The Kodak Retina IIIc (021)

My dad bought a Retina IIIc around the time I was born, and has documented kids, family trips, etc. with it for about 45 years. It looks as good today as when he bought it. He only shoots Kodachrome and I was always impressed with the perfection of nearly every shot. I wanted one for many years, but there were always other more urgent things to worry about. Finally I stumbled across a fairly beat up one in a local store and decided it would be a great carry-everywhere camera, if I could bring it back to good health. This is a quick summary of the restoration. There are a couple links on my links page that cover the entire Retina series far better than I could, so refer to those for historical information.

The camera seemed to have a working meter and shutter in the store, and the glass looked to be in good shape. There were many random scratches and dents, though nothing terribly serious. It just looked like it was owned by someone who didn't bother to protect or care for it. There was no case. There was one serious flaw. One of the tiny die cast hinges that holds the meter cover was broken off. This is a more difficult problem than might be assumed, because the attachment area is too small to make a good repair.

The first step of the restoration was a through cleaning. I've learned over the years to start with the mildest cleaners that will do the job. A little spray cleaner on a cotton swab took care of most of the dirt. The leather was in good shape and was given a cleaning and shine with a bit of Armor-All.

On closer examination, the camera focused to infinity at about the 50 foot mark, or a little sooner. This could be a rangefinder adjustment problem, or the lens mount itself could need adjustment. A few seconds under the autocollimator showed that the lens and rangefinder agreed with each other, so an adjustment to the shim pack under the shutter was called for. whatever shims were there needed to be about .008" thicker to put the lens in the right position. Note that this problem could be caused if someone mixed different serial number lens parts or shutters to create a Retina from several "junkers". All the serial numbers on mine matched, but even if they didn't the following alignment procedure would probably correct any problems.

Though the Retina presents a sleek appearance, it uses a conventional round shutter mechanism, just like a large format camera. The shutter is held in the body with a slotted retaining ring visible from the film gate. The problem is that the hole in the film gate isn't large enough to pass a conventional spanner, and a special wrench is required. I've designed a suitable wrench that can be made by anyone with a small metal lathe and a pdf version of the drawing is available here. Note that the wrench is to be used with the camera unfolded (open).

The shims in my Retina were about .013" thick and consisted of one stainless steel one, plus a couple oil soaked paper ones. Not having a supply of various shims, I simply turned a single spacer for the correct dimension from a piece of brass. It actually took two tries to get it right, but it's an easy matter to set the shutter and shim under the autocollimator to check it. Use a locking cable release to keep the shutter open as it has no T setting, only B.

The threads on the rear of the shutter are extremely fine, so gentle tightening is all that's necessary. With the lens in the correct position, it's time to adjust the rangefinder.

To remove the cover, hold the rewind shaft and remove the top screw (twin spanner holes). This may come off by simply unscrewing the rewind knob, or you may need a spanner. Under the knob are two cover fastening screws. There is another on the opposite side of the camera. Remove these and lift off the cover.

A fairly obvious coupling connects the rangefinder with the lens assembly. You'll see a cam screw surrounded by metal that's used to change the adjustment, and a locking screw right next to it. A third screw appears to change the contact point, and thus the tracking of the rangefinder. Get a proper manual before touching that!

Loosen the locking screw, focus the lens to infinity, then adjust the cam screw so the rangefinder aligns on a distant object. A perfect target is a crescent moon in the evening. The contrast is high and the alignment of the points is unmistakable. Tighten the locking screw.

While inside I cleaned all the windows and rangefinder parts I could reach, but did not try to disassemble the rangefinder module itself. The viewfinder is a bit hazy, but not so much as to warrant a major cleaning project just yet.

The camera now performs beautifully, though I'm still mulling over how to fix the meter cover. For now, a piece of tape is holding it quite nicely. A casual test shot of a USAF 1951 target gave about 60 lines per millimeter in the center of the frame on FP4+ and better technique would probably improve on that a bit. Plenty sharp for me. More to follow as I fix the meter cover and possibly clean up the rangefinder haze.