EXAKTA varex II a best classic camera ?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by robert loop, Jun 23, 2006.

  1. Hello ! Looking on the net I notice that around the world this camera has a lot of fan clubs, even more
    than zeiss...
    I was a bit curious, so I did buy one on e bay. It looks very seriously done camera... but using a lot of
    different lenses: steinheil, schacht ...
    How do you rate this camera ? Compared to leica IIIf , contax IIa for example....
  2. I learned photography on an Exakta VXIIa, so there's a warm spot in my heart for these cameras. The Exakta was the first 35mm SLR. It was a very popular and very complete system for its day, and it's still fairly easy to find lots of interchangable finders, screens, bellows, extension tubes, and of course lenses. The Topcon family of cameras used the same lens mount (though it was upside-down on them), which further widens the selection of lenses available.
    It's still the only 35mm camera I've used that lets you run film from one cassette to another, with no need to rewind the film. At any time, you can cut the film with the internal knife and take the partial roll out of the camera for developing, while saving the unused portion of the film for use at a later day.
    It's getting harder to find examples in good working condition, but prices for user-condition Exakta equipment are not very high. Some excellent lenses can be found in Exakta mount (I have fond memories of a 100mm f/2.8 Steinheil macro). But some dogs exist, as well, since nearly everyone made lenses in this mount.
  3. IMO, the Exakta is in an entirely different category.

    On the one hand, less expensive when new and more were made. On the other, a full system camera that was, until the advent of the Nikon F, THE 35 mm camera for science. Much much more capable than good RF system cameras, even with their auxiliary mirror boxes. Because of its low price etc., much less of a cult object than old Leicas or Contaxes, therefore a more attractive proposition for use. Although, given free choice I'd much rather use a modern SLR than an old Exakta. There HAS been progress.

    One of my friends, the late Erhardt Roloff, was one of the finest photographers of aquarium fishes of his time. He told me once that he started photographing fish in the late 1930s with a Contax, model not specified. When he came across an Exakta he bought it and it transformed his photography for the better. He would not go back to the Contax for anything, he said.

    I've had only one lens made for Exakta, a 135/2.8 Auto-Makro-Tele-Quinar. Roloff used a 55/1.9 Auto-Makro-Quinon. I contemplated buying an Exakta body for my Steinheil lens, ended up using adapters to hang it in front of my Nikkormat and giving up the ability to focus beyond about 1 m. Good lens for its time, now a cult object. I didn't love it, replaced it with a 105/4 MicroNikkor when that lens was introduced and am glad I did.

    Good luck with yours, have fun,

  4. Amongst many other classic cameras I also have a 'working' Varex VX. Based on my experience & from what I have read, most such Exaktas no longer function properly (jammed shutters, inaccurate speeds, pinholes, dried out curtains, etc.). I'm guessing only a 'select few' will now work on them due to complexity of design & cost ineffectiveness (low value of the typical Exakta). The ergonomics of Exakta takes getting used to. Not the easiest camera to hold & hang on to due to the unusual triangular body shape. Odd lever advance is opposite of the norm. The positives from my point of view: nothing looks quite like an Exakta; they stand out sitting on a display shelf; the heft, quality of construction / finish of the Varex series can be quite appealing. I also have the Leica III and Contax IIa. All things equal, if I were to pick one of these classic cameras for its reliability and ease of use, I must say the Exakta would be the one to to languish of the shelf. Heck, I think I'd select my relatively simple Praktica FX-3 before trying to use the Exakta. Leica & Contax currently fetch better prices for their overall desirability as high quality collectibles and decent users. A rare original type Kine Exakta of course would be an exception for the avid collector (probably not user). Give credit to Exakta for being one of the best of the 35mm SLRs at least until the late 50's. Quite an impressive system camera, huge selection of lenses and accessories. I'm sure I have stepped on some toes with my comments. Please don't be offended; it's just one's opinion. Exaktas are an acquired taste. For most folks their practical value as a good camera to use for any more than a very occasional basis has come and gone. The Leicas and Contax amongst are still fine cameras to use on most any occasion. They too occasionally need (readily available) servicing.
  5. As a long-time Topcon owner, I can say that the RE Super or Super D will give you a flexible reliable camera to use Exakta mount lenses on. Nice TTL metering too. Only thing that you lose is the semi-auto diaphragm, because the shutter button is on the right, and the Exakta lenses seek on the left.

    (The Topcon mount's isn't upside down, they just put the shutter button on the other side. They also made semi-auto lenses, that had the arm on the right, for the R and R-II.)
  6. SCL


    It's certainly a classic, I've had two serviced in the last year. Very different than the Leica rangefinders...in fact I'd compare it to a similar aged Leica with its Visoflex setup, but slightly lower quality as the Leica tolerances were tighter, I believe. It definitely is an acquired taste in today's market. I remember my HS biology teacher being so excited about purchasing one when nobody even knew what a SLR was.
  7. The Exakta VX II was not a low cost camera in the 1950's. Alot of users here have probably used old tired VX's and the stripped down VX1000 and VX500; which had cheaper gears. <BR><BR>The 1950's VX's seemed to wind alot smoother than the "lets get the cost out of the product before killing it" phase in the mid 1960's. Before the Nikon F, Exakta was THE 35mm slr system, full bore, with white mirror "lenses" before Nikon or Canon.<BR><BR> Exakta is what medical schools shot surgery with, with their ring strobe closeups. Exakta is what copy shops copied slides with, using a bellows unit. Exakta is the camera the eye doctor shot eye photos with. Alot of the finish, fit and gearing got lessened when the Exakta went into decline.<BR><BR> Its dinky lens mount cut off super telephoto shots. I used an Exakta and TLR in highschool
  8. I'm crazy over Exakta. Special feeling to hold and manipulate.

    I use a few:
    Exakta Varex VX The king. Excellent Tessar

    Exakta IIa Pinholes in shutter...languishes

    Exa Early one. No big fan of the Exa, I'm afraid

    Exakta A The Exaktar ain't perfect, but what build quality

    Exakta B Superb condition...almost like new. Tessar

    Exakta Jr Chrome front with Ihagee Anastigmat. Fun.
  9. Hi, Robert As you'll have noticed from the other guys posts so far, Exaktas have a lot of good and bad points. Their historical side can't be denied, seeing as they were the first "modern" 35mm SLR. So any collector who scores a prewar Kine Exakta in nice condition can consider they have a true classic, right up there with the Leica Standard and the Zeiss Contax.

    The Exakta really took off around 1950 when the interchangeable pentaprism/wlf viewfinder was introduced on the Varex/V, and got even better around 1954 when the semi-automatic APD lenses appeared on the Varex VX/VX.

    Unfortunately, for all sorts of economic, political and litigational reasons Ihagee failed to progress the Exakta design from then on, so later models that appear different cosmetically actually have only minor improvements. By the early 60s, they were already museum pieces, especially compared to the Japanese SLRs from Asahi, Miranda, Minolta, Canon and Topcon.

    Regarding prices, the prewar Kine models were reasonably priced for their technical complexity. However, during their halcyon period of the 50s they were damn expensive. By the early 60s their prices had dropped.

    I find Exaxta SLRs fascinating beasts to collect, warts and all. As the other guys have said, they are difficult to use and unergonomic unless you're left-handed and double-jointed. It's not for nothing that a typical mid-50s Varex 11a Owner's Manual is around 100 pages long.

    However, every camera collector should have one Exakta in their collection and the Varex 11a/VX11a with the embossed top plate is my special favourite, especially when fitted with an F2 APD Biotar.
    The problem is to know when to stop, because although there were only some 10 main models the variants go on and on. Another bugbear for collectors is that because the lens mount never changed, you're likely to find all sorts of chronological mismatches of bodies and lenses. ~~PN~~
  10. In the early 1960's I went to Nikon F from Exakta VX. Exakta wasnt a museum piece then, just an older system with a little bayonet mount, no real push to bring out a better camera, no motor drive.<BR><BR> In scientific and medical work, Exakta wasnt a museum piece in the early 1960's but an older workhorse being replaced slowly by the Nikon F. Before the Nikon F took hold, Exakta was THE system camera in 35mm slr. The Exakta was the National Geographic camera for all those closeups and macro shots before the Nikon F came out, and for several years later to the mid 1960's when they were dumped. The pre Nikon F Japanese slrs were really not a full pallet of lenses, bellows, ringflash, 1000mm mirrors lenses and wide angles like the Exakta. <BR><BR>Its totally absurd to say that the Exakta was a mueseum piece in the early 1960s. Most pros got their first Nikon slrs well into the mid and later 1960's. Nikon didnt even have a TTL meter for thru the lens metering for over 1/2 a decade. The Nikon F came out in 1959 when Eisenhower was president, the first Nikon F TTL meter came out in 1965, when Johnson was president. <BR><BR>For macro work, super telephoto work, the Nikon F was just as dumb as stump with NO TTL metering like the Exakta, before 1965. <BR><BR>One had the jack around with bellows factors, measuring the bellows extension, use a table or slide rule and bracket for macro and slide copying with the Exakta or Nikon F before 1965.<BR><BR>The TTL meter in the Nikon F in 1965 caused alot of Exakta gear to be retired ; when one was doing slide copying, eye photography, macro work etc.
  11. One must remember when Exakta was the top dog only full system 35mm slr in the 1950's,:<BR><BR>Most cars had 6 volt batteries, many with tube radios with the B+ high voltage supply generated by a vibrator.<BR><BR> There was no emission controls, the draft tube sometimes.<BR><BR> Cars had non collapsible steering columns , most had no all seat belts. <BR><BR>Most all cars had no aircondtioning, except luxury cars.<BR><BR>Having a rear wheel bearing fail, a rod thrown, generator fail happened sometimes while on a vacation trip, with a car that might be just a few years old.<BR><BR>Some cars still had vacuum wipers, they slowed down while passing, or going up a steep hill as the engine vacuum dropped. <BR><BR>Folks often had to fiddle fart with cleaning spark plugs alot too. <BR><BR><BR><BR>In cameras folks often had no meters, but used exposure guides.<BR><BR>A 3 element enlarging lens was considered acceptable, and a 4 element Tessar a gem. A 5 element Kodak Ektar for enlarging was killer. The 5cm F2.8 El Nikkor came out in 1956, with more elements.<BR><BR>120 and 620 film was the film for the masses, for their box cameras. Tri-x was out in sheet film during WW2 at asa 200, for 35mm it came out about 1954, before that folks used Super_XX in 35mm<BR><BR>There are so many modern improvements in 35mm cameras.
  12. Well, I guess we're all entitled to our opinions. However, I think you're picking a very small area (ie the scientific/medical field) to try and generalise into an overall situation. If you consider the various innovations that came into 35mm SLR design in the late 50s and early 60s, mainly by the Japanese manufacturers I mentioned in my earlier post, you'd have to agree that Ihagee were left sadly lacking with progress on the Exakta. Instant return mirror? Metering of any type? Internal fully automatic lens aperture operation? Single speed dial? Large-diameter lens throat? Sorry, none of the above ....

    Your comparison based on your personal experience, of the Exakta only with the Nikon F, hardly tells the whole picture. I repeat that for normal useage situations, Exaktas were dodos by the early 60s. If you'll take off your rose-coloured glasses and consider for example what Miranda were offering around 1962 with their Automex, or Asahi with their Pentax S3, or Yashica with their Penta J, or Minolta with their SR-1 or Canon with their Canonflex, there's no way you can consider the equivalent Exakta of that year - the cosmetically updated Varex/VX11a - to be any sort of competition. It was just the tired previous model tarted up.

    Ihagee had run out of ideas after the mid 50s. Much as I like collecting Exaktas and appreciating their unique charms, I suggest you get your head out of the sand and look at the realities of mainstream SLR development, OK? ~~PN~~
    Kent T likes this.
  13. [​IMG]
    The EXAKTA VAREX II was simply the BEST SLR around 1955, and deserved its price (more expensive as Leica these days).
    BUT 1957 was the year when Pentax started, 1958 came automatic diaphragms, 1959 Nikon F with changable finder too and larger bayonet mount, 1962 Topcon, 1964 TTL-metering... and Ihagee Dresden beyond the iron wall fell into a sleep for the next 30 years
    meine Exakta Varex Enjoy, Frank
  14. Hi, Frank That's a very nice Exakta VX you have there, looking even the better with a rare APD Schneider Xenon 1.9 attached. Up till now, I've only seen one of these lenses with an Exakta mount, and unfortunately it was in poor condition. I hope you don't mind if I've added the picture of your camera and lens to my private "Exakta Virtual Museum" of pictures of these fascinating but flawed cameras.

    Nice website too - I like the way you've approached the comparisons between this and that camera. Although I have a nice collection of 10 Exaktas right back to a 1938 Kine model, I also collect Mirandas - 34 or so at the last count! It's interesting that Mr Ogihara, the founder of the Orion/Miranda Camera Co.,was also a great admirer of the Exakta and incorporated some Exakta-ish features in his first production camera, the Orion Miranda T of 1955. His earlier prototype Orion Phoenix even had a CZJ Tessar f2.8 fitted, reputedly originally from one of several Exakta VX's that had been cannabalised to see just what made them "tick" - and whirr! However, the Tessar's bayonet mount was replaced by an M44 male screw thread, which became synonomous with Miranda along with their bayonet mount dual setup.

    If I had the computer expertise (which I don't), I'd like to do something similar to what you've done comparison-wise on your website, between the Exakta VX and the Miranda T of 1955. It would be also of interest to move on and do a comparison of what each company was offering around 1962, just to show what progress had been made by the respective companies! ~~PN~~
  15. Peter, second the motion. Frank's site is lovely.
  16. Just a small add to John Shriver's mention of the Topcon SLRs. Topcon's own lenses have produced some outstandingly sharp images for me. Very good glass. And with the front-mounted shutter release, and the camera being so heavy, I find it unusually stable for hand-held shooting. I also love the fact that the Topcons have switchable viewfinder modules...would love to get a chimney or angle finder, if they weren't bidded up so high on e*ay!

    I suppose it's indicative that Topcon is still in business...doing medical and scientific optics. In fact, my eye doctor's instrument towers are all Topcon, and all use Super-Ds like mine to capture ocular images. --Dave
  17. Frank a nice website you have done.
    Ich denke Varex IIa ist wirklich sehr schon !!
  18. Thanks for the plaudit, guys..

    Peter, did you noticed my Miranda page? (by the way "Sensomat" is the best known product name of washing machines in Germany! Nobody would think it's a camera)
    Nevertheless I endowed this beautiful camera to my girlfriend, and she collected a nice set of lenses, all performing very nicely, and despite of as-new-condition, all were very cheap: 2.8/25, 1.4/50, 2.8/105, 3.5/200.
  19. Hi, Frank No, I didn't go any further than the Exakta page on your website originally, but anything on Mirandas is always of interest to me so I dug out my "Deutsch-Englisch" dictionary and found my way to your Sensomat section. Wow - once again, my compliments on both an excellent write-up and some really great pictures!

    Now how about having some pity on Old Bastards like me who did just one year of German at school back in the early 60s, and cconsidering doing an alternative website "auf Englisch, bitte?". That would really be the icing on the cake!

    I had to laugh at your <<Rose By Any Other Name>> comment about "Sensomat" being better known in Germany today as a washing machine, rather than a somewhat obscure 70s era camera. Did you know that some later Miranda model names such as Sensomat, Sensoret and Sensorex also had an unfortunate similarity with certain brands of condoms available in the UK!

    I also fervently collect Voss Diax cameras, and it's an unfortunate problem with them too that so-called progress has been a bit unkind in the name department. A Swiss (?) telephone company has adapted that Diax name, so anybody trying to research some background on these fascinating little cameras from Ulm via the usual Google or Yahoo search engines, has to wade through pages and pages of this or that latest special offer on a Zurich mobile phone before they can finally find something on a Diax 11b or the elusive Diax Standard ...... ~~PN~~
  20. Collecting but also using classic cameras, I've used Varex IIa quite a lot. It is heavy, mechanically sturdy and if bought in good shape last a long time. I use one inherited from my father and it works perfectly, but once every 20 years needs the internals lubricated otherwise vibrations influence picture quality. Low shutter speeds are a bit complicated to set. It is still possible to find good ones, but the older ones I have from the US are often beat up with shutters not working. Try eBay Germany. For prices: see my free mini guide "How to easily determine vintage camera values yourself". You can get it at www.vintage-camera-online.com.
    If you're looking for a low cost but excellent classic camera look at the Russian Leica II copies: FED or Zorki. Their failure rate is similar to Leica (i.e. most of them work after 50 years) and they have excellent optics. For the price I think they are the best classic camera but they're not reflex cameras like the Exaktas.

Share This Page