Retina IIIC (1958-1960)
Kodak Retina IIIC
My Kodak Retina IIIC is probably the best classic camera i own. At least it is the one i use the most, the one that i grab without thinking when i leave the house (and as you know, you should never leave the house without a camera).
It is a mechanical marvel that needs no battery for its selenium exposure meter that is still working properly after 60 years. Being a folding camera it is rather compact and its Xenon 2/50mm lens is fast and sharp and leaves not much to be desired.
The build quality of the camera is fantastic. Almost every part is made of metal and there is no perceptible slackness whatsoever in any of its mechanical operations. Cameras like the Retina IIIC are the best the once famous german camera industry was able to produce, a veritable pinnacle of ingenious construction. Every demand a photographer could have at that time was solved with entirely mechanical means - a fact that keeps fascinating me every time when i am taking pictures with those cameras - The Retina, the Rolleiflex, the Agfa Flexilette, the Leica M3. After that peak the german camera industry (with the exception of Leica) went into a steep decline. You can see that in later Retinas of the post-folder era where many of the metal parts have been substituted by plastic and the elaborate focusing mechanism of the folders that moved the lens-shutter group as a whole was replaced by simpler and optically inferior front lens focusing. I see that in my Retina IIF which is not a bad camera but definitely on the road to flimsyness compared with the IIIC.
A special feature of the IIIC are its supplementary lenses that can be mounted instead of the front element of the Xenon with a special bajonett. I own a 4/80mm Retina Longar and a 5.6/35mm Curtar which are two of the three lenses to be had (there is a 4/35mm Curtar as well which i do not possess). Considering the fact that you do not change the complete lens - the rear group of the Xenon stays in the camera behind aperture and shutter and combines with the supplementary groups - the optical quality of these chimera-lenses is quite decent. Their handling on the other hand is definitely not: once the front element is attached you have to focus the lens via the rangefinder, read the distance on the scale for the 50mm Xenon and transfer it manually to one of the two auxiliary scales at the bottom of the lens-shutter assembly. But in comparison with the IIF at least you have the possibilty to take pictures with a wide angle or a small tele. To be fair i have to mention that there is the Retina IIIS, a rigid Retina with interchangeble lenses (complete lenses, not just front groups), but that is a Retina i do not (yet) own.
Let's go back to the IIIC. Unlike the IIIc (the little c), that must use an accessory finder for the interchangeable lenses, it has the framelines for 35,50 and 80 in its bright line finder which makes it rather cluttered but on the other hand pretty big and therefore better to look through than the relatively tiny peephole of earlier generations.
A feature of the IIIC that gets a lot of bashing on the web i actually like very much: The EV (exposure value) system for coupling the shutter speed to the aperture opening. It works like this: The uncoupled selenium meter on top of the camera provides you with a number between 2 and 18 - the exposure value - you have to set via a red arrow to the ring with corresponding numbers at the bottom of the shutter. After that shutter speed and aperture are coupled together and can be moved by a single turning of the shutter speed ring around the lens. I like to think of it as some sort of semi-automatic and enjoy the possibility to change the shutter speed without having to worry about adjusting the aperture correspondingly.
And there is another not-so-beloved accessory to the Retina IIIC a am a passionate fan of. The ever-ready case that sometimes gets ridiculed as a "never-ready case". I think there is no better protection for a high precision machine like the Retina that doubles as a wonderful transportation case you can easily carry over your shoulder wherever you go. And it is just beautifully made of thick, sturdy leather, trimmed with chromed metal at the edges and the label "Retina" embossed in beautiful letters on the front. A wonderful garment for a wonderful camera.