The $50 camera project

The project

Epic Edits Weblog currently has a $50 Film Camera project.

In a nutshell, the project is to obtain a film camera for less than $50. Shoot a roll of film, write a review of the camera and make both (the pics and review) available online.

I loved film when I was in high school, admittedly a lot of the love was for processing the photos myself, which I can’t do now, but I thought this would be a fun project. So far it has been!

The search

I hopped onto Ebay to search for cameras under $50 (including postage — I thought it would be keeping in the spirit of the rules). There were a few decisions to make, including whether I wanted something that took 35mm film or not. The lomo-style cameras looked like fun, but I wasn’t sure about the non-35mm film. I could have bought a film adaptor for about $11, but that was pushing the budget. There were also quite a few Box Brownies that were pretty high in retro-coolness.

I got outbid on a Rigona Balda, but managed to snag myself a Kodak Retinette 1A for $19.99 + $12 postage.

Rigona Balda (as pictured on Ebay)
Rigona Balda (as pictured on Ebay)

Kodak Retinette 1A (as pictured on Ebay)
Kodak Retinette 1A (as pictured on Ebay)

Getting to know my new camera

The Retinette was in pretty good condition, it even came with its original leather case!

Naturally, I wanted to look it over, figure out what did what, press the buttons, twist the knobs and try to make it work. There was one little lever on the bottom of the lens that wouldn’t go back to its starting point when I pulled it…

That was a little concerning, but I continued to look it over. I cocked the shutter and pressed the shutter release… a very weak click. Not the classic “chuck-ung” that I’m used to with my Nikon N2020.

Still looking things over, I noticed some lines through the lens. I thought for a moment that the inner lens was cracked, until I realised that the lines were the “leaves” of the shutter. Since I could see them, I could also see that they weren’t opening when I pressed the shutter release, and I began to wonder how the Ebay seller knew the camera was in “working order”.

Some Google searches found me a user manual and Chris’s camera pages (very informative on the topic of Kodak Retinas and Retinettes). So, I discovered that the little lever I had pushed was the self-timer (who knew that cameras from the ’50s and ’60s had timers?!) and it probably wasn’t a great idea to try to use it 40 years later. Sticky shutter blades can also be a problem with old Retinettes in need of a clean.

With some excellent email instructions from Chris I managed to get the front of the lens off. After getting the timer lever back to its original position, the shutter could open and I didn’t have to dig right down to clean the blades after all.

Kodak Retinette 1A with focus and shutter rings off
Kodak Retinette 1A with focus and shutter rings off

Time to shoot

I wouldn’t mind taking the whole camera apart sometime and giving it a clean, but it’s good for its age, and it works!. Also, those tiny screws are difficult to handle. They’re about the size of breadcrumbs. I had to crawl around on the carpet for about half an hour when I dropped a couple (eh hem, actually I dropped one screw three times)!

So now it’s time to get out and shoot some film! First up is some Kodak colour 400 ISO that I already had in my drawer. I will probably get some more interesting film if this roll works at all.

Stay tuned for my pics and camera review!


  1. says

    What an interesting idea! If I had the time I would do this project, too. Well done for tracking down the help resources and fixing your camera. I look forward to seeing the photos. Shame you were outbid on the Rigona Balda, because it’s a very stylish looking camera. It looks like it has a door which opens out to reveal the lens – I’ve never seen anything like that before!

  2. says

    Yes, time is always the issue isn’t it Tracey? I think I’m going to have to go crazy taking photos today and put the film in for developing. I might not have time to experiment with other films before the end of the project, but I will probably do that anyway for fun.

    Yeah, when I pulled up the pics for this post I realised that the Rigona was a lovely little machine. Very similar to the Kodak in some ways, but little things like the counter, the film reel and so on are just a little more refined. The lens is a “billow” lens, it does get pulled out when you open the cap. I think the original Retinettes had that style as well.