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Kodak Retina
The folding camera that changed
35mm photography.

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 Kodak Retina: Buying Tips

Buying a Kodak Retina or any other camera on an Internet auction these days is easy, almost too easy. If you want to get the best deal, be willing to study the ads closely and figure out who's offering an accurate description and who's trying to unload a broken camera.

First off, remember that most of these cameras are at least 45 years old, and they often need some kind of maintenance, whether it be a simple cleaning or work on the shutter.

All of the cameras I have received required that the viewfinder be cleaned. Most required some cleaning and lubrication of the shutter assembly and about half needed excess oil removed from the aperture blades. WD40 isn't good for a camera. Take my word for it.

Learn from my mistakes.


Lens The front and rear elements of any Retina are matched. Always make sure that the serial number on the lens ring matches the number on the outer ring, as well as a number on the rear element. If the numbers don't match, don't buy the camera.

Also, ask about mold or fungus on the lens and ask for a closeup photo of the lens, if possible.

Body Look for wear on the door. Because of its design, it forces the user to put their right hand against the lens door. Over the years, the leather on some doors has worn through.

Shutter The Compur shutters are extremely reliable but are known to gum up and stutter or seize, especially with the slow speeds. Servicing them isn't difficult, but it can be disappointing to receive a camera that doesn't work correctly. Ask if the self-timer works.

Rangefinder The rangefinder uses a series of mirrors and prisms. It's not too tough to get a rangefinder calibrated. However, if someone has tried to clean the gilded mirror, which is covered with a semireflective coating, you'll find that the gilding comes off. The only fix for that is to replace the mirror. You can clean a foggy viewfinder. You can't regild a mirror.

Film advance The Retina uses a small toothed rack to cock the shutter. This isn't a particularly robust part and can wear or be broken under hard use. Ask if the shutter cocks correctly.


Ask questions Ask if the shutter works and if it focuses smoothly. These are two problem areas. If they give you a ridiculous answer, such as, "I don't know how to trip the shutter" (as one seller told me) be suspicious. Ask if the lens is clear or cloudy. Ask about whether the bellows are light-tight. If they can't answer these questions, don't buy it.

With the Retina IIc/C and IIIc/C, find out if the number on the lens's front of the lens matches the number on lens's rear element. You have to open the camera back.

Minty This is a seller's term to indicate that the camera is in "like new" condition. However, what qualifies as minty is open ended. This came from an eBay listing. First, the buyer says it's in "fantastic physical condition" except for some loss to the enamel. Then the buyer says the shutter gets stuck in the open position, but if you shake the camera a little, it closes.

This Kodak Retina IIIC Camera is in fantastic physical condition. The only defect I can find is a small loss to the black enamel on the back right corner (see image), but there is no evidence it was ever impacted on this spot. In every respect this camera is super clean. the optics are clear/unmarred and the light meter works. The shutter works well at 1/30 of a second and faster, but at 1/15 of a second and slower it tends to get stuck in the open position. When this happens a little shake generally makes it close. Otherwise you have to use the wind release button to reset the shutter. I am not sure if this could be rectified by a cleaning only or if something more is required.

"Minty" cameras do not require you to shake them to close the shutter.

Rare If it really was that rare, it would be at Christies, not eBay? Plus, this is Kodak, whose goal was to make money through volume not exclusivity.

You won't find a nicer
camera like this one ...
Yes, if you wait a while, you will find a camera nicer than this. The real question is always: How badly to you want this camera?

A beauty not seen every day ... / Hard to find / every other
audacious claim.
See above.

L@@k, Wow!, multiple
exclamation points!!!
It might be a nice camera, but it's not that nice. It's not like you're buying the crown jewels.

Selling as is. When it's sold as is, you should assume there are going to be problems with the camera. It doesn't mean there are problems, but you should expect the worst. It's best if you know up front that the owner makes no claim that the camera will continue to work after you receive it. I prefer a seller to say that the camera is being auctioned "as is." Here's a typical description: 

Hard to find. Leather case to hold camera needs to be restitched otherwise in good condition. Lens is clear and because of it being an older camera I must sell it as-is.

"I don't know if it works ..."
"I'm not a camera expert ..."
Other claims of ignorance.
Look at the seller's profile. If he's selling 30 or 40 other cameras, I would be suspicious of the seller's claim of not knowing anything about cameras. However, if the person is selling a bunch of trinkets and nonphotographic items, then it's very possible they have no idea.