In the mid 1960s I always wanted an Exakta – I even looked at one in a camera shop in Bold St., Liverpool. However they were too expensive, I had to make do with a Praktica!
In my opinion they are lovely cameras, very well engineered and quite advanced for their time. There is even a club for owners, the Exakta Circle. To visit their website click here.
The Kine Exakta of 1936 was the worlds first commercially successful 35mm SLR. They were made by the German company Ihagee, which was founded in 1912 by Dutchman Johan Steenbergen in Dresden (then the camera capital of Germany). He called his company Industrie- und Handelsgesellschaft or IHG which, when pronounced in German sounds like “ee-hah-geh” which then became a shortened version of the company name.
There are a number of websites devoted to these wonderful cameras. One is Captain Jacks, and another is Wrotniak.
1937 Exakta Type 2
This camera, was known as the ‘Kine’ (35mm) Exakta to differentiate it from the earlier roll film cameras. It (and its Tessar lens) were made in 1937, and only differs from the original 1936 Type 1 by having a rectangular rather than circular magnifier.
After the War the factory was destroyed by Allied bombing, but fortunately parts and machinery had been moved to other locations and production was able to restart fairly quickly. Also, unlike other Dresden camera manufacturers, they were not nationalised or taken to Russia, due to its Dutch ownership.
1957 Exakta Varex IIa
From 1950 the post war Exaktas were known as the Varex. The Varex lla became famous as it featured in the Hitchcock film Rear Window. It was made from 1956 to 1960 and had the more attractive engraved “Exakta” badge.
This example is fitted with the legendary F2/58mm Biotar. According to Casual Photophile “Like many lenses, the Biotar 58mm has a long genealogy. This ancestry stretches as far back as the 1920s, a time when several lens manufacturers were attempting to improve the Carl Zeiss Planar design that originally debuted in 1896. Taylor, Taylor & Hobson in the United Kingdom first developed their Panchro series, and Schneider-Krueznach independently developed their Xenon lens formula. The Biotar was developed by the famous lens designer Dr. Willy Walter Merté for Carl Zeiss, shortly after these earlier lenses, and all three lenses used a similar formula; they were six element lenses with asymmetrical outer elements, a variant of the Double Gauss design for higher performance and increased field correction and speed”.
1965 Exakta Varex IIb
This updated version of the lla is the camera I lusted after in the mid 1960s, looking at one in camera shop in Bold St. Liverpool, but couldn’t afford it (I bought a Praktica instead). The lens is a Zeiss Jena Tessar. After the war Zeiss continued to operate in its original Jena, but a new factory was built in Stuttgart in West Germany. After German reunification both ‘companies’ became one again.
1970 Elbaflex VX1000
This is the latest iteration of the Varex range of cameras. After this they were made in Japan!
The founder of Exakta, Johan Steenbergen, tried to re-establish his company in Frankfurt, West Germany in the late 1960s. For litigation reasons the East German Ihagee company had to relabel the exported cameras Elbaflex (after the River Elbe in Dresden). I bought two examples of these from eBay, one working with a 50mm f2 Zeiss Pancolor lens, and a spare non-working body. The Pancolor is a development of the Biotar (see Varex lla, above). Below they can be seen with the the 50mm lens (left) and the wide-angle F4 25mm Flektogen (right). As this camera is in perfect working condition I intend to put in a film to take some more architectural photographs. The Elbaflex was the last true IHG camera made in Dresden, subsequent Exaktas were made in Japan!!
Exa 0 (Version 4)
Exas were “poverty spec” Exaktas! The Exa 0 was made from 1951 to 1962 when it was replaced by the Exa 1. This version (4) was made from 1956 to 1959 and it is fitted with a period Zeiss Tessar 50mm f2.8 lens. Shutter speeds were from 1/25 to 1/150 and B.
1967 Exa Ia
This was the less advanced sister model. It had a simple but ingenious shutter with fewer speeds (max 1/175th), which instead of a focal plane used the mirror as a shutter. It still took the normal Exakta mount lenses and the pentaprism/waist level finder. The later Exa II had the pentaprism incorporated and would no longer accept the waist level finder. The lens fitted is the common 50mm/f2.8 Domiplan. The earlier model ‘I’ did not have the lever wind.
1968 Exa 500
This camera was recently purchased from eBay – mainly for the Domiplan Lens. Although it was listed as working, when I tried it the wind-on lever was extremely stiff and I only managed to cock the shutter once. I therefore decided to disassemble it! The cosmetic condition is actually very good so I would like to get it working properly.
I’ve found a YouTube video on mending this which necessitates the removal of the top plate, more later!!
In 1966 Dutchman John Steenbergen attempted to relaunch his company in West Germany to make the “Exacta Real”. To make this he formed a company “Ihagee Kamerawerk AG” in West Berlin. Unfortunately, in spite of being more advanced than the Dresden Exaktas, they weren’t successful and very few were made. Indeed “A Short History of Ihagee on the Ihagee.com website describes them as “unreliable and a failure”. However they do achieve very high prices due to their rarity. The picture below is from Flints Auctions. The original Ihagee company were therefore forced to rename their cameras “Elbaflex” (see above).
To visit the Wikipedia entry for these click here.