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As I’ve said before I love weird old cameras, and the Kodak Retina Reflex III is a real beauty.  Handsome (if unusual) styling coupled with German craftsmanship and extreme complexity combine to make this a real one of a kind…

Kodak began selling cameras under the Retina name in 1934.  They were built in Germany by Nagel Camera Works, and were made in a variety of styles over the years with folding, non-folding, rangefinder, and viewfinder models available at different times.  They were all well made, and featured handsome black leather and chrome finishes.

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In 1957, Kodak apparently saw the future of 35mm photography coming in the form the SLR and they were actually slightly ahead of the curve–they beat the Nikon F and Canonflex (the first Canon 35mm SLR) by two years.  Only the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex and Pentax Asahiflex came before it.  The idea of a single lens reflex camera is actually much older, but it wasn’t applied to small format photography until the 1950s…

Anyway, the Retina Reflex is the result of a somewhat unlikely marriage of a Compur leaf shutter, and a reflex mirror/pentaprism–offering eye level, through the lens viewing and focusing.  The downside to the system is a level of complexity that must have aggravated even the Germans who built the camera, and along with it a lot of added expense and fragility.    It was expensive (around $1800 in todays dollars), complex and fragile, but performed well enough (and was popular enough) to be produced until 1966 which was well into the era of modern mechanical SLRs.

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So that’s some of the history…hows it handle?  The shape and design of it feel much more like a medium format folder than a typical SLR, but it feels good in your hands.  It’s heavy, and feels very solid.  The controls are smooth, and it feels like a precision instrument.  The controls do feel a bit awkward–the winding lever is on the bottom of the camera, and the shutter release is on the front.

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Shutter speeds are controlled via a ring on the front of the camera, and aperture is controlled with a “control wheel” on the bottom of the camera.  Once set, the two can be turned together which gives you an effective AV and TV modes, depending on whichever you want to use.

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It has a Gossen selenium meter built in, visible in the viewfinder or through a window on the top of the camera.  The one in mine is still working and is accurate enough to use (though it sticks sometimes).  In use, it actually works pretty well–set your shutter speed, then look through the viewfinder and turn the “adjustment wheel” to find an aperture that will put the meter needle in the middle of its bracket.  It’s relatively fast for a camera of this vintage.  The viewfinder is a nice rectangle with rounded corners, and has a split image focusing screen.  Mine is yellowed and kind of dim…probably the result of age on the balsam cement used in the pentaprism.  I’ve heard others say theirs were bright and clear, so I assume that’s how they looked new.  The frame counter is on the bottom of the camera, and unlike most cameras counts down instead of up.  You have to manually set it to how many frames are on your roll before start shooting.

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The lenses for the system are excellent German made Schneider glass, and they were actually one of the strong points of the system.  There was a wide angle 28/2.8, 35/2.8,  normal 50/2.8, fast 50/1.9, telephoto 85/4, 135/4, and 200/4 .  It’s a pretty complete set.  Only thing you might ask for is a faster 85mm option for portraits, but really that’s about it.  I have all them but the 84mm f4.  They’re well made from aluminum, and feel nice and solid.  The 200mm is a huge chunk, but the wide angle lenses are surprisingly small and light.  They also have moving depth of field guides on them…an unusual feature of the Dekel mount they use, which is pretty nice.  They’re easy to mount and dismount from the camera via a release on the bottom.

Here’s the 200mm:

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Shooting it was fun, and “different”.  The viewfinder is a bit on the small side, but definitely useable.  Focusing was difficult, but mostly because my viewfinder is yellow and hazy, which is no fault of the camera.  The split image focusing screen works the same as any other.  The controls take a little getting used to, but are perfectly functional.  For this test I loaded it with some old Agfa Vista 200…figured German film was appropriate for a German camera :) .  I used it to chase my kids around the woods, and it performed well enough.  The lens was sharp at the apertures I was shooting at (f5.6-f8)…didn’t get a chance to shoot it wide open (hey, the shutter tops out at 1/500th :) ).  Love the colors of this old Agfa film…sort of subdued, with great flesh tones.  Wish they were still making film!  Chasing kids with it was…challenging :D .

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I really like this one–I let our five year old run around with my 40D and take some pictures…we took a shot of each other with our cameras.  Funny how the two cameras were looking at each other across more than a half century…

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He doesn’t look very enthused here, but he really was having a good time…just caught him at a bad moment ;) .

Overall I like the Retina Reflex system.  It’s a funky different design with some really nice glass.  It was an evolutionary dead end…a sort of delicate, elegant Neanderthal of photography.  At the time it was made, the writing was on the wall…the focal plane shutter 35mm SLRs were just starting to take off and would dominate photography until the coming of the digital age.  Mine will probably see very limited use and be retired to my “Emeritus Collection”…the shutter failed to fire on 10 of the 24 frames I took, and given the fragility of the mechanism I don’t want to have it turn into a complete decoration by using it too much.  A fun and interesting piece of history for sure!

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Congratulations to everyone at the State Finals Rodeo! What a great event…anyone who says that young people today don’t know what hard work is should come and see these guys and gals–the level that they compete at for their age is simply outstanding.  It was really a pleasure to be there.

The pictures for Saturday are up!  You can see the gallery by clicking HERE . You can order prints directly from the gallery.

The pictures for Sunday can be found HERE. The pictures are all up, and ready to order!

Digital Download Special–You can download ALL the pictures you want from the entire rodeo for $19.95. These are full size images, suitable for printing, or online use for Facebook, etc.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box below and click the buy now button.

Note: I was told that the buy it now button wasn’t working, and sure enough–there was a glitch in the HTML code.  It’s been fixed so you can order any time now!

E-mail to send code to

Within 24 hours you’ll receive a coupon code and complete ordering instructions to take advantage of this special.

Here’s a slideshow of some of my own favorites from Saturday…

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Congratulations to everyone who was at the first event for the Bitterroot Gymkhana club–you all did a great job!  It was great seeing everyone there.   Pictures are all up!

To see the gallery, just go to the top of this page, and go to  websites, and then client login. The access code is GYMK4712.

Great job everyone!

Here’s a slideshow with some of my favorite images from the day…

A BIRTHDAY GIFT | HAMILTON

February 3, 2012

As a birthday gift for their mother, these handsome guys got to share how they feel about mom…well, the little guy needed some help but we know how he really feels :) .  These three shots were made into wonderful framed prints, and given to mom–she was so happy to get them!

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If anyone else ever has any special requests, feel free to ask…if you have any ideas for a special occasion, I’d love to hear them and see how I can help.

And a series like this is never complete without some outtakes…taking pictures with kids is great fun, and always has some wonderful “extras”.   After we were done with the “serious” stuff, they got to get out the pirate swords and super hero gear :) .

REMEMBERING | VETERANS DAY

November 11, 2011

World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918, so it only seems fitting to remember it on this Veterans Day, 11-11-11.   2011 also saw the passing of the last surviving WWI combat veteran, Australian Claude Choules at the age of 110.   Frank Buckles, the last remaining American veteran of WWI also passed away, leaving the living memory of the Western Front quiet forever.

It was one of the bloodiest conflicts in world history, and it wiped out an entire generation of young men in Europe.  It redrew a big chunk of the world map, and ended several empires.  It left much old Europe in economic ruins, but saw the United States rise on the world stage.  There were an estimated 6.8 million combat deaths in the war, a number that today is hard to comprehend.  Modern 20th century weaponry and 19th century tactics collided, with catastrophic results.  In one day of fighting at the Battle of the Somme, the British army lost 19,240 men with another 35,493 wounded…more than four times the number of men we’ve lost in a decade of fighting in the Middle East. In a single day.

The reasons for the war breaking out are hard to understand even today, buried in the politics of 19th century Europe.  The war ended with the Armistice, and the Treaty of Versailles–which planted the seeds of WWII.  We still remember the armistice that ended the war every November 11th–today we know it as Veterans Day.

We have a monument here in Hamilton dedicated to the men from the area that served in WWI.  This unnamed Doughboy has been standing at attention since 1921, when the monument was put in front of the Ravalli County Courthouse by the Service Star League.

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The Honor Roll plaque has the inscription

“That the memory of the boys who gave their lives and their services in defense of their country and to perpetuate its ideals, shall live as an inspiration to courage and patriotism.”

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It goes on to list the local boys who served overseas…

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Today he still stands as one of the few reminders we have of “The Great War”.

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This Veterans Day, give thanks to all of our men and women who have served for our country, and remember the boys who served “over there”, and breathed a collective sigh of relieve as the guns fell silent at 11-11-11.

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