Kodak Retina IIIc, Typ 021 (small c) and Typ 028 (large c) are a coupled rangefinders built in Germany from 1954 to 1960. It originally sold for about $180. In today’s dollars, that would be over $1500! So, it wasn’t one of Kodak’s massed produced cheapo cameras they were so well known for. There were 2 models. The little ‘c’ and the big ‘C’. The main difference was the viewfinder size and addition of frame-lines for the other lenses. Yes, it was a changeable lens camera. And the lenses were very high end German Schneider-Kreuznach lenses. Three were available; 35mm, 50mm and 80mm. While it has it’s quirky aspects, this camera was obviously targeted at the Leica. As normally configured, it has coupled rangefinder focusing, a f/2.0 50mm Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens, 1 sec to 1/500 sec (plus B) Compur Synchro shutter, plus an uncoupled selenium light-meter. And some telephoto lenses I’ve heard about, but have never seen.
A German ‘Folder’
As a ‘folding camera’, the Kodak was quite unique for the day. Kind of like a present day Fuji 670,…but 35mm. But that’s not the surprising thing about this camera. It’s the images! The photos are sharp from edge-to-edge and there is no distortion or vignetting. For a camera this age, it’s very impressive. But it should be known that in some circles, the Schneider-Kreuznach is considered superior to both Zeiss and Leica. (at least before coatings advanced to their present day optical levels) And there is the only downside I’ve found. You want an example with clear lenses and viewfinders. While they can be cleaned, simple age will fog, yellow a viewfinder. (on all cameras) And these old lenses are not equipped with coatings that can handle shooting into the sun. Flare is very prevalent.
The Kodak Retina IIIc is fun, logical and easy to operate. Build quality is very solid. As small as the camera is, it’s quite ‘dense’. The lens positioning is very firm, and the tolerances are Leica-like. I’m sure that’s just a German thing from that era. The metal parts appear to be 100% machined. The little leather case with chromed details is alone a wonder in this day and age.
Leica vs Kodak?
The viewfinder is good size and bright, especially on the big ‘C’ model. (not quite Leica bright,…but close) But again, when dealing in 70+ year old cameras, how it was stored and taken care of matters. But, I’d say the same on a 70 year old Leica or Nikon. Another plus is this viewfinder works quite well while wearing glasses. You can see the 100% of the image clearly. Since it’s a leaf shutter lens, it’s barely a whisper when the shutter is released.
The coolest thing? Just how it looks, and that exquisite Schneider-Kreuznach 50mm lens. The weirdest thing? The film advance lever being on the bottom. The images are sharp and clear, especially in black and white,…they have contrast, tone and clarity. My only advice,…besides checking age issues,…get the big ‘C’! The viewfinder is significantly larger than the baby ‘c’.
The Kodak Retina IIIc
But probably the most important thing I can say is,…shhhh. Shut up. The Kodak Retina IIIc is cheap for such a solidly made product. Everybody thinks Kodak just made crap. Let’s keep it that way. Download the user manual or buy one from Amazon, if you’re so inclined, and get a sense of size. While it is larger than a Leica IIIf, it’s smaller than a Nikon S2. For some reason, they look bigger than they are. If you’re still wearing cargo pants, it’ll fit in your pocket.