Kodak Retina 1b


The Retina series represents a wide family of cameras among the most successful ones produced by Kodak, the first model of which is the camera with which the American company launched the new format 135 in disposable charger. Initially just called Retina, then Retina 1 from 1937, was a rather simple device conceived as always for mass photography. Given the success, already in 1937 is accompanied by a more evolved model (Retina II) with coupled rangefinder, followed by a constant evolution of the models of series 1 which will continue until the early 60s.

In 1954 the first Model 1b (lowercase b, while the model 1B, which will appear later, is different),  involved a new camera design with lines less angular and slightly reduced in size, which  looks like a folding 35mm with sturdy and precise construction, with rapid charging lever but still lacks the rangefinder which could be purchased separately as an accessory; remained in production until 1957, when it was introduced the new 1B with integrated rangefinder. The camera was a commercial success (more than 160,000 units produced), mainly thanks to the high quality and sharpness of the  Schneider lens  and to the mechanical precision with which it was built.


La Retina 1b chiusa
The camera closed

This is a rather simple camera, very compact, although heavy, able to guarantee a remarkable versatility thanks to the available shutter speeds (from 1 sec to 1/500 sec) and  apertures (from f / 2.8 to f/22). As said, it is a folding model, even if the small bellows is not visible from the outside: the door that encloses the optical , unlike in the typical design of the  bellows cameras, opens horizontally through a small release button on the front. This action carries out the optical unit, which also surprises at sight for the robustness of the mechanisms, and the camera is then ready for use. The shutter is cocked by a lever placed on the base of the camera, and after cocking we would proceed to select exposure time, aperture setting and focus (to be estimated). The controls are located in an accessible and streamlined way as much as possible given the size of the unit, concentrically on the lens barrel.

Particolare del barilotto obiettivo
The lens barrell

The focus is adjusted by a knob with excursion of about 90 ° from 0.9 to infinity, while the apertures are selected by acting on a lever placed in the bottom of the barrel, which remains integral with the ring of times by a spring mechanism. This trick allows you to have some sort of mechanical shutter priority: at the changing of shutter speed, in fact, the opening is automatically adjusted to maintain the same exposure value; to avoid this, the aperture lever can be moved slightly and away from the barrel to reposition it on the  desired opening. In the front part of the ring are, for this reason, screen-printed in red the exposure values ​​from 3 to 18 EV.

Il dorso aperto
The back opened

As mentioned, the loading lever is located on the bottom of the camera, along with the release button to rewind the film, the tripod mount (which is not very deep and not threaded!) and the opening mechanism of the back. To open the latter is necessary first of all to act on the lever by moving it in the direction indicated by the  silk-screened arrow, in order to find the button that, when pressed, opens the back, then the door is hinged on the left side of the camera and on the back of it we find the pressure plate and a steel roller that facilitates the movement of the film once it is closed.

On the top cover of the camera we find the film rewind knob, which integrates also a film-type reminder at the top, the accessory shoe (which has no hot contact), the shutter button and the frame counter, a decreasing type, with its release button. The frame counter must be set before inserting film by acting simultaneously on the above button and another one placed aside the eyepiece, which advances the disc with frame numbers: you should stop it about 3 units more than the frames of the roll ( 27 for a 24 roll, while for the 36exp rolls there’s a special marker); the procedure should not be underestimated because when the frame counter reaches 1 does not allow the shutter cocking anymore!

Il fondello della fotocamera
The bottom of the camera

La calotta superiore
The top of the camera

As said, there’s an accessory shoe in which may be housed the flash, which must however be connected by cable to the Synchro socket, which is positioned in the lower part of the barrel near the door closing; thanks to central shutter lens, you will synchronize with all shutter speeds. Near the socket there is a XMV selector  in which the top two positions represent the type of flash (electronic or bulb), while the V set the self-timer with a delay of about 10 seconds.

A final note about the closure of the camera: the closing mechanism of the door remains locked until the lens is repositioned to focus at infinity; did this by acting simultaneously on the two metal buttons on two sides of the barrel , you can proceed to the closure of the bellows.

Ultimately, the Kodak Retina 1b is a camera that amazes both for the build quality and the performance, entirely built of metal with precision mechanisms and finished in an excellent manner, it is a camera that does not feel absolutely its sixty years, and which can still be used on all occasions with the guarantee of the result. The only real flaw is the focusing by estimation, which can be overcome by an external rangefinder (hard to find its own original) or the clever use of iperfocal.


Model: Compact folding

Format: 24×36 on 135 film.

Optics : Schneider Kreuznach Retina Xenar 50mm f / 2,8-f / 22

Shutter: Compur central, times from 1 sec to 1/500 sec, bulb

exposure modes: manual mechanic, bulb

Viewfinder: Galilean.

timer: Yes, delay of approximately 10 sec.

Flash: synchro socket for flash bulb and electronic.

Dimensions (closed): Length 123 mm, height 87 mm, depth 45 mm.

Weight: 591 gr.




Precision mechanics and finishes.

Optical quality.

Wide range of  shutter speeds.



Focusing by estimate.

“Complicated” Frame counter.



Among the various Retina foldings, the 1b is one of the most readily available, although not all models in the series are among the most common found in retail channels since they represent an object still commonly used and appreciated and not many owners choose to discard. Prices are generally fairly constant and settle between 50 and 80 €; beyond this value, it is perhaps better to focus on models of the series II or III (C and C) that allow you to have the rangefinder and interchangeable lenses.

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