2022 felt like Reto’s year. The plucky HK based disrupters had garnered huge praise for their relaunch of the VUWS. But then the pulled a blindside we never expected. Half frame and in Kodak clothes. The Kodak Ektar H35.
And in the summer of ’22 the web lost it’s sh*t for this camera with vlogs and blogs a plenty. But does it really live up to hype ?
This review has been a bit of a Odyssey. I shot my original rolls back in Summer and was a bit Meh… but then I chanced upon George Griffin’s Flaneur on the street blog review of the H35. So I reloaded with a roll of XP2 and sent that off to another lab (the lovely folk at Photo Hippo).
And I’m a convert and the lab is important here
But before we get there…
But hang on you keep mentioning Reto. Is the Kodak Ektar H35 a Kodak camera or not ?
Yes and no.
This is heavily branded Kodak and comes in the best packaging I’ve seen in awhile. The box is all Classic Kodak – Yellow, Black & Red. You even get a very nice, if slightly small Kodak branded wrist strap. This is in 2 parts so you can detach and use the wrist strap for something else easily. There is also not quite as plush kodak branded soft bag.
It’s also listed on Kodak’s website. And the camera features the Ektar name. Nowadays associated with Ektar 100 colour film, this was also used by Kodak to name their best quality lenses back in the day
But just like the M35 and M38, the H35 is not a Kodak made product.
This time Reto (Yup the Reto UWS folk) are behind this. They just licence the name and Kodak are more than happy to get the free press.
Kodak don’t make film cameras beyond their disposables these days. The company in fact probably was outsourcing manufacturing anyway in the 90’s and noughties.
And Half Frame ?
Half frame cameras essentially use standard 35mm roll film (aka 135). But instead of the classic 24x36mm 35mm frame, a half frame camera is geared to shoot 24X18mm frames (half the frame).
Some of the first compact cameras using 35mm film were actually half frames like the 1913 Tourist Multiple. It offered up to 750 shots (it used movie film the 35mm cassette wasn’t even a glimmer Barnack’s eyes) with a fast Zeiss lens. However it was in post war Japan that half frame cameras rose to prominence. The heyday was the 1960’s and was a major local and export success. Half frame offered double the shots and with good Japanese optics made sense for savvy shooters. Falling film and processing costs and the rise of the Ultra compact 35mm would see the format fade into the 1980’s
The format has lived on even before Reto go involved with Lomography offering both optional square format on the LC-A Wide. But at launch the h35 was the only dedicated half frame in production.
So there’s a lot of plastic – How well does it feel
Like the other Reto Cameras this is predominately made out of plastic right down to the lens.
It is well enough made having a build similar to Reto UWS or the Dubblefilm Clones. The lens is listed as Optical grade Acrylic whilst ABS is used for the body. Yes it plastic but on the whole it’s creaks and wobbles are not bad except for the rewind knob that feels pretty flimsy.
Although this is bigger than a VUWS clone, there does seem to be quite a bit of similarity. The film door is very similar from inside bar lacking a pressor and door latch . There are 2 ridges on the rear of the door that VUWS clones don’t have but otherwise just the same with the same thumb grip. Lots of other parts are similar too like the take up spool.
There is a quibble that I share with other reviewers like Johnny Martyr’s review on PetaPixel. Reto have either modded this camera from an existing 35mm full frame or used parts as the viewfinder actually is a full frame landscape oriented simple finder. That’s fair enough but rather than use an opaque mask in it they’ve used a mesh which actually lets some light through. It is also a little offset which gives rise miscentering when taking close shots.
Looks quite stylish though ?
It has been well thought out resembling some of Kodak’s Instamatic (126) Cameras from the 1960’s like this one below.
In a nod to models like the Instamatic 33 picture , the H35 also turns on it flash by turning the lens bezel.
Reto make it with 4 faux leather covers my brown one, black, sage and sand.
The camera weight 100gms according to Reto.
What is the Kodak Ektar H35 spec ?
This is simple stuff. There are no user controls other than turning on the flash (powered by 1xAAA, not provided). The flash with fresh batteries is quick to charge.
The lens is fixed focus 22mm (32mm equiv) with a fixed f/9.5 aperture and a shutter speed around 1/100. Other data is limited but analogue wonderland (where my version came from) lists the focal range of 1m to ∞. That’s actually close to the suggested 1.65m to ∞ if the focus is fixed on the hyperfocal point of 2.57m.
Like all cheap cameras with fixed or limited exposure options, you will need to pick film wisely. Stick to negative film as it will provide some latitude.
The aperture and shutter means in Sunny 16 conditions 100 ISO and even 50 ISO can be used. 200 ISO however is a more flexible choice. It will cover sunny 16 conditions well enough with about 1 1/2 stops of over exposure but be able to cover down to pretty overcast. Dull days 400 ISO is king but will tolerate the sky lightening up. Of course you can go faster film for low light conditions.
I was able to push on a vintage filter for a TLR
That’s all typical spec for cheap plastic camera except this is half frame.
Hang on I’ve heard that focal length before –
Is this the same lens as the VUWS ?
That my friend is a very interesting question.
Both this and VUWS clones has a very similar set up. I’ve mentioned very similar parts and then there’s the lens. Both have exactly the same set up of a 22mm 2 element lens made of optical grade acrylic. The elements are separated by the shutter and both use a curved film plate to improve focus. The h35 is ½ stop wider at f/9.5 v f/11 of the Reto UWS and rated slightly slower 1/00 v 1/125.
And Reto confirmed to me it is exactly the same lens.
The camera has standard loading and rewind system which works okay. When checking the camera over I noticed if I didn’t fully wind on and depressed the shutter the shutter would stay open until I fully wound on. I dunno if that’s just mines but if it affects the camera generally this may be an exploit to many of you.
I found the camera struggled with the slightly chunky plastic cartridge of a Lomography Berlin roll. It was hard to fit and once I did the door wouldn’t close correctly. These plastic cartridges whilst not common can be found on a few films and are also widely used by roll yer own folk.
There’s not much to say. There is a reasonable film counter on top plate, there is no feedback info except the flash ready. The flash on/off has a reassuring clunk.
The rewind knob is really flimsy. Not an issue for rewinding per se but when you try to pop it out it is tight and you feel something is about to give. Not great but I suspect will loosen.
The Flash is quick to charge but be aware even if you turn off the capacitor will still fire if there is enough charge. This a common fault with many cheap cameras but this is a little more pricey than rivals.
But cool you get twice the shots for your money ?
Yes and no.
Go back up and have look at the frame comparison image. half frame shots have a little separator between them. This means that 2 half frame images with a seperator are actually wider than a standard 35mm frame. Modern automated scanners have a 35mm guide mask for scanning set to the standard frame.
So labs either run through that film gate cropping your images or hand scan. In theory you do get wider gates but I’m not aware of anyone using them. Photo hippo for example produced delightful results although they used full frame scanning meaning a small 0.5mm edge was missing on each shot. My mainlab hand scanned but I paid way more
So you either get slightly cropped scan and automated prints or have to fork out more when lab processing. And lab quality varies.
So if you were expecting some modern equivalent of a Olympus PEN EE look away now. This is Lo-Fi stuff.
But that said it has a good lens for a plastic full frame camera. It is slightly more soft here as you are effectively cropping standard VUWS image. But even at half frame in good light with the right film it does you lo-fi proud.
Granted as with it’s big brother it is sharper centrally softening to the edges. It does better close up but centrally things are still okay for a basic camera on long shots. And yes it distorts but only some light pincushion
Fringing on colour shots is evident but again no worse than your average disposable or re-loadable disposable.
For flash Ironically use 400 ISO film. With this results are okay
With slower film you will only get just adequate illumination at 1-2m
Final Thoughts On the Kodak Ektar H35
Well the good news is this isn’t a dud and at the time of launch was the only half frame only camera on the market. It is also the best styled camera launched in 2022 IMHO.
Image wise with a good lab you will get images better than the average disposable and the cameras in the re-loadable disposables. It can’t quite match the best disposables clinically like the Kodak Funsaver or Harman B&W models but is more robust, easily reloaded and has more character both looks and image-wise. It lags behind VUWS clones and the current Dubblefilm Show/M35 clones but not by far and you potentially get double yer money. The image quality is not bad and has some of the feature of the VUWS lens although don’t mistake this for a half frame lomo.
And it was at launch the only full time halframe in production.This made it an interesting alternative to other current Lo-Fi rivals. The frugality (if your thang) can’t be denied although you may need to shop around to get a lab who does half frame well and cheaply. My shout for that goes to Photo Hippo who did the XP2 roll excellently. The other lab was fine but these are just that bit sharper and contrasty although XP2 is IMHO one of the best and most tolerant films in production.
But it now isn’t alone.
So Any Rivals then ?
You’d think not in the half frame world but in fact Lomography Kinda has you covered from cheap (by lomography standards) to expensive. Lomography Diana Mini has offered a half frame mode for some time. Granted that a weird 12x24mm or 24x24mm formats and it is a fickle mistress of a camera. If money is no object the Powershovel’s Superheadz Golden Half. A camera retro styled camera (looks a bit like a mini Diana) was sold about 10-15 years ago for around 50 quid. But like the Superheadz wide and Slim now costs over £100GBP. Peggy Marsh reviewed it when living in Japan.
If you have just shy of £400 burning a hole in your Pocket Lomography will sell you their LC-A wide. This ultra wide angle camera offers insertable film masks allowing you to shoot full frame, 24mm² squares and half frame. Photothinking and LomoKev discuss this in their reviews and some tricks.
But joining the H35 and the Lomo gear we got a cracker of announcement with the Alfie Tych kickstarter. Not yet in the wild and much more competent with auto exposure and metering.
And then in early 2023 this slipped out
In cunning move which suspect was heavily driven by the H35hype, Lupus (aka Agfaphoto) gave us this. If it looks familiar that because it is based on their long established Dubblefilm Show/Kodak M35 clone. They have literally just tweaked the film box mask and winder. Pricing at the same or under the H35 it is very much game on in 2023
And Classic Models ?
The list of vintage half frames is massive.
But the Heyday for half frame was the 60’s when Japanese companies dominated. For a starting point it’s worth looking at the Olympus PEN series which gave rise to half frame SLRs to P&S. My personal favourite is the Konica EYE which also ended up being copied in Soviet era Kiev as the FED Mikron.
Konica would produce the Autoreflex full frame SLR that offered switching to half frame and the later Bridge AF SLR of the Yashica Samurai series are one of the most technologically advanced half frames.
Other Sources on the Kodak Ektar H35
If you google “Kodak Ektar H35 review”, you’ll get a few. Many are store based reviews and I’m conscious that Reto did a blitz on use Bloggers. 4 authentic reviews I found are Johnny Martyr’s Review on petapixel (one of the first), Eric Wood’s on 35MMC (some good hints for those who scan and comparison with proper half frames), PC Mag (yes Really) and Flaneur’s Substack as mentioned earlier.
Reto’s Kodak Ektar H35 page is of course the manufacture info site