Ihagee West – Exakta TL500

I do not intend to repeat the history of Ihagee here, suffice it to say that during the 1950s, 60s and 70s there were two Ihagee companies – the original Ihagee in Dresden that became absorbed into VEB Pentacon and a newer Ihagee West started by the original owner of the Dresden Ihagee (Johan Steenbergen) after he was unable to return to Dresden.  This camera is from Ihagee West rather than Ihagee Dresden. I say ‘from’ Ihagee West and not ‘by’ Ihagee West as they neither designed nor made this camera which bears their name.
Ihagee West Exakta TL500
I have five other Exakta cameras – all made in Germany by Ihagee. They are the Varex IIb, Exa IIa, Exa Ia, Exa 500 and Exakta RTL1000. This Exakta camera was designed and made by the Japanese company Petri. I am not saying that is a bad thing – Petri made some fine cameras and this camera is a fine camera – but it is not a German camera and does not carry any of the well-loved Exakta design concepts. The legend on the front of the camera says ‘Exakta TL500’ but in fact it is a re-badged Petri FT – the only clue to this is the stamp on the base saying ‘Made in Japan’.

lens: n/a
focal length:  n,/a
apertures: n/a
focus range: n/a
lens fitting: M42 thread
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1 second to 1/500 seconds
flash: hot shoe plus PC socket
film size: 35 mm (135)

This camera is fairly heavy – it weighs 682 g with no lens – and measures 145 by 95 by 50 mm. This camera was made (or rather, marketed) in 1976 only (I have been unable to find much information about this camera or, indeed, Ihagee West other than neither maker nor camera were very successful). The layout is pretty much standard for the time.

Exakta TL500
Most controls are on the top plate. On the far left is the rewind crank. (the usual Exakta system of film cassette on the right and take-up spool on the left has not been maintained) and is the now usual small fold-out crank. This lifts to release the film cassette inside.
Next to this is the the film speed selector – the main scale is ASA and is printed in white, there is also a DIN scale printed in red. This selector moves in 1/3 stop click-stops – i.e. one degree DIN. The range is from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA (ASA being effectively the same as ISO). In the middle is the bump of the pentaprism with an accessory shoe on top. This has a central contact for flash and so is a hot shoe.
To the right of the pentaprism is the shutter speed selector. This goes from one second to 1/500 seconds in the usual sequence (the maximum speed of 1/500 gives the camera its name – its sister camera, the TL1000, had a top speed of 1/1000). Flash synch is marked with a red cross as 1/60. At the date of this camera, the makers will have assumed electronic flash.
On the right hand end of the top plate is the film advance lever. This is tipped in black plastic and moves through 180 degrees to wind on one frame.  Between the shutter speed selector and the film advance lever is a window for the frame counter. This resets to -2 (indicated by S) when the back is opened. This counter counts up from zero.
Exakta TL500 rear view
The front of the top plate, apart from the name, has nothing but the battery compartment. This holds a PX625A alkaline battery (still readily available). On the end of the top plate, on the left, is a PC connector for off-camera flash. Both the battery compartment and the PC socket are in unusual places. In fact, this is the first time I have seen a battery compartment anywhere but on the base plate. Unusual it might be, there is nothing wrong with it.  On the front of the camera there is nothing apart from the lens. There is no shutter delay lever on this camera. The lens mount has a standard M42 thread – Ihagee abandoned their Exakta bayonet mount right at the time that other camera makers were abandoning M42 threads. On the plus side, there were (and still are) a great many lenses available in M42 mount. Replacing the threaded mounting ring with an Exakta bayonet mounting ring would have been easy and cheap but it may well have cost more to do so while maintaining the correct lens-to-film distance. Regardless, Ihagee West went with Petri’s M42 mount.
At the bottom of the lens mount is the TTL exposure meter switch. This is a stop-down system – pressing the switch stops the iris diaphragm down and switches on the electronics. To use, first you select your shutter speed, then press the meter switch and, while holding down the switch, turn the aperture ring until the meter needle in the viewfinder coincides with the white circle. It is possible to use this meter by setting the aperture and adjusting the shutter speed to match the needle-white ring but this is very awkward to do.  As the aperture stops-down to take the light reading, the viewfinder becomes very dark and it can be difficult to see the meter needle. 
At this point, I should offer a caveat to any new user of an Exakta TL500 (or TL1000). The exposure meter is automatically switched off by taking a picture. If you cannot get the meter to respond, wind-on the film. This is a good system as leaving the camera without winding on the film will prevent the battery from running down.
The base plate is uncluttered, having the rewind button and a 1/4 inch Whitworth (i.e. standard) tripod boss.  The catch for the back is on the left end and is pulled up to release the back.
Inside is as we would expect. On the left is the space for the film cassette, in the middle is the image window (24×36 mm) and on the right is the toothed sprocket that allows the film to be advanced a set number of sprocket holes. Right on the right is the take-up spool. This rotates in the opposite direction to the film advance lever. The lever moves counter-clockwise while the take-up spool rotates clockwise. This means that the film is stored emulsion side outwards..
Exakta TL500 – internal view
The edges of the back have black light-seal foam to prevent stray light getting in the join and fogging the film. This became normal in the 1960s but has the disadvantage that the foam eventually goes gooey and ceases to act as a light seal. I suspect that the designers of this camera would be surprised that their creation was still in use after forty years. I would imagine that cameras of the time had an expected life well within the useful life of the foam. Replacing light seal foam is both easy and cheap. I have a sheet of suitable self-adhesive foam bought on Ebay which only cost two or three pounds. The old foam can be removed with a cotton bud soaked in naptha (aka lighter fuel) and the new foam cut into suitable sized strips with scissors and then stuck in place.
I don’t know what lens this camera came with when new but my TL500 came with an Auto Optomax. This lens is a 28mm lens so it is unlikely to be the original lens. Actually, this lens (which is in very good condition) makes a useful addition to my (small) collection of M42 lenses (this collection consists of a Helios-44 manual lens, Helios-44M auto lens, Vivitar 2x converter and this Optomax lens).

In use:

I had a spare half hour this morning and replaced the gooey light seals with new foam.  The camera should be good to go, so I have loaded it with Agfaphoto Vista + 200 ISO film (£1.00 per cassette from Poundland) and spent the morning taking photos of Lincoln. This camera came with no lens. I have been using my Soviet Helios-44M lens that came with my Asahi Spotmatic SP1000.  Tomorrow I am going to use my Optomax 28mm lens to finish off the roll of film.  Any M42 screw threaded lens will fit.
The first thing I have noticed using this camera is the weight. Over the last few weeks I have been using my Pentax ME Super and Olympus OM 10 – both of which are about as small as a film SLR can get and both are very light.
Not being made by Ihagee, all the controls are in the right place – i.e. both shutter release and film advance are on the right which makes using this camera fairly intuitive to use.
The camera is designed to use automatic lenses – which I am doing – but will still work with manual lenses (by ‘automatic’ I am referring to the diaphragm not the focusing).
To set the exposure, I need to choose a shutter speed, press the meter lever at the right side of teh lens mount base and while doing so rotate the aperture ring until the needle in the viewfinder is in the centre of the ring.  this sounds harder and more complicated than it is. The only problem I am having with this is finding the aperture ring by feel – this is not an issue with the camera, it is just that I am used to the aperture ring being on the outer edge of the lens barrel.
The shutter/mirror action is quite good – not a lot of jar.
All in all, I am quite enjoying using this camera. there is one problem which is to do with the camera/lens combination. Focused on infinity, everything is fine. Focused on 0.6m. everything is fine. But if I focus on the hyperfocal distance (6m @ f11) the mirror will not return after the shot. Nor will the lens unscrew. To return the mirror I am having to re-focus to infinity, wind on the film and fire the shutter.  This has resulted in several wasted frames.  [EDIT: this happened over the first few frames of the first film. At exposure 16 it is no longer happening.]

When the film has been developed, I will post a selection of the test pictures.


Here are a selection of pictures from my test film.  I am quite impressed.  All are exposed well so no problems with the exposure meter.  Exposure is even so the shutter blinds are moving smoothly.

Bridge over the Witham, Lincoln


High Street, Lincoln


Swans on the Witham, Lincoln


Housing estate road, Lincoln

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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