As all of us know, Kodak or Eastman Kodak is an American company. Although its best days are over, at its peak, the Kodak brand name had an iconic following throughout the world. Kodak’s claim to fame has always been based on the film that it produced. Kodak had, however, during its heydays acquired camera companies, like Nagel of Germany and Chinon of Japan.
Kodak purchased Nagel Kamerawerk in 1932 because it wanted to market quality cameras at reasonable prices. The mandate given to Nagel was to produce a 35mm rangefinder that could compete successfully with the Leicas and Contaxs of that time. The end-result was the Kodak Retina which was launched in 1936. The Retina was supplied with a 35mm film cartridge developed by Kodak. The Retina was an immediate success and several versions were manufactured. The last rangefinder produced under the Retina brand name was the Retina IIIs, which was introduced in 1958. The Retina was available with either Rodenstock or Schneider lenses. By the late fifties, Kodak was becoming increasingly aware that the popularity of the rangefinder camera was declining. Japanese manufacturers like Nikon, Asahi Pentax and Canon had started making inroads into European and American markets with their Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras. East German companies using brand names like Praktica, Exakta and Praktina also began to appear in Western Europe. Kodak, therefore, launched the Retina Reflex, which was an SLR supplied with a 50mm f/2 Xenon lens. The Retina Reflex saw several versions and the last one was the Retina Reflex IV launched in 1964. A whole range of lenses from Schneider was available for the Retina range of cameras. Users of that period swore by the quality, although problems like jamming of film and locking of the exposure counter were common.
By the end of the 60’s, Kodak realized that it was not able to cope with Japanese competition and the Retina range was given a quiet burial.
H. S. Billimoria
Cameras courtesy of Farid Shaikh’s Camera Museum, Pune. Photographs by Sunil Kapadia, Pune.