I got a fantastic present for Christmas from close friends of ours: an Ihagee Exakta EXA Ia analog camera. It apparently sat unused in a shop in Mexico since its factory production days back in the late 60s, still in the original box, waiting for someone to purchase it. It came with a whole kit which included a plastic/leather camera case, camera, lens, lens extension kit (for macro shots), two prisms/viewfinders (one normal, one 90-degree), a mechanical timer, a light meter and a ton of lens filters.
The camera kit also included the original instruction manual (in Spanish).
Since I don't speak Spanish, I had to figure out the camera on my own. Here are the specs as best I can figure them out:
- Exakta EXA Ia body, fully manual, 1964-1968 production (I approximated the year based on the serial number)
- Analog flash sync for bulbs or electronic speedlights
- Shutter speeds from 1/175 to 1/30 s and Bulb mode
- DIN sensitivity from 12-30 and ASA from 50-800, including b&w negatives; the list goes as follows: 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30 (DIN) and 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 (ASA/ISO), plus C and NC.
- Exposure counter can accommodate films of up to 36 exposures
- Shutter release features threads for attachment of mechanical timer (included)
- Shutter lock
- Rewind release button and pop-up rewind knob
- Carl Zeiss Jena lens, f2.8/22 50mm, focusing distance 0.6m to infinity
- Lens extension barrel for macro shots; barrel disassembles into multiple sections to allow for varying focusing distances and macro apertures
If there's one expression I could use to describe this camera, it's "ease of use". Once I figured out the controls, it turned out to be a joy to play with them. The focus control is so well made that at closer distances it turns slower, allowing for some really precise focusing. The aperture adjustment clicks, letting me know when I've reached a proper setting. The film advancement lever's travel is short and also clicks reassuringly. The exposure countdown dial clicks as well. I guess I like controls that click, but it's the sort of feedback that encourages good use. It also gives the impression of something that's very well-made.
It's quite easy to take the lens off, and I love the fact that the extension barrel breaks down into multiple sections. It lets me vary the focusing length and also changes the perceived aperture of the lens, allowing me to get closer or further away from the object.
The interchangeable viewfinders are so much fun! I can just slide them out and use a different one, allowing me to customize the way I look at my photographic subjects. Both viewfinders allow me to see right through the lens (TTL), so I get a direct preview of the lighting conditions. When I adjust the aperture, the aperture ring closes or opens, and I can see – right through the viewfinder – how much light comes through the lens. Of course, as I found out with my first roll of film, you'd better know exactly what shutter speed you're using, or else the photos aren't going to come out as you saw them through the lens!
Judging from the instruction manual, this camera could be used with some pretty cool accessories when it came out: a lens hood to reduce glare, a tele lens, and a Stereflex Jena viewfinder and lens that took 3D shots. It could also use a vertical grip and electronic flash, powered by a strap-held, external Braun battery. Pretty nifty! Just goes to show that a great gift doesn't have to be new!
I need to point out (for those of you that have only used digital cameras) that working with a manual analogue camera (especially one as old as this) is a _______ experience. It's up to you to fill in that blank. Depending on your skill level and willingness to learn new things, it may be an amazing experience, or a completely frustrating one. If you're only used to point and shoot, let me tell you: there is no such thing on a manual camera. Instead, you have what you see below. You have to manually adjust the camera settings like aperture and shutter speed based on ambient light. You can guesstimate and live with the results, or use a light meter like this one. If you enjoy using burst mode (where you can shoot 3 or more photos in rapid sequence), you can forget about it. You have to manually advance the film by cranking on a lever after each photo. Auto focus? Forget about it! Auto-flash? No such thing. You'll need to manually adjust the power of the flash/strobe based on GN (Guide Number) calculations.
This may sound discouraging to novices, but believe me, it's a fantastic learning experience. If you master the use of a manual analogue camera, you'll approach photography with a brand new perspective. The quality of your photos will improve tremendously, and you'll get real joy out of using your camera, be it analogue or digital. Plus, there are other fringe benefits, such as not needing to use batteries (manual cameras don't need them) and of course, my favorite, the opportunity to play with a really, really cool gadget. Once you hold one of these cameras in your hand and get to appreciate the fine engineering and craftsmanship that went into making it, you'll know you've got something pretty unique, something you don't see these days, when cameras are made by robots. There's something captivating about using metal levers and gears and getting real tactile feedback from your camera. I get a really nice feeling when I press the shutter and a mechanical part actually moves inside. It's not a circuit, it's not a sensor – it's a real piece of metal. Now that's nice!
If you're interested in seeing more photos of this camera, then you'll be glad to know there are thirty of them in this Exakta EXA Ia Smart Set in my Zooomr account. And since you were so kind as to read this article to the end, you also get to find out I made a video about my Exakta. It's enclosed below. Enjoy!