Exakta Kine and Varex Series

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The Exakta camera was one of the pioneers in creating the SLR as we know it today. The first use of the brand Exakta was on Ihagee cameras made for 127 rollfilm, now known to collectors as the VP Exakta. But historically, the most significant series is the one designed for 35mm film—originally cinema film—hence the German name "Kine Exakta."'

Exaktas were rather expensive cameras, used by professionals and serious amateurs. As such they are unusually feature-full: beginning with the Varex, lenses and viewfinders are interchangeable, with high levels of forwards and backwards compatibility.[1] For using a second takeup cartridge, a knife is provided to cut the film within the camera (though this is optional and a regular takeup spool and film rewind come standard on these cameras). From the very first, the shutter was capable of higher and lower speeds than most contemporary cameras, from 1/1000th (before Leica implemented this feature, at a time when very few small cameras were capable of it) through 1/30th, plus slow speeds down to 12 seconds with the use of the secondary timer. [2] The shutter was cocked with the film advance lever, a fairly rare feature at the time, which became de rigeur on almost all 35mm cameras over time.

All in all, despite some flaws such as the rather unwieldy reversed controls, these early SLR's not only pioneered the 35mm SLR that was to be the high end type of camera throughout the latter half of the 20th century, they popularized certain features that were to be taken up time and again in other professional SLR's, such as interchangeable focus screens (nearly all later professional SLR's), automatic lenses (together with internal pin screwmount lenses introduced for the Contax S; virtually a requirement on non-Soviet SLR's hereafter), use of the self-timer as a secondary shutter timer (as on the much later Nikon F2 with nearly identical operation) and a 60-degree-twist quick-change bayonet mount with a latch (virtually all 35mm and 120 SLR's except for screwmount and Miranda). Considered as a whole, only Contax SLR's kept pace with Exakta in the early history of the 35mm SLR, and there was a time when the two lens mounts, Exakta and Contax screwmount, were both poised to become industry standards, though the Contax mount won out, becoming known as m42, while only Topcon took up the Exakta mount in earnest among contemporary manufacturers.

Ihagee never made lenses of its own brand for the Exakta cameras. However, as with m42 and m39, many of the major optical firms produced lenses for them, including Carl Zeiss Jena, Meyer, Schneider-Kreuznach, Steinheil Muenchen, E.Ludwig and many others. The E. Ludwig Meritar, the Zeiss Tessar, Biotar and Pancolar [3], and the Meyer Domiplan are probably the best known normal lenses for this mount. Topcon made lenses that have a basic level of compatibility with this system, for their RE system cameras. None of them trigger the shutter release as "automatic" lenses made specifically for Exaktas do.

In East Germany after 1954, Zeiss changed the way they branded and named their lenses. The brand name Carl Zeiss Jena is replaced by C.Z. Jena or Jena or aus Jena. The lens names Biotar, Biometar, Sonnar, Tessar, Triotar were replaced by the letter B, Bm, S, T, Tr.

After 1972 the name Exakta was applied to a variety of products; but to serious collectors, true Exaktas are ones made by Ihagee in Dresden, former East Germany and produced between 1936-72.

The core Exakta line, then, consists of one of the longest unbroken lines of camera evolution, from the "Kine" Exakta to the Exakta VX1000 and VX500. Except for the intermediate VX500, these are high-end cameras with a full range of features, including some that are almost unique to the Exakta line. All have spinning shutter speed dials, similar to screw-mount Leicas. As a rule, these cameras are "left-handed" compared to the vast majority of SLR's, though this is actually meant to be an improvement for right-handed photographers, with the rationale that advancing the film and triggering the shutter require less dexterity than focusing the lens--thus, practically all controls on the body are made for the left hand, and film advance is reversed: right to left from the photographer's perspective. All are trapezoidal in plan when seen from above or below, similar to the Praktica line, and like the Prakticas, all have front-mounted shutter release buttons (though on the opposite side, to be used by the left hand index finger).

By exploiting this last feature, later lenses have automatic aperture. Instead of the camera closing the lens aperture before firing, the lens fires the camera shutter when the aperture is closed. These lenses have some kind of plunger or lever that first closes the shutter, then presses the shutter release, when pressed from the front by the photographer. Due to the ingenuity of using the front-mounted shutter release for the aperture coupling, nearly all interchangeable-lens Exakta and Exa cameras can correctly use automatic lenses, even if they predate the invention of said lenses. This is one of the key technical advantages that allowed the Exakta line to be so long-lived.


  • Produced between 1936-49
  • Version 1; There are 4 sub-versions [5] [6]
  • Fixed waist-level viewfinder
  • Two spellings:In late version the Exakta name with "c" is more common

Exakta II

  • Often referred as Kine Exakta II
  • Produced between 1949-50
  • Version 2; There are 3 sub-versions
  • The third sub-version has a limited interchangeable finder

Exakta Varex

  • Produced between 1950-51
  • Sold as Exakta V in USA
  • Version 3; There are 3 sub-versions
  • Removable viewfinder with SLR pentaprism or waist level finder by a catch on the camera body below the logo

Exakta Varex VX

  • Sold as Exakta VX in USA
  • Produced between 1951-56
  • There are 4 sub-versions


  • Lens release: via a lever on the left of the lens flange
    • External bayonet flange added to the lens flange in this model, to accommodate larger lenses
  • Focusing: via Fresnel matte glass screen, rangefinder split images on the center
    • Screen interchangeable
  • Shutter: focal plane double cloth shutter, horizontally running
  • Speeds
    • Fast speeds 1/25-1000 +T, B, dial on the left of the top plate, setting: lift and turn
    • Slow speeds 1/5-12 second, dial on the right of the top plate
    • Setting: cock the shutter, set the fast speeds dial to B, then turn the slow speeds dial clockwise as far as it will stop, then lift and turn the outer ring of the slow speeds dial to desired speed (black engravings on the dial), then shot
  • Cocking lever: also winds the film, long-stroke type, right-to-left film transport, on the left of the top plate
  • Shutter release: a knob on front of the body, w/ a safety locking cap and cable release socket; it can be pressed with the plunger on the special lenses, w/ cable release socket also
  • Frame counter: coupled with winding lever, additive type (S, 0-36), almost entirely covered, adjusting with a separate milled wheel on the cocking knob
  • View finder: SLR penta-prism finder, interchangeable with waist level finder
    • engraving on the finder: Ihagee
    • Finder release: via a knob beneath the Exakta logo
  • Mirror: not instant return, stays up after exposure, cocking the shutter returns the mirror
  • Two pairs of old type two-pin flash PC sockets for M and X, synch 1/25
  • Self-timer
    • For fast speeds: after cocking and selecting the high speeds, turn the slow speeds knob as far as it will go and set it by outer ring to any one of the red figures, then shot; the time elapse will be 13 second
    • For slow speeds: cock the shutter, set the fast speed dial to B, then turn the slow speeds dial clockwise, then lift and turn the outer ring of slow speed dial to desired time elapse to 1/5-2-4-6 seconds (red engravings on the dial), then shoot
  • Back cover: hinged
  • Special take-up spool, removable
  • Others: Film-cutting knife handle on the right of the re-wind knob; Tripod socket 3/8-inch with an adaptor for 1/4-inch; Strap lugs
  • Adds spring-loaded finger-wheel to set the frame counter--press to the rear and turn
  • Body: metal; Weight: 833g

An Exakta Varex VX was used by Jimmy Stewart's character in the 1954 motion picture "Rear Window." In the film, his character attaches a Kilfitt Fern-Kilar f/5.6 400mm lens to the Exakta body so as to be able to see his neighbors out his apartment's rear window better. However, the Exakta name on the front of the camera was covered over with black tape so that it would not show.

Exakta Varex IIa

  • Sold as Exakta VXIIa in USA
  • Produced between 1956-63
  • Version 5; There are 4 sub-versions
  • In the last version there is a new name plate and
    logo: uppercase "EXAKTA" on black background
  • Specifications are the same with the Exakta Varex VX, except:
    • Flash PC sockets: three, modern type, M, F, X,
      sync.1/25 (separate on the fast speeds knob)
    • Back cover: hinged and detachable

Exakta Varex IIb

  • Sold as Exakta VXIIb in USA
  • Produced between 1963-67
  • Version 6
  • Film speeds moved to the top of the slow speed dial
  • Fast shutters speeds follow the "modern" geometric progression from 1/30 to 1/1000
  • The rewind knob has a crank handle
  • There is not a finder release knob

Exakta VX1000

  • Produced between 1967-70
  • Version 7 -- only variations in logo and nameplate
  • New body construction
  • Specifications are same with the Exakta Varex IIa, except:
    • New style cocking lever
    • New frame counter (once again set directly, this time through the front of the cocking lever assembly)
    • Mirror instant return type
      • Telltale in viewfinder if shutter is fired, as shutter no longer has to be cocked for mirror to be in lower position
    • Back cover hinged, non- detachable
    • Different back latch (no safeguard)
    • Rewind knob has crank
    • Black shutter speed and self-time/slow speed knob
    • Redesigned film knife
Exakta VX1000 version 7.0 (1967) aus Jena T (Tessar) 50mm f/2.8 (Zebra)

Images by Süleyman Demir (Image rights)

Exakta VX500

  • Produced between 1969-72
  • Version 8; There are 2 sub-versions
  • Simplified version of Exakta VX1000
  • Specifications same with the Exakta VX1000, except:
    • Speeds 1/30-1/500, +B, no long speeds
    • View finder SLR penta prism finder P.3, w/ a triangular red
      indicator appears in the top-right of the viewfinder when the
      shutter required winding
    • Flash PC socket: two, F and X, sync.1/40,
      flash symbol on the speeds dial
    • No film cutting knife


  1. Most viewfinders can be used on most post-Varex Exakta and Exa cameras, and the interchangeability of pentaprisms and chimney finders ought to be complete, though some early WLF's have a prong to prevent exposures with the hood closed, which has no corresponding port on most Exaktas. Some of these have fixed focusing screens integrated into them, but others have removable focus screens that are themselves completely interchangeable.
  2. Speeds this slow remained rare throughout the mechanical era, though a few cameras used similar mechanisms to achieve it, while the advent of electronic timers brought it back to the market en masse.
  3. of which the Biotar and Pancolar are the high end models, with maximum aperture of f/2; the Biotar has a ubiquitous Soviet clone in the form of the Helios-44 for M42 et al
  4. Kine Exakta is the first 35mm SLR camera. The camera's features were based on Ihagee-Exakta rollfilm 4×6.5 cm, an earlier SLR made by K.Nüchterlein who also designed Kine Exakta. Kine Exakta was introduced at the fair Leipziger Früjahrsmesse in spring 1936. This date is important that it is one and a half year earlier than the Sport made by GOMZ. Some authors maintain that Sport is the first 35mm SLR, based on the prototype design. After the comparative non-success of the Sport, the Soviets would next enter the SLR market in 1952 with the Zenit 1, before copying aspects of the Exakta in 1958 with the Start (SLR), both out of Kraznogorsk (KMZ), never to regain their place as leaders in the SLR world.
  5. The classification of Exaktas in this page is according to Andrzej Wrotniak
  6. Notes about Exa/Exakta classification: from F.W. Tappe Andrzej Wrotniak made a very sensible classification, listed on his website. It is multi dimensional in setup, without being complicated.. Richard Hummel's 1995 book lists an "one dimensional" classification, which is incomplete, but many sources still refer to this. Aguila and Rouah (A&R) in their 2003 edition of "Exakta cameras 1933 - 1978", come to an improved classification. They built on their previous 1987 edition classification, which was the leading standard among collectors. Klaus Wichmann, prolific writer of books about Exakta - and Exa cameras, published his classifications earliest.