Kodak Ektar H35N

Half pint class with a Glass – Kodak Ektar H35N

Another month another premium Half-Frame. Reto are back with a updated version of arguably the most talked about film camera of 2022. But does the Ektar H35N live up to the hype of it Predecessor ? Nope – it smashes it . Arguably the best Plastic fantastic both half or full frame in years. So I decided to take it to Helsinki.

Bikes. Kodak Ektar H35N & XP2. 2023
Suomenlinna, Helsinki, October 2023. Reto made Kodak Ektar H35N with Ilford XP2. Click on image for full size on Flickr

Hang on you said Reto ? Isn’t this a Kodak ?

Nope.

So like all Kodak cameras made today, Reto just licences the name. Now I suspect there’s a bit of Q.C from Kodak but that’s it. And both this and the original Kodak Ektar H35 oozes Kodak styling.

RETO3D Camera
RETO3D Camera

Reto are a HK based company that first came to prominence with their Reto3D a modern hommage to the Nimslo et al. They have hardly put a foot wrong with gaining much credit with the film community. That’s by bring back the VUWS with the Reto UWS and the original H35 that the H35N succeeds.

Never Heard of the original ?

Blimey !!!
Good to hear you were finally released in that prisoner exchange. Because you must have been in solitary to have missed it. Arguably the most talked about new film camera of 2022 by some margin. And it gathered huge praise. Even winning a few awards en route (got my 2022 style award)

Kodak Ektar H35 made by Reto
The original Kodak Ektar H35. Notably still has the best strap

I have a full review but the TL:DR version is as follows

It’s a Half frame camera styled to look like Kodak instamatic. But with the same legendary 22mm plastic lens as the Reto’s VUWS clone. Everything from focus to exposure is fixed in this Lo-fi retro machine. There is a built in flash.

Reto UWS
Reto UWS gave the the H35 lens and the design for the new hybrid 22mm in the H35N

The N word ?

The N suffix, I suspect designates this as the New version. And they’re not the first to use this. Notably Canon used it with tweaked mark II models in their EOS camera ranges like my EOS-1N. Pentax also used it some later bodies like the P30n or MX-5n to designated updated version

So what’s new ?

Promotional image from Reto showing all 6 current colour versions 3 metallic (r) and 3 retro striped . Used for illustrative purpose

-The New Look

So Reto have sensibly evolved the camera. The new model looks similar with the same overall retro style but a different colour panel approach. The old model had part faux leather styling. But here you get a choice of 3 stripped modes or 3 metallic colour faceplate versions. I prefer the older faux leather style ones and even the Black on i got tends to show fingermarks but this is a personal taste issue.

The look of both is inspired by Kodak’s Instamatic 126 film cameras and is very well done.

Kodak Instamatic 33. Image by Alfred from Germany, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

-Spec wise things are also improved

  • Upgraded lens still 22mm but one element coated glass the other plastic
  • Tripod and cable point. Using the latter allows you to use bulb shutter
  • 2 aperture settings
  • Easier loading
  • Built in optional star filter
  • Improved finder and rewind

The shutter is fixed at 1/100 unless using cable release. Sadly Cable only accesses the B mode (and conversely you can’t use the normal shutter button for bulb). The Star filter is interesting but I kinda wish we could have got a ND filter or something instead. Reto could have made the lens bezel fit a filter ring (bit wider than 30mm). I guess a 30mm stepping ring and some blu tack might work.

Update 03/11/23 – It takes Filters !!!

At the time of writing this originally. I had tried a few filter threads. Ithe 30mm was just a bit loose and a 32mm too big. I picked a up a Kood 30.5-49mm stepping ring and the 30.5mm screws in nicely !!! Whilst not common 30.5mm filters are reasonably available or you could use a stepping ring but it may block the finder.

Kood 30.5mm to 49mm stepping ring on the Kodak Ektar H35N
This 30.5mm (to 49mm) stepping ring fits fine but does obscure the finder

—-

Focus remains fixed with Reto implying good from 1m to infinity. Both use and running the lens set up through Omni calculator’s Dof Calculator would suggest that actually pretty realistic. As before the film plane is curved to improve focus.

Test shot on Ferry handrail. Kodak Ektar H35N. 2023
Focus does appear to be poor below 1m as this sample shot shows but then gets good even at distance centrally.. Koadk Ektar H35N & XP2. Helsinki 2023. Click for full image

-Drop the Battery to get a stop

The lens initially appears to be a bit wider with the listed aperture at f/8. However Reto confirmed it actually has 2 stops. In normal use it has a Waterhouse stop aperture of f/11. That slides out of the way when you turn on the flash like the Agfaphoto.

But just like the Agfaphoto if you remove the single AAA battery (not provided) you gain an extra stop at the expense of image quality. This however adds a bit of flex to this camera.

Lens of the Kodak Ektar H35N
Here the the Hybrid lens is set to the flash setting. Note the slider switch for the star filter and tripod point on top plate

Analogue cafe helpfully the Flash GN is 11 with Reto and have a helpful flash guide. GN11 is a bit weedy and with 100ISO, the optimal point is 1.37m (with a ±1EV range of ~1-2m). 400 ISO will have a ±1EV range of ~2-4m.

They also suggest the star filter may also add a ¼ stop although I can’t find that quoted anywhere else and star filters are usually deemed to not impact exposure (then again ¼ stop is hardly worth bothering over).

Gun port II. H35N + XP2. 2023
Using the flash mode with the battery out allows you to squeeze out a little more capability as here. Kodak Ektar H35N + XP2. Suomenlinna 2023. Click on image for full size

What’s in the box

Boxed Kodak Ektar H35N

The on fleek box perfectly captures the style and the linked heritage of this kodak branded camera. Inside you’ll find a QR codes card linking to quick start manual and a video tutorials. The soft bag is bag is back. There is a strap which is a more simpler

How does it stack up against Rivals

Agfaphoto Half Frame
Agfaphoto Half Frame is based on Agfaphoto’s clone of the Dubblefilm Show’s chassis

In essence we have 3 cameras in this class the H35, H35N and some half-frames developed off the Dubblefilm Show full frame class. Of the latter I’ve seen a few Notably the Agfaphoto Half-Frame and the Escura Snaps Half.

Kodak
Ektar H35N
Kodak
Ektar H35
AgfaPhoto
Half-Frame
LENS22mm 1:822mm 1:9.531mm 1:9*
Lens
Construction
2 element
1Coated Glass
& 1 Plastic
2 Elements
Both Plastic
1 element
Plastic
Changeable
aperture
Yes 2 stops
(Flash mode)
NoYes 2 stops
(Flash mode)
Shutter1/100 +
Bulb
1/100~1/120
MeteringNoneNoneNone
FocusingFixedFixedFixed
Focus Range1m-∞1m-∞1m-∞
FlashManual
1xAAA
Manual
1XAAA
Manual
1XAAA
MountsTripod
Cable
NoneNone
FilterStars
+ 30.5mm
Not DefaultNot Default
COST1£55£50£35
*quoted figure is 50mm 1:5.6 but I think that’s an error
1 – Ektar model pricing from Analogue Wonderland & Agfaphoto is Urban Outfitters UK at time of publication. I get no commission from these links

I struggled to get a cost comparison as I could find a fair few companies selling both Ektar models all with roughly a Five £/$/€ difference. No one I sought sold all 3.

Although both the original and the Agfaphoto lack either built in filters or filter rings it is possible to shimmy a step up ring on.

Cathedral View. H35N. 2023
Late afternoon shot with more cloud. H35N & Ultramax 400. Click on image for full size. Helsinki 2023

In Use

This is a relatively easy camera to use . Just pick your film (see below), load and shoot.

The camera has an easier load mechanism. You don’t need to pop out the rewind column, just slid into place and pull out the leader and stick into uptake slot. Rewinding has conventional load. The shutter is cocked on winding so no risk of a double exposure.

Flash is turned on by turning the lens bezel and the star filter slides up.

Stockmann, H35N, 2023
H35N & ultramax 400. Helsinki 2023 Click on image for full size.

Film Choice

Most modern colour film has a degree of latitude, so you have some flex. With most consumer grade films you can expect a degree of give on exposure (i usually use +/- 2EV) but milage does vary and forget this with slide and expired film.

One thing you can do with this is drop the aperture down to f/8 by using the flash setting. This gives you an extra shot at the expense of some sharpness.

As said milage may vary. Most B&W will be the same but some have quite narrow or wide latitude and slide film will not suffer much off target range.

So picking film can be key with these .

Suomenlinna sign. H35N & XP2. 2023
Suomenlinna, Helsinki, 2023. H35N & XP2. Click on image for full size

-400 ISO v Slower

The manual recommends 400 ISO colour film unless really bright. And this will cover most reasonable daylight scenes if you use fresh consumer but as above shows will get overblown even with a good latitude film like XP2 if very sunny. And I managed to hit above 15EV in Helsinki just to prove how much of an issue that could be as the comparison below shows (update you can now easily add a ND filter)

The image on the Left was Taken on the Kodak Ektar H35N with 400 ISO XP2, taken around the same time time as the Mobile phone image. Totally overblown but given the mobile image had a EV of almost 16 not surprising

Just in case you’re wondering if that was a processing issue the other half of the frame came out fine.

As processed Diptych pair of half frames

Conversely 200 ISO or 100 ISO will be great on Sunny days. The 200 ISO can tolerate a quite a bit of cloud so you don’t need to panic and you can drop a stop too.

Another EV15+ image but on Kodak ColorPlus 200 so much better. H35N. Helsinki 2023

I’ve tabulated the optimal exposure for each film ISO alongside a safe range (fresh Colour negative only) and the classic 2 plus & and minus.

The H35N Exposure table

ApertureIdeal EVSafe Range
-1 to +2EV
Okay Range
-2 to +2EV
100 ISOf/1114
Slightly
Overcast
13-16
Overcast to Sunny on beach
12-17
Heavily Overcast to Very Sunny Snow/Beach
f/8 (Flash)13
Overcast
12-15
Heavily Overcast to Sunny
11-16
Foggy day to Sunny Snow/Beach
200
ISO
f/1113
Overcast
12-15
Heavily Overcast to Sunny
11-16
Foggy day to Sunny Snow/Beach
f/812
Heavily Overcast
/shade in full sun
11-14
Foggy Day to slightly Overcast
10-14
Just after sunset to Slightly Overcast
400
ISO
f/1112
Heavily Overcast/shade in full sun
11-14
Foggy Day to slightly Overcast
10-14
Just after sunset to Slightly Overcast
f/811
Foggy Day
10-13
Just after Sunset to Overcast
9-13
Sporting event under bright light to Overcast
800
ISO
f/1111
Foggy Day
10-13
Just after Sunset to Overcast
9-13
Sporting event under bright light to Overcast
f/810
Just after
Sunset
9-12
Sporting event under bright light to Heavy Overcast
8-12
Bright window display to Heavy overcast

If you wanna go faster or slower I think you can work it out…

Shooting Notes

Sadly the Film was irradiated by the TSA staff at Edinburgh airport, luckily they use the older x-ray scanners. The lovely TSA folk at Helsinki hand checked my film and even took time to check none in the cameras (just as well as they use the more deadly to film CT scanners. I got pulled on the way back in transit for a random check at Schipol in Amsterdam. They had no issues about a hand check (just as well as the CT scanner was in use).

The conditions in Helsinki were good from Sunny 16+ to Overcast when shooting. Processing was by the nice folk at Photo Hippo. They are the same lab I used for the Alfie Tych, Agfaphoto Half-frame and the some of the original H35 images if you wanna compare.

Kamp. H35N & ColorPlus 200. 2023
H35N + Kodak ColorPlus 200. Helsinki 2023

Results

Exposure is gonna be a result of your film choices and conditions. Even though you can drop a stop but as we’ll see you can loose optically.

The original model had Reto’s version of the legendary VUWS lens. This made that camera the top dog in the burgeoning plastic-fanastic half frame market. This pushes that a wee bit further and arguable gives full frame cameras in the Dubblefilm show class a run for their money.

From the Harbour, Helsinki. H35N, 2023.
H35N & Ultramax 400. Helsinki, 2023. Click on image for full size

-The Optic qualities

So as expected, the camera uses only the central portion of the field of the lens. This means you only really get significant fall off along the thin edges (top and bottom of of portrait frames). As you will naturally use this in portrait mode you notice that less. This landscape oriented shot illustrates the imperfections better

So you’ll need to click to see the bigger version. But whilst the centre of the image is pretty clear with the tramlines & pavement stones well delineated at the bottom to into the medium distance. Likewise the woman about 40-50m away and the black van. But the building on the left and the car coming into the frame on the right are much softer.

Oddly if the object at the edges is close then the impact is much less. This makes it a great camera from working near ground in portrait mode as below

Scooters at Rest, Helsink 2023. Kodak Ektar H35N
If you notice the foreground remains quite sharp at the bottom of the frame where as the top of the frame is soft. These long edges suffer from softening at long distances but you notice them less if they are filled with stuff closer than the central subject. H35N + Kodak Ultra 400. Helskini Oct 2023. Click on image for full size

For the most part the sharpness of the central image whilst not crisp is pretty good for a half frame. And yes it can’t hold up to my Olympus PEN EE-2. But that’s a multi element Zuiko lens. made by Olympus in their Heyday. This is not that awful in comparison. It does fall off on very distant object making it not the best choice for landscape work but…

Chromatic aberrations are evident but not intrusive and are more noticeable on the colour shots adding some character.

-The flash setting shots

So dropping the aperture does give you flex. But that’s at the price of a drop image quality. Compare these 2 shots from the same position.

On the left standard setting (f/11) on right flash mode (f/8) with Flash disabled. H35N with Kodak ColorPlus 200. Helsinki 2023

But that said you can get away with a lot using this in low light.

Inside the Helsinki Harbour Market Hall. H35N. 2023
The Extra stop helps here with Kodak ColorPlus 200. H35N on f/8 aperture. Helsinki 2023. Click on image for full size.

Flash is a bit weedy but can be handy

-Compared to the VUWS ?

It’s telling the original H35 was good but you could always see half framing the VUWS lens made it weaker. But here I struggle to see much difference versus a VUWS clone image. Although the latter will enlarge better.

Military Memorial, Suomenlinna, 2023. Kodak H35N and XP2
Military Memorial, Suomenlinna, 2023. Kodak H35N and XP2

Final thoughts on the Kodak Ektar H35N

So bear in mind, I came to use this just after the Alfie Tych. I’m still excited by the Tych – it is so novel and British. But bang for buck I was left a little bit disappointed. Not so here. Reto pull a Rabbit out of the hat again and for just a fiver more make better camera than the original.

Now there are flaws.
Cable only gives you bulb, flash is weedy and the filter choice was meh for me. Also I think the finish is better on the old model. Meanwhile the lens, whilst good for the class is kicked firmly out of the park by legendary glass lensed vintage Japanese half frames. But on balance this isn’t try to compete in that market. And the the others are minor issues.

This is one of the best new cameras I’ve seen in recent years and is very much the leader of the plastic Fantastic pack giving even the ole VUWS a run for it’s money. For those with an existing H35 the difference is important but incremental. Bit having to chose between last and current iPhone models. At Just 5 £$€ more it make sense for folks without to buy this over the H35. You can also add filters easily

For me, this hybrid VUWS lens is fascinating.

And boy does it raises some interesting questions. So will we get a mark III (H35X) with all glass ? Or will we see this lens full frame as a Reto UWS+ or a Ektar full frame ?

Dig Yellow, H35N. 2023
Kodak Ektar H35N & Ultramax 400. Helsinki 2023

Alternatives

The base model of the Alfie Tych
The base model of the Alfie Tych has 3 lenses available (space for 4th premium)

It seems another month another modern half frames these days. So the Alfie Tych is more up market with metering and an impressive spec. But is arguably let down by the standard model’s main lens and is 5-6x the cost. Meanwhile the H35N already illustrates you can put a much better part glass lens in for relatively low cost. It cost 5- 6 times the cost of of course he H35N. For that money the Lomography LCA-WIDE offers a switchable between half and full frame, decent lens as well as lots of spec.

But both the H35 and H35N do have rivals in the form of models converted from the Dubblefilm Show. Here in Europe the most obvious is Agfaphoto Half Frame. There is also the Escura Snaps Half. Whilst they have their own retro charm, they aren’t quite as stylish and good clinically. The Agfaphoto is however a good 20 quid plus cheaper.

Lomography Diana Mini
Lomography Diana Mini – my true Love hate cam

So Lomography do sell the Diana Mini which shoots both square 24x24mm and “half frame” 17x24mm. Giving Really quirky images with same range of controls as the H35N offer but it is a bit more harder to use and your lab may hate you.

Of course


Other sources

So Reto have the retopro site for their Kodak branded models (separate from the Reto branded site). Analogue cafe has a review which also features a hand flash calculator for film speeds. Meanwhile, over on YouTube the Old Camera Guy has a side by side comparison to the original H35 and a full video review of the H35N.

7 thoughts on “Half pint class with a Glass – Kodak Ektar H35N”

  1. Great review! How many shots did you take to use those different films on one trip? Mine has recently arrived but I haven’t used it yet. What are your thoughts on the viewfinder in comparison to the previous model? Is it still only showing the middle of the frame? I’m planning to test out the bulb mode a bit. I see the PetaPixel review says you can use it to make double exposures and slow flash sync keeping the shutter open after the flash.

    1. 3 rolls 1 36 exp (the XP2) and 2 rolls of 24 exp kodak (200 & 400). I was pushing as it mean shooting about 200 frames in a day and a half as I was at a conference and only had a day and a bit off before. That said Easy to do in a new town.

  2. BTW, that’s a “Waterhouse Stop”, not Waterstone. Take it from a guy that’s old enough to actually have used view camera lenses that had those! I guess auto correct strikes again?

    1. Well spotted. Ironically I know better as I used to work with a John Waterhouse whom I believe was a distant relative of his more photographically famous ancestor. Autocorrect strikes again methinks. Will tweak

  3. An UWS with a glass lens would be interesting. Add a Waterhouse stop, a flash, a tripod mount, something to screw in filters to… by Jiminy, you’ve got a decent camera!

    1. Oh totally Tom. Even this Hybrid lens in a full frame body would be interesting. the N35N has a fairly flimsy mask to make it half frame which would be an easy matter for RETO to omit. Just some minor re gearing and change the finder mask and that’s all you’d need. Agfaphoto and Escura did that in reverse with their Dubblefilm class half frames.

  4. Hi, great review!

    Did adding the lens hood introduce any vignetting to your photos? I’m planning to get one for my camera. The 30.5mm one.

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