Camera Sleuth: Kodak Retina Ia

Retina Ia” by Michael M.F. on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

My friend Trey shared a screen grab from the HBO series Lovecraft Country in a photography-oriented Slack channel. He wondered what type of camera was used by one of the lead characters. I have not seen the series (never been an HBO subscriber), but I’m given to understand photography plays an important part in the show.

I was told the show takes place in the 1950s, and I figured the production designers were likely to have used an American (or at least American branded) camera. Ansco? Argus? Kodak? I zoomed in a bit to get some more details…

Yeah, I know that’s fairly pixellated, but there are a number of useful details I could pickup from that crop:
  • It’s a “folding” camera; the whole thing doesn’t fold, but there’s a door that opens (under her fingers) and the lens pops out on bellows.
  • There’s a cable running from the flash to the lens at the bottom.
  • There’s a little black semicircle on the right side of the lens barrel.
  • There’s a knob/winding dial of sorts at the top of the camera body, and it’s not very thick.
  • You can see a small viewfinder window above the lens, part of a solid top plate of the camera.
  • You can also see some kind of metal and textured protrusion on the far right edge of the camera.

All of those factors and the ever helpful led me to the Retina Ia, a camera manufactured in Germany for Kodak AG starting in 1951. Moreover, the camera in the TV show is most likely using one of the 50mm f/3.5 lenses based on the black ring around the lens opening, as opposed to the 50mm f/2.8 pictured at the top of this post. Obsessive nerd success!

If the season wraps up with continued plaudits, I’ll see about watching some episodes. I can’t help but want to check out a show that pays such homage to greats like Gordon Parks while making photography itself an important element of the show.