak Anastigmat Lens, and the deal was even more attractive as its price was only a quarter of a Leica's. Retina and 135/35mm film ignited the revolution, and other manufactures joined the battlefield to produce various cameras support this new 135/35mm film cassette, which subsequently became the most successful film format in history.

Probably, with the compact size of its folding camera body and the easy loading mechanism of 135/35mm film, Retina was used by Alfred Gregory to record the historical moments of mankind in making the first ascent of Mt Everest, the highest place on earth, in the summer of 1953.

Shooting in Everest

(image and text, excerpt from 'Alfred Gregory's Everest'. by Alfred Gregory)

My 35 mm cameras were a Contax and a Kodak Retina 2. The Contax, with 50 mm and 125 mm interchangeable lenses, was my main camera for colour but when I went high on the South-East Ridge, to almost 28,000 feet, I carried the more compact Retina up to the highest camp. Throughout that day I only shot Kodachrome from which excellent blank and white negatives were made later.

I also took a twin-lens Rolleiflex which I used for black and white. Despite being more bulky than the Contax and Retina it was extremely easy to use and with its superb Zeiss lens it was capable of producing pictures of exquisite qualityl I took it as the South Col and the final results made the extras effort well worth while. When in recent yers these three cameras were stolen I felt I had lost a very real part of history.

. . . . . .

The youngest Sherpa, Nawang Gombu, crawls across the alloy ladder spanning the big crevasse. Around his neck is my Kodak Retina 2 camera. Nawang was a student monk at the Rombuk Monastery in Tibet when he heard of our expedition and, as he says, 'I ran away from school to join you.'

About The Camera

The camera shown in this webpage is Kodak Retina 1b (Type 018), which was produced around 1954 - 1957, which I purchased from a second handed camera shop in Chor Bazaar in Mumbai of India.

  • This has a folding camera body design, and loads 135/35mm film.
  • It has a 50 mm / f/2.8 lens, which supports focusing distance from 0.9 m to infinity. The f/stop range is f/2.8 - f/22.
  • The shutter speeds are 1/500-1 sec & Bulb setting.
  • It uses Synchro-Compur shutter, which links f/stops to shutter speeds for easy reference.
  • A hot shoe and PC-type sync socket are provided to attaching external flash unit.
  • The film advance lever is located at bottom of the camera body.

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