Kodak Retinette 1B Type 037 – Fat Boy
Secondary lines for cameras in the past have created iconic cameras. The Kodak Retinette series had the pedigree to achieve this, following up from the hugely popular and very well regarded Retina range. The Retinettes were aimed more at the general camera users rather than the enthusiasts, but having been built with some very good and quality parts they are quite well regarded.
The Retinette 1B Type 037 is a middle child model of this range. As to why it is called the Fat Boy, I am not sure. I have searched online but while it is called this in many places I cannot find any reason why it is called this. It even seems to be something Kodak labelled it with!
Being a middle child has some advantages, it has features the 1A did not (e.g. a meter) and a lower price than the final model which did not have much extra.
I have seen quite a few articles praising this camera for quality it produces and its low price to buy. I have had mine now for about 17 years, mostly sitting on a shelf. So how does it really perform? Before we talk about that, let’s find out a bit more about this great looking camera.
Kodak A.G. Germany produced the Retinette viewfinder cameras as a cheaper option than the mighty Retina series. They started with a folding version (Type 147) in 1939 through to the final 1A (Type 044) with a solid lens in 1967. The Type 037 Fat Boy was produced from 1960 through to 1963. About 225,000 were manufactured during this period, which explains why they are reasonably priced to buy now.
The 1B Type 037 was one of the “B” designated models which meant that is has a light meter which the “A” models did not.
This specific model was not sold everywhere in the world, as Kodak did not believe that a “cheap” version of the Retina was required everywhere to bolster sales. This included Eastman Kodak United States where the Retina reigned supreme in their line-up and the sales numbers were extremely high, so the Retinette did not make it there.
The Kodak Retinette 1B Type 037 is a camera designed to work without a battery. The exposure meter is a selenium type made by Gossen, which have been a leader in the light meters for a long time. I tend to keep the Fat Boy in its leather case to lengthen the life of it, but being such a nice looking camera, I may come up with a solution on covering just the meter to have it on display.
The Fat Boy is a 35mm viewfinder camera, so will not focus through the viewfinder and requires the zone focusing on the lens. It also features a depth-of-field scale on the front of the lens. The lens, it is a Rodenstock Reomar 45mm f/2.8. That is quite an impressive spec sheet so far and it even gets better. The Shutter is the Pronto-LK, quality in a beautiful art-deco style budget form!
The meter operates a needle in the bottom of the viewfinder reporting if you are under or over exposed. The range of speeds offered is 1/15 to 1/500 second and Bulb. The aperture setting ranges from f/2.8 through to f/22 which should cover most uses except for high speeds in bright light with a fast film. The film speeds that can be set are limited to ASA 800 so this should not be a big issue. The lowest film speed allowable ASA 10 and it can be set through a series of red numbers on the side of the lens by depressing a chrome button. The lens accepts filters of 29.5mm size, but you have to remember the meter does not take the filter into account as it is placed above the lens.
The top of the camera contains the shutter release, an attractive frame counter and a dial which lets you set a reminder on what type of film you have put into the camera. The selections are Black and White, Colour Daylight and Colour Artificial (Tungsten). A cold shoe allows the mounting of a flash, but will need to be connected by cable to front of the camera where there is a flash socket.
Interestingly the film advance lever is located under the camera. There are a few cameras that have this, and they always strike me as an odd duck. The advance is one full stroke. It is kept company under the camera by a tripod socket on the left side. Double exposures can be taken, by using the film reverse button also located at the bottom of the camera.
One of the pages in the manual did make me chuckle, where it specifies that parallax error in the viewfinder can be estimated with two imaginary lines. Would prefer to have actual lines myself.
I’d been planning on using the Retinette for quite a while, as it looks appealing and I’ve read some good things about it. The first thing I did was check that the meter still worked. Success! It worked and seemed quite accurate.
Then I found my first dislike of this camera, it has no camera strap lugs. Initially I thought, no problem, I’ll just leave it in the leather ever-ready case (read: never-ready case), and just remove the top part. Only the top part of the case does not come off, only opens and hangs under the camera. That is quite horrible! In the end, I put it in a small Domke bag and pulled it out every time I wanted to use it. Not very good for quick candid shots.
The metering was usually accurate. It did have some problems where there was both light and dark areas, but in general for a consumer camera it did quite well.
While the specs of the camera seem very good, I must admit I was a left a little wanting with the results. The contrast in the negatives was not quite there, even with Ilford HP5+. Sharpness was a little soft, but in line with this type of camera from the period, so this was not something that worried me, but the lack of contrast did irk me a little after all that I read online. I thought a yellow filter may help, but it still lacked the oomph. Comparing it to some pictures taken in the same spot and light, with another camera, confirmed this to me. Surely such a lens should do better.
Scanning the film was a little problematic which I suspect due to lack contrast and initially came out quite muddy. Some work in Photoshop did bring up some better results, but I would have preferred much better starting point.
Actually using the camera was enjoyable. The advance lever on the bottom took some getting used to, but what kept me from really enjoying it was having to put it back in the bag too often due to the lack of being able to attach a strap. Apart from that, it felt quite nice in the hand, the weight is well distributed, and was fairly easy to use. Having enjoyed using it probably contributed to my disappointment in the resulting pictures though.
The Retinette 1B does come up quite often online for sale, and quite cheaply. It is great little camera to put up on a shelf for show, and people do seem to get quite nice results from some of them, but for me, I probably won’t put another roll of film through it. It just did not reach the realm of the classic camera that emerges from the secondary line from a manufacturer. I will probably now source a Retina and see if that gives me a more rounded experience.
The lens is a coated triplet and should give pretty decent sharpness stopped down to f8 or f11. The scans look a bit lacking in resolution, and the overall appearance of the pictures a bit dark, as if metered from the sky. Scanning film as an end in itself differs from the conventions of shooting neg film and printing optically. Conventionally neg film was intentionally overexposed up to a stop to give denser negs and contrast could be tackled with a split grade filter approach to printing in the darkroom. Have you tried a Vito B with a Skopar lens? Might give you more contrast with scanned film exposed at a lower EI than these pictures.
Looking back at this now, I agree that the scans are not the best. I had these done in a lab, and looking at the negs you are right, quite underexposed which brings out the lack of contrast and grain, which is a consequence of the lab trying to get out result I suspect. The selenium meter must be off and losing its accuracy due to age. I did still find the sharpness still a struggle with this camera, as I also had another film with the same problem, so maybe it is an issue with mine. I do have a Vittomatic II which I’ll have to try. In any case I still probably not try the Retinette again, as have plenty of others to try out. Thanks for the comment!
David L. Jentz
Please remove that ridiculous “fat boy” comment and name for this camera…. it is a total idiotic myth generated by some “village idiot”…. Kodak AG and Eastman Kodak Co. never used such a designation and it should be removed.
Thanks. I know it is silly, but used only in fun.
I’m always a little surprised at the comments here, lol. I’m more of a vintage collector than serious photographer but I absolutely love your shots! They are gorgeous! Personally I like shooting with older cameras like these middle of the range models because they don’t always achieve the sharp crisp image we are used to now-a-days. It gives an atmosphere I find hard to recreate in digital. I like the dust the light leaks the haze that often comes with them. I would have any of your shots on my wall. Love this wee camera (I have the 045), love this post.
Thank you for such a great compliment on the photos! I do try the best I can with each camera and you are right, they each have their own character.
As a guy who believes in developing his own films, consistently using TMax 400, a standard developing time in HC 110 (5 minutes at 25C), and printing on normal grade resin coated paper on a Valloy II with a Nikon 50mm lens, I am always doubtful about attempts to make judgments on lenses from film that has been lab developed in heaven alone knows what, and then scanned. There are just too many variables introduced in the process of hybrid work.
I have a Retinette 1B coming from EBay, and as I find it impossible to tell the difference between negatives from my Leica M3 with my Cannon 50mm lens or Leitz Elmar, My Retina IIIC with its Rodenstock, or my Nikon F2 with its 50mm lens, I am optimistic about the results I will get using my standardized procedure.
Thanks for the point of view Geoffrey. I can see your point, unfortunately this is the only way I can test it out, especially back then. Good luck with the 1B , I hope it gives you the results you are after!
The Retinette has arrived in good shape, and it will be the next camera to be used, when I have finished the film in my Leica M3. When I don’t get the results I want with these lovely old classic cameras, I generally find it is my fault, because I have somehow or other diverged from my tried and trusted routine, or expected more than is reasonable from a camera, e.g. close photos wide open on a camera with less than ideal focussing systems, e.g. early Retina IIs..And as I push my equipment to the limit, I sometimes expect too much.