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 Camera-Wiki.org 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.