Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spotlight: Ihagee Exa

First released in 1951, the Ihagee Exa is a compact and lightweight 35mm SLR. Designed as a consumer camera, the Exa is a smaller, simpler version of Ihagee's flagship Exakta Varex. The Exa accepts the same bayonet-mount lenses and interchangeable viewfinders as the Exakta, but does not have many of the more advanced features its big brother offers.

The most limiting aspect of the Exa is its severe lack of shutter speeds. There are only five speeds available: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/150, and bulb. Speeds are selected via a unique little switch on top of the camera body. With a top speed of only 1/150 (laughable for an SLR), capturing any subject moving faster than an ambling walk in sharp focus is out of the question. Making pictures in direct sunlight is also difficult unless one is using a relatively slow film.

Besides the shutter speed issue, the Exa is a fun little camera to use. The build quality is exquisite, as one would expect from a mid-century German camera. Though diminutive in form, the camera has a reassuring weight to it. Operation is fairly archaic compared to newer 35mm SLR's, but is on par for the time period. Keep in mind, the Exa was made nearly a decade before the revolutionary Nikon F.

Unless one has a newer automatic-aperture lens, one must focus with the lens wide-open, and then manually stop it down to the desired aperture before tripping the shutter. Upon clicking the shutter release, the mirror swings up and does not return to the viewing position until the shutter is reset. The frame counter has to be reset by hand before loading each new roll of film. Film advance and rewind is performed by rotating small, uncomfortable (yet aesthetically pleasing) knurled knobs. The focusing screen is bright and easy to compose with, especially when viewed through the standard waist-level finder. Pentaprism finders are also available.

There's not too much else to say about the Exa. It's a fun little SLR if you can learn to deal with its limitations. Plus, it's just plain gorgeous to look at. In my humble opinion, the Exa and Exakta Varex are some of the most beautiful cameras ever made. My Exa came with a 50mm f/2.9 "Mertitar" lens, which I used exclusively to make pictures on a walk through the woods with some friends. The film was Ilford HP5+. The woods were thick, and the time was nearing sunset, so many of these pictures were made with the lens wide open. As a result, I missed focus on most of the shots. Whoops. Here are my results: