Exa (original)

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The Exa is a 35mm SLR made in Dresden, Germany by Ihagee. It was introduced in 1951, and began a long-running series of Exa models. It is a simplified version of the Varex cameras (the Exakta V and VX); indeed, the first models, made in very small numbers in 1950, were labelled Exa Varex[1]. The simplification is mainly in the shutter. In place of a focal plane shutter, the mirror doubles as the 'opening' shutter blade, and a curved metal guillotine is the 'closing' blade[2]. This shutter is not capable of either very fast or slow speeds; the range is from 1/25 sec. to 1/150 sec[3]. The low maximum shutter speed limits the usefulness of the camera with long lenses. A further consequence of this design was cropping of the top and bottom of the image when long lenses, extension tubes, or bellows were used, described as "marginal vignetting" in the instruction manual. This began to appear with 70mm lenses, and was obvious at 100mm and above. Like all Exaktas, the shutter release button is on the left and on the front of the body, not on the top plate[4]. It is threaded for a cable release, and the camera has a 1/4 inch tripod socket in the base. Film advance and rewind are by simple knurled knobs. There is a frame-counter. The viewfinders on all models are removable, and a number of different prism and waist-level finders (fully-featured, with built-in loupe, and most folding to offer a direct-vision frame finder), were available. Alternative focusing screens for these were also available in various patterns. The camera is quite compact and very robust, and can use the same wide range of lenses (by many makers) other accessories as the more expensive Exakta cameras.

Between 1951 and 1962, a number of cosmetic and minor technical changes were made in the design of the camera. A type-numbering system for these devised by Clément Aguila[5] is widely used[6]. This recognises six major types/versions, distinguishable by changes in the finish of the lens mount, the number, finish and synchronisation class of the flash synchronisation sockets, and the style of the nameplate, among other features. Sub-types of some of the types are recognised.

Andrzej Wrotniak made a very sensible classification, listed on his website. It is multi-dimensional in setup, without being complicated. It is an improved version of the Aguila and Rouah classification in their 2003 edition of Exakta cameras 1933 - 1978.

Common specifications of the versions

  • Lens: interchangeable, Exakta bayonet mount; there are many lens types of many manufacturers used on Exa versions [7]
  • Lens release: via a lever on the left of the lens flange
  • Shutter: mirror acts like a curtain as a part of the shutter, vertical moving, due to this maximum speed is limited to 1/150, speeds: 1/25-1/150 +B
  • Shutter release: a knob, on front of the body, it can be pressed with the plunger on the special lenses
  • Viewfinder: SLR pentaprism finder, interchangeable with Waist level finders
  • Finder release: via a knob beneath the Exa logo
  • Mirror: stays up after exposure, so viewfinder is dark, cocking the shutter returns the mirror to normal position
  • Bodies: metallic

Exa Version 1

  • Produced between 1951-52
  • There are 5 sub-versions [8]
  • There are many cosmetic variations also
  • Special features of the version:
    • Two pairs of flash PC sockets of the old style
    • Shutter setting with a lever on the top plate: speeds 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250 +B, later top shutter speed is 1/150

Exa Version 2

Exa Version 3

  • Produced in 1954
  • Numerous variants exist
  • Special features of the Exa Rheinmetall:
    • System Exa VEB Rheinmetall Sömmerda [9] engravings instead of Exa Ihagee Dresden on the front plate
    • Engraving Rheinmetall is on the back of the waist level view finder
    • Most features are identical to version 2

Exa Version 4

  • Produced between 1956-59
  • Special features of the version:
    • Similar with Versions 2 or 3, except for the Exa Ihagee Dresden logo
    • Flash PC sockets are chrome, not black
    • Added a removable spindle in the hinge, thus the back cover can be detached
    • The film guides of the pressure plate are omitted

Exa Version 5

  • Produced between 1959-60
  • Special feature of the version:
    • This model is identical to version 4 except Exa logo on the front plate is embossed, not engraved like in all other versions

Exa Version 6

  • Produced between 1960-62
  • There are numerous variants of the version
  • Special features of the version:
    • New rectangular shape of the front plate
    • New black and white Exa name plate


  1. McKeown, p 422.
  2. The medium-format KW Pilot Super has a very similar shutter mechanism.
  3. The very earliest model claimed a top speed of 1/250 second (McKeown).
  4. The rewind-release button is on the right, where those unfamiliar with the camera might expect the shutter release to be.
  5. Aguila, Clément Exakta Cameras 1933-1978, ISBN 0-906447-38-0. Cited by McKeown.
  6. By McKeown, in Olaf Nattenberg's Exakta and Exa Pages and in Jack Dugrew's Captain Jack's Exakta Site among others
  7. Ihagee did not produce their own lenses. Instead, they relied on many of the major optical firms of their day to each produce a series of lenses for their cameras, eg. Carl Zeiss Jena, Meyer-Optik Görlitz, Schneider-Kreuznach and E.Ludwig. The lenses from these makers, in terms of the number and variations of lenses produced, are the most plentiful. Maybe, over 80% of the Exaktas are equipped with normal focal length lenses from these firms.
  8. according to Andrzej Wrotniak and F.W.Tappe
  9. In 1954 the Ihagee plants in Dresden got problems with their production capacity. So they startet up a production in the Rheinmetall plants in Sömmerda. The production in Sömmerda was finished soon in the beginning of 1955 with the quantity of 15000-21000 cameras