My husband also enjoys film photography, yet he doesn’t suffer from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) like I do. So, imagine my surprise when we were at Central Camera in Chicago when he suggested that we buy the RETO Ultra Wide and Slim (UWS).
He’d been talking to the salesperson while I was drooling over the store’s selection of film (I also suffer from film craving and film hoarding), and the salesperson suggested the camera to him.
I’d seen results from the RETO UWS via my friend Lissa, and at under $30, I didn’t need any convincing to make the purchase.
RETO clearly was inspired by the design of the Vivitar: the notched plastic disc around the lens, the arched grip, and the Ultra Wide and Slim text stamped on the front.
The Vivitar version has a cult following for its “Lomo” results: vignetting and sun flares. The Vivitar can also fetch up to $80 or $90 in the secondhand market. You can check it out on eBay here.
Enter the RETO UWS, which was announced and delivered in early 2022. It’s quite easy to find at camera stores and online, and of course less expensive than the Vivitar. Apparently the Vivitar was mimicked many times before, but none as successfully at the RETO .
Feature-light, there isn’t much to the RETO Ultra Wide and Slim other than a choice of seven colors. (Ours is “murky blue.”) I’m a Holga devotee, so it was surprising to shoot a camera with even fewer features! The camera comes with a wrist strap and a protective cloth case.
Out of the box, you’ll notice right away just how small and light the RETO Ultra Wide and Slim is – clocking in at less than 70 grams without film. Even loaded with film it’s so light. While it’s 100% plastic, it feels sturdy and durable.
The film door of the RETO UWS is finicky to open as you must press down on the back lock while also pulling back on the door. For some reason, I often struggle with this movement.
Film is relatively easy to load. Much like other 35mm cameras, you just need to ensure the perforations line up with the teeth of the film advance mechanism. You press the shutter button and confirm the film is moving. Then you close the door and continue to press the shutter button until you see “1” in the counter window.
The viewing window is bright and quite accurate at rendering the 22mm lens, but it’s not quite perfect at framing. You’ll see a smaller image than the one you end up shooting.
The only issues I’ve had with shooting this camera is sometimes the film strap falls into the viewfinder, and I don’t notice. Given the wide angle, you’ll also need to watch out for fingers, hair, or other stray objects. Also, there aren’t any framing guides to help you compose an image.
The shutter click is audible but not too loud. The film advances easily. After clicking the shutter, you wind the film using the advance knob. You must advance the film after each shot; the camera won’t let you take a second shot for a double exposure.
The film counter window is small, and the numbers are difficult to read. I’m often guessing about how many shots I’ve taken or are left.
Rewinding the film is like other 35mm cameras: you press the rewind button and pull out a rewind knob, manually cranking the knob in the direction of the arrow. The rewind knob is very flimsy and does not feel sturdy. Once, I popped the rewind crank off the camera entirely; luckily, I was able to pop it back on.
Film Selection for the RETO UWS
One of the biggest challenges is using a film that works for your shooting conditions. Your best choice is a 400 ISO film to give you a bit of latitude under different conditions.
You could shoot ISO 100 when you know you’ll be shooting in the middle of the day in very sunny conditions – one of my favorite films for this camera in bright sun is Kodak Portra 160.
I’ve shot 800 film at night once, at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, where the only light came from the neon signage, and the results were fine, but not great.
I’d heard not to shoot 36 exposures in this camera because of the rewind process; however, I’ve never struggled with 36 exposures on this camera – whether shooting or rewinding. You will have to turn the rewind crank a lot, but just think of it as burning a couple extra calories.
Because of the plastic lens on the RETO UWS, the center of the image is sharp with falloff as you move out to the corners of the image. Vignetting is more pronounced in scenes where you have less light. I don’t mind the falloff, but again, I love my Holgas, so it’s an effect I’ve grown to expect and love.
Given the wide angle and vignetting, if you have people or objects close to the edges, you may get a bit of distortion. However, the distortion is much less than you might expect with a wide angle plastic camera.
This camera brings the lens flare as promised: I often shoot into the sun for dramatic results.
Of course, the lighting of the scene will affect your images, and you will get underexposed images with a more noticeable grain when there isn’t enough light. The camera renders colors well and produces images with good contrast.
Seriously… There aren’t any special features. The biggest enhancement I want in a second generation (if that’s a thing… RETO, are you reading?) is the ability to shoot a double exposure. I thought I could outsmart the camera – pressing the rewind button and then rewinding the film one shot, and shooting a double, but it does not work consistently. I tried many times and could hear that the film wasn’t catching when I tried to rewind, almost like the film wasn’t taut, which meant my doubles were not lined up.
I’m all for blind double exposures and generally don’t mind unexpected results, but I would love to see a double exposure button (like the one on the Lomo Fisheye 2).
The wide angle on the RETO UWS is great for capturing landscapes, architecture, and city scenes.
It’s one of my favorite cameras for travel given the size, weight, and ease of use. I love it for hiking because it fits in the pocket of my hiking pants. I generally hike with other cameras, occasionally even my 4×5, but the RETO is perfect for stopping to take a quick photo without an extended delay and digging in my pack.
It’s a fantastic travel camera for the same reasons; it’s a breeze when taking photos while walking around city streets. The camera barely takes up any room in my bag.
The camera is unassuming for street photography or taking any photos where you want to be inconspicuous. We’ve also used it to take film selfies while we travel.
This is a great camera for a teen or young adult interested in film, and I would recommend it as an incredible alternative to a disposable camera.
Image purists would want to avoid this camera given the sharpness falloff. But, if you like the “Lomo” look and want to capture fascinating sun flares, scoop it up! At the price and size, it’s a great addition to your camera arsenal.
What do you think? Do you have this camera? Let me know in the comments below.