This is my fourth Ihagee camera and my third Exa. The original Exa was a cut-down low-cost version of the Exakta
and then the Exa line developed in its own right.
|Exa 500 – front view
The Exa 500 is the end of the line for Exa cameras and was developed after Ihagee was subsumed into VEB Pentacon, the state camera manufacturer. The lineage from the Exakta is apparent in the shape. This camera still has the rhomboidal shape introduced with the original 127 format Exakta in 1933. It also still has the shutter release on the left, although the film advance is now on the right. Another change is the fixed pentaprism viewfinder, so I cannot use the delightful waist level finder with this camera.
The immediate predecessor of this camera was the Exa II
. The body of the Exa IIa and this Exa 500 are identical although there are some internal differences.
|Exa 500 – top view showing rhomboidal shape
The Exa 500 has a vertical cloth focal plane shutter which travels from bottom to top. This shutter provides speeds from 1/2 to 1/500 seconds plus B. This means it is twice as fast as the Exa II. There are two flash settings: 1/60 for electronic flash and 1/15 for flash bulbs. This camera follows the Exa standard and flash synch is achieved by aligning a dot on the speed dial with either a zigzag icon or a bulb icon. On the front of the body is a single PC connector.
This camera also has a shutter lock beside the viewfinder – cover the red dot to shoot, uncover to store the camera. The only other real change between the Exa II and the Exa 500 is that the Exa 500 has an instant return mirror so the viewfinder does not go blank when you fire a shot.
Like other Exakta/Exa cameras, the film take-up spool is removable and can be replaced with an empty film cassette. Doing this obviates the need to rewind the film but it does cost you one frame of film. There is no internal knife to cut the film like the Exaktas have so this must be done after opening the back. The only real advantage of this is the possibility of developing half a roll of film but I cannot imaging that many people have ever bothered.
The film advance is on the right as is normal in non-Ihagee cameras. It has quite a short stroke of just over 90 degrees (compared to the Exakta Varex II where the advance travels about 300 degrees).
The back of these cameras come away from the camera body in one piece with the base. This is supposed to make it easier to load film but I find this method harder.
|Exa 500 – inside and the separated back and take-up spool
Exa cameras were supplied with a variety of lenses depending on how much the customer wanted to pay. This camera has a Meyer-Optik Domiplan. This is a triplet design so not as good as the Tessar option, but the Domiplan performs well enough when stopped down. The lens is a semi-automatic lens – the diaphragm closes when the shutter release is pressed but stays open for composition and focussing.
The Domiplan achieves this automation by a hinged lug that protrudes over the shutter release – the photographer presses this lug which in turn presses the shutter release.
This mechanism in the Domiplan lens has a weak link that is prone to seizing but this particular lens performs OK. My other Domiplan lens needed the mechanism cleaning with naphtha before it would work satisfactorily.
This camera would also work with my Exa fit Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar (we need to specify Carl Zeiss Jena in contradiction to Carl Zeiss Opton, the new (at the time) Carl Zeiss operation in West Germany. East German Carl Zeiss Jena lenses are generally better than Carl Zeiss Opton lenses).
In use, this camera is much as you would expect. The shutter speed selector is rather loose and I was not sure I was actually selecting any speed, but I tried exposures at various shutter speeds and they have all come out well exposed so the shutter speed selector must be doing its job.
There is a red flag in the viewfinder to tell you that you need to advance the film before taking the next shot. In previous Exa cameras this was not necessary as the mirror would only return to the viewing position when you had wound on. In this model, the mirror is an instant return mirror and it would seem that the makers thought users might get confused with such sophistication, hence the red flag.
The camera is light-proof (not a given with old cameras) and the shutter is moving smoothly.
Here are some sample photographs from my test film: