This is one of Ihagee’s ‘serious’ cameras. It is very similar to the two Exas I already own but has more facilities and is built to a higher standard. It is the usual Exakta/Exa rhomboidal shape. On my two Exa cameras, the back and base come away as one to allow film loading. The Varex IIb is more traditional with a hinged back. This back, however, is also removable if you want. I have two other Exakta cameras (apart from my three Exa models). They are the Exakta TL500 and the Exakta RTL1000 – neither are ‘really’ Exakta cameras.
focal length: n/a
focus range: n/a
lens fitting: Exakta double bayonet
shutter: horizontal cloth focal plane
speeds: 12 seconds to 1/1000 seconds
flash: three PC connectors, no accessory shoe
film size: 35mm
|Exakta Varex IIb with lens and viewfinder added
The camera is heavy, weighing 581g without lens or viewfinder. It is left-handed. The film advance is on the left as is the shutter release and one of the two (yes, two) shutter speed selectors. The cost of this camera in 1965 was between £68-11-8 and £105-0-0 depending on the lens supplied. This range is in old British money – in new British money that would be between £68.57 and £105.00 and equates to £2,214 to £3391 in 2020 values – a very respectable price!
This camera came without a lens and has both (yes, both) the Exakta bayonet mounts so this camera will take any Exakta fit lens. Strictly, this is a Varex IIa type bayonet as it has slots at the inner bayonet flanges (not sure why).
|Exakta Varex IIb as I bought it
The reason for having two bayonet mounts on one camera is that the original mount restricted the width of attached lenses. When Ihagee developed telephoto lenses, there was too much vignetting of the image to be usable. The new bayonet mount has a wider diameter and so allows wider lenses to be fitted. (note: I am using the word ‘wider’ in a mechanical sense, not in its other, optical, sense.)
The shutter release is beside the lens mount to allow the use of automatic lenses. In the Exakta system, the lens has a secondary shutter release which fits over the camera’s shutter release. When you press the lens’ secondary release, the lens diaphragm closes and the primary release is pressed, actuating the shutter.
The shutter is a horizontal cloth focal plane shutter. On this particular specimen, the shutter is faulty. The mechanism sounds dry (there is a faint but clear squeal when the shutter actuates), the second curtain is significantly wrinkled and, at the slower speeds, the second curtain doesn’t quite close. At 1/1000, it works fine.
This is the only camera I have seen that has two speed selectors. On the left is a small conventional selector that covers speeds from 1/30 to 1/1000 plus B and T. This works in a fairly conventional manner – lift, turn to the required speed and release.
|slow speed selector
|fast speed selector
On the right of the camera is another speed selector which covers speeds from 1/8 to 12 seconds. These figures are in black. This selector also provides a delay of up to six seconds (using the figures in red). When using the delay, you also get mirror lock up so reduced vibration can be achieved when using the macro attachment – a facility that no other of my SLRs has until my Canon EOS of 1995. In the centre of the slow speed selector there is a film speed reminder dial. As this camera is totally manual, this dial does nothing except remind you what film you have loaded into the camera.
Another quirky thing about Exakta cameras is the film advance lever. This moves through over 300 degrees which is more than you can do in one motion. I am actually finding this ok but I start the motion with my left thumb for the first half of the travel and then my left index finger takes over. Around the film advance lever there is a frame counter. This counts up from zero – so tells you how many frames you have shot. It is also quirky as the frame count changes when you press the shutter release rather than when you advance the film.
Exakta cameras have exchangeable viewfinders. When I bought this camera, there was no viewfinder with it, just a rectangular hole in the top plate. I have two viewfinders for my Exa cameras and these fit this camera so I have a choice of an eye-level finder and a waist level finder.
|Hole in the top plate for fitting the viewfinder
Moving to the front of the camera, there is little to note. As I have mentioned, there is a double bayonet mount and a shutter release. There are also three (yes, three) PC connectors for a flash gun. Ihagee seem to have tried to be as idiosyncratic as possible with their cameras. Rather than go down the route used by Prontor and Compur (hence PC) and have a switch to select between bulb and electronic flash, Ihagee have provided separate connectors , one for electronic flash and two for flash bulbs.
In fact, the three PC connectors can be used in various ways to allow different shutter speeds. Using the X connector and a shutter speed of 1/60 allows use of electronic flash. Using the FP (Focal Plane) connector allows shutter speeds up to 1/1000 seconds which is an incredibly fast shutter speed for flash. The manual gives guide numbers for different bulbs and shutter speeds – the fast speeds being achieved because the flashbulbs suitable for the FP connector have a flash duration of around 1/40 second and so are burning throughout the expossure. The F (Fast) connector allows small fast flashbulbs to be used with a shutter speed of 1/30. The X (Electronic) connector can also be used with a shutter speed of 1/8 with any flashbulb. I am not sure how much advantage is given to the photographer with the above choices, but I almost never use flash and have never used flashbulbs, so I am likely to be missing the point.
Underneath the camera are four knobs. The smallest of these unscrews to allow the use of an internal knife to cut the film when an empty cassette is used in place of the take-up spool. Next to this is the rewind knob with a small folding crank. At the other end of the camera is a knob which is pulled away from the camera to release the catch on the back. Between these two knobs is the tripod boss which is the standard 1/4 Whitworth tread.
|Base of camera
The outside of the back has two small chrome rectangles and one large chrome rectangle. These are the fitting for internal components, the small rectangles help to keep the film flat and the large rectangle is part of the fitting of the pressure plate.
|Rear of camera
The camera in use:
I am trying out this camera (despite having a faulty shutter) with a roll of out-of-date and no longer made film – Kodak Plus X. I have never used this film before but it had a very good reputation. This film is monochrome and is rated at 125 ASA/22 DIN. I don’t know why but it seemed appropriate to try this camera with a vintage monochrome film.
The camera set-up I am using is the Varex IIb body, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar (50mm and f2.8) and a waist-level viewfinder with a plain focussing screen. [This lens should not be confused with a Carl Zeiss Opton Tessar from West Germany. The Carl Zeiss Jena lens is the real thing.]
There are many options available for this camera for both lens and finder. I have the Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar and two Meyer-Optik Domiplan lenses available and the waist-level finder and a pentaprism eye-level finder. I am enjoying the waist-level finder but must admit to struggling a bit with the reverse action when I move the camera.
First aspect of the waist-level finder is the fact that the image is reversed left-to-right. If you want to move the image to the right, you need to move the camera to the left.
It is also easy to get verticals at an angle. Again, you have to move the camera the ‘wrong’ way to correct this.
This finder has a plain focussing screen which makes focussing a bit harder. For me, this is not a significant problem as I usually use hyperfocal focussing. On the rare occasions when I rely on critical focussing, there is a hinged magnifier available which is more than I shall ever need. If not, other focussing screens are available with micro-prisms and split-image centres.
I have been carrying this camera around for about an hour this afternoon and I can confirm that this is a heavy camera. There are strap lugs with split rings available to connect a strap. A nice touch is the presence of triangular leather patches behind the split rings to stop the rings and strap ends from scratching the camera body. While I have a number of straps available, I have not fitted one to this camera.
Contrary to my usual practice, I am using a shutter-priority exposure system, adjusting the aperture to vary the exposure. The reason I am doing this is because this (‘faulty’) shutter seems to perform best at 1/125 seconds so I am keeping it set at this speed.
What I am finding, which delights me, is that I am seeing the image in the wauist-level finder as a picture rather than as a view. This is making composition not so much easier (see my comments about image reversal) but clearer and more precise. So far I much prefer it.
I am also finding the left-hand operation surprisingly easy. I am no longer pressing the slow speed selector hoping to fire the shutter. The film advance with its 300 degree travel is also surprisingly easy to use left handed.
As I have already said, I usually use hyperfocal focussing but if I did not I think I would find right-handed focussing cumbersome.
My first film being completed, I need to develop the film and scan it. Then I shall post some sample pictures here.
Film is now developed and scanned. Here are some example pictures, clearly showing the problem with the shutter is one of them. The rest are not too bad (if you ignore my poor scanning ability!).
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Author: John Margetts
I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.
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9 thoughts on “Ihagee Exakta Varex IIb”
Hi, I have just taken ownership of one of these cameras. I was delighted to find this article and found it very helpful. Thank you.
I was delighted to read the specs of Exa IIb and Exakta cameras my father used to have. I learned photography using those cameras s lenses!
Thank you for your review of the Exakta VX IIb. It was the first serious camera that I got in 1966 in high school. Its right handed controls became second nature to me to the extent that left handed cameras like my Canon F 1 seem somewhat awkward. Right handed you say? Yes, it should be remembered and is often forgotten that the original pioneering Exakta design in 127 film goes back to the early 1930s. It was a time when camera designs were not fixed. The makers of Exakta, Ihagee, believed that the most intensive action you do with a camera is focus. Therefore it should be done with your dominant right hand. Tripping the shutter and advancing the film lever take much less time and effort and can be done with your non dominant hand. When the Exakta 35mm camera was introduced in 1936 it captured the SLR market until 1959 when the Nikon F was introduced. Even then with its incredible array of speeds, interchangeable viewfinders, ability to cut a film roll mid roll were still outstanding and the design lumbered on until circa 1970. Alas, the Communist overlords, who nationalized Ihagee, did not keep up with the times as far as shutter and metering designs. A couple of final things. I am glad you pointed out that the design of the film advance lever, the first on any camera, is not all that slow. Get use to it and it is quite fast. I would like to conclude by noting the incredible array of the highest quality of lenses available. Ihagee never made its own lenses.. Therefore, everyone from Zeiss, to Schneider, to Angeniux, to Nikon, et al. made lenses for the Exakta. An excellent article.
Thank you for your interesting comments. Always good to have additional views on camera designs.
I have a original VEREX EXA. The front panel carries the 2 letters “MX”. I believe it makes it rare.