Exakta RTL1000

This is my sixth Exakta camera. The first five (Varex IIb, Exa IIb, Exa Ia, Exa 500 Exakta TL500) were made by the still independent Ihagee company in Dresden (the TL500 was made by Ihagee West in West Germany). Eventually, Ihagee was absorbed into the Pentacon combine with Zeiss Ikon, KW and some others. This fifth Exakta dates to the Pentacon period. The basic shape and the inside of the back are very reminiscent of a Praktica camera of the same period – also made by Pentacon.


lens: Meyer-Optik Oreston
focal length:  50 mm
apertures: f/1.8 to f/16
focus range: 0.33 m to infinity (13 inches to infinity)
lens fitting: Exakta bayonet
shutter: vertical metal shutter
speeds: 8 seconds to 1/1000
flash: PC socket
film size: 35 (135)

However, this is not a Praktica. There are some very definite differences. The first, and most obvious, is the retention of the Exakta bayonet mount. That means that my collection of Exakta lenses can be used as can any Exakta lens since the first Exakta in 1936. As a secondary feature of retaining the Exakta bayonet mount, the shutter can be fired with a left-hand shutter release button. This last has been very strangely implemented. On the original Exakta system, the shutter release button was fixed to the lens. Pressing this first closed the iris diaphragm and then tripped the shutter. With this later implementation, the release button on the lens does not quite reach the release button on the body. Why? The cost of extending the body button would have been very little. Instead, Pentacon sold an extension stud that screwed into the body buttoned reached to the lens shutter button. I suspect that the main reason for this is that the body is actually a Praktica TL series body with a lens-to-film distance that is shorter than the lens to film distance for the Exakta mount system, resulting in this left-hand release having to be too long for sensible use. This left-hand shutter release is threaded for a standard cable release.

P1030778The other Exakta feature that has been retained is a replaceable viewfinder. This gives the user a choice of a waist-levers finder, an eye-level pentaprism finder or an eye-level pentaprism with built-in light meter finder. Again, this has been strangely implemented. The viewfinders on the RTL1000 are slightly smaller than the finders on the original Exaktas. I cannot use my old waist-level finder with this newer camera.

Now is time for a description.

The body is a brick-like lump from 1969. It measures 145 x 90 x 50 mm and weighs xx g with no lens attached. Right of the viewfinder on the top plate is the film advance lever – all metal – which moves through nearly 180° to advance the film one frame. It is not on a ratchet so must advance the film in one sweep.

P1030779On the pivot point of the film advance lever is a film reminder disk. This offers the options of monochrome, daylight colour print, tungsten colour print, daylight colour reversal, tungsten colour reversal. This is merely a mnemonic and does not affect the working of the camera at all.

Behind the film advance lever is the frame counter. This should be reset when the back is opened. On my camera, this is entirely non-functional. It does not reset when the back is opened and does not count when the film is advanced.

Between the film advance lever and the viewfinder is the shutter speed selector. This runs from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds plus B (there is an additional slow speed selector – more later). There is also a flash setting beyond B for electronic flash. 1/30 seconds has an icon of a light bulb to indicate that this is the synchronisation speed for flash bulbs. The speed selector cannot be moved between B and 1/1000. The space between B and 1/1000 has a stud projecting vertically. This links to the light metering viewfinder if attached and allows the light meter controls to alter the shutter speed.

Viewfinder removed

As mentioned earlier, the viewfinder is exchangeable for various models . To remove the fitted viewfinder, it is necessary to find a stud on either side just blow the front of the viewfinder. These are pulled down with one hand while pulling the viewfinder up with the other hand. It is both easier and quicker to do than describe. To fit the new finder, just push it into the top of the camera.

Viewfinder after removal

Left of the viewfinder is the rewind crank. This is the standard small, fiddly, fold-out crank which is best suited to smaller hands than mine. Pulling this rewind crank upwards acts as the catch to release the back of the camera. Around the rewind crank is a moveable disk printed with film speeds in both DIN and ASA. Again, this is entirely a mnemonic and does not alter the working of the camera at all.

On the left-hand edge of the top plate is a PC socket for attaching a flash gun. There is no accessory shoe on this camera – a downside of having exchangeable viewfinders. An accessory shoe was available as an extra according to the manual. This fitted around the rewind crank with a cable that plugged into the PC socket.

The front of the camera, as always, is dominated by the lens mount. As already mentioned, the lens fitting is the Exakta bayonet mount retaining backwards compatibility with the entire range of Exakta lenses dating back to 1936. There is a slight variation in the mount which does not affect compatibility. This is the addition of a plunger just outside the bayonet at the bottom of the mount. This plunger moves out when the shutter release buttonis pressed and pushes a pin on the lens which closes the aperture. This is essentially the same as the system on automatic M42 cameras and lenses.

P1030784The lens is held in place by a lever which locates on a pin on the back of the lens. This is very sloppy on my camera although it is functionally fine.

To the left of the lens mount (left while using the camera) is the small shutter release button mentioned above. On the right of the lens mount is another (black plastic) shutter release button. This one is large (15 mm square and 10 mm deep). It presses down to actuate the shutter. On the side of this black plastic shutter release is a small knurled chrome disk with a red dot on it. Rotating this disk so that the red dot aligns with a red dot on the release button locks the shutter release to prevent accidental exposures. This has no effect at all on the left hand shutter release button. All Exakta models I have seen (five in all) have this feature which I wish had been more common – I frequently waste two or three frames on a film.

Below the right-hand shutter release button is a combined delay timer and slow shutter speed dial. In the 1940s and 50s, having two shutter speed controls was usual – with 1/30 or so and faster on one dial and those slower speeds on another. By the time this camera was introduced (1969) this was unheard of. Yet here it is!

P1030785To use this control as a delay timer, you set the required shutter speed on the main dial on the top plate, rotate the dial/lever below the shutter release clockwise as far as it will go. Pressing the centre chrome button will start the timer, giving you about eight seconds before the shutter fires.

Alternatively, you can use the same control to set the shutter speed to either two, four or eight seconds. To do this, you set the main shutter speed dial to B, and the slow shutter speed on the dial below the shutter release button. Next you need to turn the dial/lever clockwise as far as it will go. Release the shutter with either of the normal shutter release buttons (not the centre chrome button). This works well enough even if it is a bit antiquated.

As mentioned above, the lens mount is the Exakta bayonet mount with compatibility back to 1936. In fact, this is a double bayonet. There is the bayonet mount inside the throat of the mount for short focal length lenses (less than 180 mm according to Wrotniak) and a second bayonet mount outside the throat of the lens mount for longer focal length lenses (180 mm or longer).

The base of the camera is bare. There is no battery compartment and no motordrive attachment points. All there is is a standard 1/4 inch UNC tripod socket which is placed immediately below the lens mount for optimal balance. There is also the button to release the film advance to allow the film to be rewound.

P1030780To gain access to the inside of the camera, it is necessary to pull up the rewind crank to unlock the back. At first sight, the inside is fairly standard. The film cassette goes on the left, the shutter is in the middle, followed by the sprocket shaft and then the take-up spool.

The shutter is a metal shutter (described in the manual as a metal laminate) with three slats and travels vertically. this is pretty much standard for the time.

The take-up spool is very similar to those in Praktica cameras of the same period (the TL series).This is a quick load system which works very well. To load the film, you pull the film leader out of the cassette until it reaches the green square on the right by the take-up spool. The film needs to lodge behind a small plate at the base of the sprocket shaft. It is then a matter of closing the back and advancing the film a couple of times.

P1030783The camera came with a kit lens: a Meyer Optik Oreston lens with a 50 mm focal length and an aperture range of f/1.8 to f/16. This is an impressive aperture range. f/1.8 is plenty wide enough for just about al uses and f/16 is just below the point where diffraction softening becomes noticable. The closest focus is 0.33 metres (or just over a foot). The swing on the focus ring between closest focus and infinity is nearly 340° (close to a complete revolution of the ring). This means that focusing can be slow but accuracy will be easy (and compares very well with my modern Canon lenses where the swing is a mere 30° to 40° making accurate manual focus nearly impossible). There is a red index mark to indicate the position of both focus and aperture. There is also a red dot to indicate the focus position for infra-red light if you are using infra-red film.

P1030782The focus ring is at the outside edge of the lens and is easy to grip and turn. The scale is printed in both metres (white) and imperial (red). The aperture ring is close to the lens mount but not close enough to cause problems adjusting the aperture. When the lens is fitted to the camera, there is a large button on the side of the lens inside of the aperture ring, close to the right-hand shutter release button. Pressing this closes the aperture to give you a depth of field preview – very useful and easy to use (easy compared to my Canon DSLRs).

P1030781At the bottom of the lens is a small slider that has two positions. Position one – with a green marking – is the auto setting. The aperture will stay wide open for ease of focusing until the shutter release button is pressed. Position two – with an orange marking – is the manual setting. The aperture will close to the set aperture as the aperture ring is turned making focusing difficult but means that the lens can be used with older Exakta cameras.

Technical information gleaned from the Interweb: this lens is made from six glass elements in four groups making it similar to a Carl Zeiss Planar lens. It seems to have a good reputation.

Final picture. The RTL1000 camera and Oreston lens being used with very old close-up tubes. This allows the user to take true macro shots. True macro being when the image on the negative is exactly the same size as the original object. This is an occasion when the lens must be set to the, orange, manual position mentioned above as the lens is too far away from the plunger mentioned above so the iris diaphragm will not get automatically closed when firing the shutter.


Test film.

My test film has been developed and scanned (by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln, as usual). I am very pleased. The camera is working well – no light leaks and shutter speeds are, at least, close to correct. Shutter blades are moving smoothly – no irregular exposures. I cannot show this here, but the negatives have around the density I would like on a negative – which is more a comment on my Leningrad light meter, but also shows the shutter speeds are ok.

The lens seems to perform well. I am not one of those photographers that examines the corners to make sure that they are “tack sharp” but the corners are plenty sharp enough. Contrast is good. Bokeh I do not understand but I have included a picture with plenty of out-of-focus areas so the gentle reader can assess the bokeh for theirselves.

My standard kid bike shot


Posted in SLR

3 thoughts on “Exakta RTL1000

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