An excellent 35mm fixed lens rangefinder camera from East Germany.

This is a smallish fixed lens rangefinder camera from East Germany. Initially, the Belmira was designed and made by Belca (who used to be Balda) and latterly by Welta. German camera makers are rather complex as a result of many mergers through the 20th century and particularly after WWII in East Germany. Zeiss Ikon was split in two with the West German and East German parts operating independently. Other makers – such as Ihagee and Balda – were entirely in the new East Germany but the prewar owners started new companies in West Germany using the original name. So, there were East German Ihagee and West German Ihagee and West German Balda and East German Balda. To avoid the confusion generated, East German Balda changed its name to Belca and there were further name changes. The East German camera makers were merged into a series of VEBs (Volkseigener Betrieb or Publicly Owned Enterprise) ending with VEB Pentacon (the name ‘Pentacon originated as a trading name of East German Zeiss Ikon to avoid legal conflicts in Western Europe and North America). My camera was made in the middle of these mergers, in between April and August 1956, going by the lens serial number.

  • lens: Tessar
  • focal length: 50mm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/16
  • focus range: 2.5 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Vebur leaf shutter
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/250 seconds
  • flash: PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm
<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">The only indication of maker is the Ernemann Tower logo on the shutter fascia which indicates either East German Zeiss Ikon or VEB Pentacon (depending on date). The lens is marked 'Carl Zeiss Jena' so this is before the end of the legal wrangles between East and West Zeiss Ikon companies.The only indication of maker is the Ernemann Tower logo on the shutter fascia which indicates either East German Zeiss Ikon or VEB Pentacon (depending on date). The lens is marked ‘Carl Zeiss Jena’ so this is before the end of the legal wrangles between East and West Zeiss Ikon companies.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Also on the shutter fasciae is a 1 in a triangle. This indicates first quality and was reserved for export items.Also on the shutter fasciae is a 1 in a triangle. This indicates first quality and was reserved for export items.

There is another logo on the lens fascia which I suspect indicates first quality but I have never seen this particular logo before.

So, a description of this neat camera. The camera body is fairly plain. It measures 126 by 78 by 658 mm and it weighs 580 g. The top plate has a raised portion the right which houses the viewfinder. On the rear of the top plate is the viewfinder eye-piece which is circular and measures 7mm diameter. On the front is the viewfinder window. This measures 20 by 14 mm and is tinted quite a heavy green. I think that this is to provide contrast with the rangefinder spot which is uncoloured – at least, I can think of no other reason for the tint.

To the left of this raised portion is the frame counter. This consists of a knurled knob and a curved window. The knurled knob is to reset the counter to zero on loading a new film. The counter has every fifth number in white – the intervening numbers are represented by dots. The counter counts up to 35 and then continues from zero. The window is covered by a yellow plastic film. I am not sure if the colour is intentional or a result of ageing (or both, perhaps). Next is the accessory shoe, this is a standard Barnack shoe with no flash contacts.

On the left of the top plate is the rewind knob. This is a very sloppy fit on my camera which does not match the build quality of the rest of the camera. The centre of the rewind knob is a mnemonic for the type of film in use. The options are Schwarz-Weiß or Color and for each, Neg (negative) or Umk (Umk is short for Umkehrfilm which means reversal film or slide film in German). Each of these has a number of film speeds – these are in DIN only. Of course, these have no effect on the operation of the camera.

The back of the top plate, as well as the viewfinder, has the film advance lever. This is unique as far as I am aware. First, it does not rotate – it is a slide. It is also on the opposite end of the camera to the take-up spool and moves in what feels to be the wrong direction. Internally, this is the same (or at least very similar) to the Werra mat with this sliding lever rotating a sleeve around the shutter mechanism. On my camera, this grates quite a bit in use which I am putting down to ageing and dried-up grease. But it does still work.

The front of the top plates well as having the viewfinder window, has the rangefinder window. Mine has a rectangular rangefinder window but other Belmiras had a very thin window with a large diamond section – mine has this internally but the external window is plain rectangular. The shape change was around late 1958 to early 1959 – I am judging the timing by looking at images of Balmira cameras on Google Images and checking the serial numbers on the lenses for each type of rangefinder window. The range of lens serial numbers (Tessar lens only) for the rectangular window was 4467343 to 5208392 and the range of lens serial number for the thin/diamond window was 5180425 to 5309389 showing that the rectangular window was the original one. This also suggest that the rangefinder window change occurred part way through a batch of Tessar lenses or perhaps when Welta took over from Belca in making this model. Between the viewfinder and rangefinder windows is the camera name engraved in the metal in Italic script.

The body of the camera is covered by fine-grain black leatherette. As this is clearly an export camera, I would expect to see the country of origin (either Germany or DDR) embossed on the leatherette somewhere but I cannot find it. In the centre of the front is the shutter/lens assembly. The housing is anodised aluminium. The shutter is a Vebur which started off as an East German Zeiss Ikon shutter based on the West German Zeiss Ikon’s Compur or Prontor shutters. Seeing as they already made a Prestor shutter – the name clearly derived from Prontor – I suspect that the Vebur shutter was based on the Compur but apart from the name I have no reason for saying that.

Working outwards from the camera body, the base of the shutter housing has a depth of field scale with pointers to the focus scale. This focus scale is the first ring out from the camera body. The focus ring turns through about 120º in order to focus from about 2.5 feet to infinity. The lower part of this ring has coarse knurled cut-outs to provide a tactile grip for focusing with the camera at eye-level. This ring is coupled to the rangefinder so focusing is easy and accurate with the camera at eye-level. When focusing, the entire shutter/lens housing moves (so this is unit focusing, rather than front-cell focusing).

In front of the focus ring is the aperture ring. This runs from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/16 which is a very useable range. This rings turns easily and smoothly – no indents here so the user can set intermediate aperture values if they want to. The aperture index is a large red triangle infant of the aperture ring. The iris diaphragm has nine leaves giving a very smooth aperture which will bode well for those concerned with bokeh.

The shutter speed setting ring is on the front of the assembly, around the lens. This is not as easy to use as a ring around the shutter housing would be and I find I need both hands to turn the ring – not because it is too stiff (although it is rather stiff) but purely because of the ergonomics of the ring’s position. Shutter speeds are from one second to 1/250 seconds plus B.

The lens is a Carl Zeiss Tessar – a four element lens with the elements in three groups. People can be a bit snotty about East German Carl Zeiss for purely political reasons but their lenses were as good with as high manufacturing standards as they had before the partition of Germany. The lens will accept filters – either 32m push-on filters or 30.5mm screw-in filters.

Beside the shutter/lens on the right (as you are using the camera) is the shutter release button. This is fairly low down and angled – it is very much like the shutter release buttons on my Pentacon F or on Praktica cameras starting with the Nova. This button is threaded for a standard cable release. There is no delay action facility here, for some reason. On the left hand edge of the body is a PC socket for flash. There is no indication as to synchronisation speed but as this is a leaf shutter it will not be too important.

The base of the camera has a central tripod socket – 1/4 inch UNC – and next to this is a small sliding button. Sliding this away from the tripod socket releases the back/base of the camera. There is also a fairly large button to release the internal mechanisms to allow the film to be rewound. When the back/base is released, they come away from the camera body in one piece to allow for inserting new film.

The film cassette goes on the left and the film pulls across the film gate to the right. Here is a novelty I have not seen before. There is a cover over the sprocket shaft which must be lowered before the film can be loaded. The task-up spool is on the right. This spool is loose which might help some people to attach the new film but I just find this to be an added nuisance, particularly in the field where I am likely to lose the spool and have to resort to hands and knees to find it again. The back/base fit nicely and, being a German camera, there are no foam light seals to go bad

Beier Beirette – 12/0705

This is a simple compact camera from the old East Germany (technically, the German Democratic Republic or DDR). Outwardly, it is very similar to a Braun Paxette. My overall impression of this camera is of a nicely designed and made cheap camera.

  • lens: Meyer-Optik Trioplan
  • focal length: 45 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 1 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Junior II from Gebruder Werner
  • speeds: 1/30, 1/60 1/125, B
  • flash: PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm 

The camera measures 115 by 72 by 67 mm and weighs 360 g. This camera is not as heavy as you might expect. This is because the camera is made from what looks like Bakelite with a metal fascia. The top plate is either satin stainless steel or anodise aluminium. Scratching the surface does not reveal the usual brass and the metal is resistant to a steel knife so I am going to say that it is stainless steel (unless someone wishes to correct me).

Beirette-5On the right of the top plate is the film advance. Early 35 mm cameras had a knob to advance the film and later 35 mm cameras had a lever. This camera has both – another respect in which it resembles a Braun Paxette. If you wish, you can advance the film using the knob. Or you can use the lever. The lever is not directly attached to the knob – rotating the knob does not move the lever. But the lever is attached to the knob via a ratchet. To advance the film one frame requires the lever to move through 270º but the presence of the ratchet allows several short movements of the lever (but not of the knob!).

This film advance merely moves the film – it does not cock the shutter or interlock the shutter release button. On top of the advance knob is a film type memo. This offers a choice of film speeds (strictly in DIN) of 13, 17, 21, and 25. These are repeated for colour film. There are also a further two options – sunlight or artificial light. This is strictly a memo and it has no effect on the operation of the camera.

In the centre of the top plate is a raised portion that houses the viewfinder. This is very small by modern standards but is close in size to other 35 mm cameras from the 1950s. The eyepiece measures 5 by 2 mm and includes a parallax adjustment. The eyepiece can slide up and down a small amount. For near photographs (i.e. portraits) you slide the eyepiece up to the ‘N’ position (N = nah) and for far photographs (i.e. landscapes) you slide the eyepiece down to the ∞ position (∞ = infinity). This is something that Balda did from the 1930s but was never usual, most camera either not bothering or relying on bright-lines. On top of the viewfinder is a standard accessory shoe (which has no electrical contacts and so is a cold shoe).

To the left of the raised portion of the top plate is the rewind knob – there is no attached lever or crank. To rewind the film, there is a sliding switch below the film advance knob/lever which needs to be moved from T to R (these are the initial letters of German words, which words I do not know). While holding the slide at R, you need to pull up the film advance knob – this frees the internal mechanism to rotate backwards. The rewind knob can be pulled up to ease rewinding and then pulled up further to ease removal of the film cassette. When you pull up the rewind knob, you can see two pillars which rotate to reset the frame counter. The frame counter window is on the back of the top plate, below the rewind knob.

The front of the top plate sports the viewfinder window. This measures 16 by 10 mm. It is slightly offset from the middle of the top plate so there is some lateral parallax but this will not be serious, even for portraits. Next to the viewfinder window is the legend “Beirette” embossed in Italic script.

Beirette-6The front of the camera has a square bright metal mount measuring 60 by 50 by 10 mm. On the top of this, on the right, is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated and is threaded for a standard cable release. In the centre of the mount is the shutter/lens assembly.

The shutter is a Junior II which is a simple everset shutter made by Gebruder Werner. The shutter bezel carries a logo of GW in a cartouche. Also on the shutter bezel is a triangle containing a 1 – this indicates first quality and appears on East German goods intended for export. Three shutter speeds are offered: 1/30, 1/60 and 1/125 together with B. Three speeds is about all you will get with an everset type shutter.

The iris diaphragm has ten blades which give a nicely circular aperture. Apertures from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/22 are offered. F/8 has a red dot by it which is a Happy Snapper setting. This is used in conjunction with the distance scale which has two red dots on it. The first red dot is at 5 m. With the aperture set at ƒ/8 and the distance at 5 m, everything from 2.5 m and infinity will be in focus. The second red dot is just shy of 2 m. At this distance – the aperture still at ƒ/8 – everything from 1.4 m to 3 m will be in focus. The first, at 5 m, is intended for easy group portraits and the second, at 2 m, is intended for easy individual portraits.

The lens focuses from just short of one metre to infinity. This is front cell focusing where only the front piece of glass moves to focus the image. While this is not ideal, it will be fine for the uses that this camera was intended for. The lens is a Meyer-Optik Trioplan. As the name suggests, this is a triplet lens and has a focal length of 45 mm. 45 mm is ‘normal‘ for 35 mm photography. The serial number is 2630098. The lens bezel also carries the 1 in a triangle mark indicating that it also is of export quality.

Also on the shutter housing is a PC flash connector. There are no synchronising options but the manual says that it is X synch. As this is a leaf shutter, the flash can synch at all shutter speeds (all three of them!).

The base of the camera only has the tripod socket on it. This is a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. The rear of the camera is also featureless,

Beirette-2On the left hand edge of the camera is the catch for the back. It took me a while to work out how this operates. It refuses to slide or compress or press. In fact, it pivots around its centre. The back comes away completely from the camera body – no hinges here. In the middle of the back is a curved strap spring. In use, this presses on the pressure plate to keep the film flat.

The layout of the inside is also very reminiscent of the Braun Paxette. You are unable to see the film gate or lens as there is a hinged pressure plate in the way. This hinges at the top. Above the film gate is a toothed wheel. This takes the place of the sprocket shaft in most 35 mm cameras. The teeth protrude through the sprocket holes in the film and as the film is advanced, the moving film turns this toothed wheel  and ensures that the right amount of film is advanced. This wheel has eight teeth on it.

Apart from the pressure plate, all the exposed surfaces – including the take-up spool – are made from the Bakelite material. Being a German camera, there are no foam light seats to deteriorate, light tightness being achieved with deep flanges.

The back of the camera is covered with black leatherette (as is most of the body) and this leatherette is embossed at each end of the back. At one end is the 1 in a triangle quality mark Beneath this is the product number – 12/0705. At the other end of the back is the legend “Made in Germany”.

In Use:

I have now run a film through the camera. I used Poundland’s Power Geek film which cost me £2.00 for ten exposures – rather expensive per shot but ten shots is all I need to test a camera. Snappy Snaps in Lincoln have processed the test film. I ended up with only four shots out of the ten as I opened the back of the camera before the film was fully rewound – four good shots and two not so good, the other four being totally fogged.

There is a lot of vignetting evident on all the shots and some flare. Overall, I am fairly happy with the results from what was a cheap camera. The thumb in the lower right of the first frame was entirely me and the lack of focus in the last two is also entirely me. The other faults are down to the camera.


Praktica Nova (no name version)

This camera has no name on it anywhere – in fact, no writing on it at all. The only clue to its identity is the Ernemann Tower embossed in the leatherette on the back. Ernemann was one of the four camera makers that merged in 1926 to form Zeiss Ikon. With the partition of Germany after WWII, East German Zeiss Ikon (Zeiss Ikon also got partitioned along with the country) used the distinctive Ernemann Tower as a logo. With the morphing of East German Zeiss Ikon into Pentacon and the establishment of VEB Pentacon as a merger of the East German camera makers (Exakta, KW, Balda, Zeiss Ikon and others) the Ernemann Tower was used as a logo on all of them.

P1040580So this is a Pentacon camera. There are clues to the marque in the design. The shutter release is angled on the front right of the camera. This narrows it down to Contax or Praktica (a dangerous statement as I do not know all East German camera models!). There are two PC connectors on the top of the front left of the camera. Looking at imagers of Contax and Praktica cameras on Google, only one camera looks like this one – an early Praktica Nova. As a check, I went to and they have details of a model that was issued with no printing – the Praktica Nova No-Name. I already have a Pentaflex SL which is a cut-down Praktica Nova and this camera is very similar although the Pentaflex SL dates from the year that the Praktica Nova No-Name was discontinued.

Ernemann Tower embossed in the leatherette

This is an early part of the Praktica Nova series. It dates from 1964 to 1967. It lacks a meter and has a top shutter speed of 1/500 seconds. The shutter speed selector is old school for the time with separate low and high speed rangers. The slow speed range is in red and offers 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 seconds. The high speed range is in white and offers 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500. Also in the high speed range is the flash synch speed (denoted by a lightning flash) and B. The flash synch speed is between 1/30 and 1/60 seconds and I am guessing 1/40 based on other Praktica cameras of the time.

P1040582Although B is in white and so a part of the high speed range, it can be used with the selector set at red. Switching between low and high speed ranges is done by a ring on top of the speed selector dial. Actual shutter speeds are selected by lifting the outer ring of the selector snd turning. The selected speed is indicated by a red dot. This works both before and after advancing the film.

This camera is a big step forward from my Praktica F.X2 which lacks a pentaprism. The shutter release button, as mentioned, sits on the front right the camera and is angled for ease of use. This is an improvement over the F.X2 where the shutter release is at right angles to the camera body. The button is threaded for a standards cable release. The edges of the button are milled and the button can be turned clockwise to lock it – a feature that will save me many blank frames.

P1040581The lens mount is M42 (42 mm diameter and 1 mm pitch) and not to be confused with M43 digital mount. It is the automatic version. This means that a bar comes forward when you press the shutter release button which presses on a pin on the rear of the lens to close the aperture. If you are using a non-automatic lens which would foul this bar – or if you just don’t want to use it – there is a red rivet just behind the bar which can be moved to one side to disable the auto feature.

The viewfinder eyepiece has a sort of bayonet fitting which I assume was for fitting a rubber eye cup or correction lenses so the user can discard their spectacles while using the camera.

The focus screen is a Fresnel lens which gives uniform brightness over the focus screen. In the centre is a plain ground glass circle (I initially thought that this was a micro prism ring but it is plain ground glass). Inside this circle is a split-image disc. This has a horizontal division. To use this, you find a strong vertical near the centre of the image and superimpose the split-image part over it. While the image is out of focus, the image in the part will be disrupted. You adjust the focus until the disrupted image comes together again.

P1040583There are a few other features worth noting. Under the rewind crank on the left of the top plate is a film reminder. This has two components: film length and film speed. To use this, you rotate the film speed ring until the required film speed is against the film length. Available film lengths are 12, 20 and 36. Film speeds are in either DIN (German system) or ASA (American system). Din speeds range from 9 to 33 and the ASA speeds from 6 to 1600. The back of the camera, as well as having the Ernemann Tower embossed in it, also has a triangle with a ‘1’ in it embossed below the Ernemann Tower. This indicates that the camera is of the first quality. There is a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket on the base which is otherwise plain.

Also, there are two PC connectors on the top, front left of the camera. One is marked ‘F’ and is for using flash bulbs and the other is marked ‘X’ and is for electronic flash. The ‘F’ connector will fire the flash slightly before the shutter is fully open to give the flash bulb time to burn to maximum brightness while the ‘X’ connector will fire the flash as soon as the shutter is fully open. The frame counter is below the film advance lever and it counts up from zero. Opening the back to change films automatically resets the counter to -1.

The film advance lever has lost its black plastic tip – there is a rivet still in place that used to hold the tip in place – but it works fine as it is. The camera has studs on the front corners for attaching a neck strap. This is the form of the early Praktica Novas during the three year production run of the model. Later in the production run these were changed for eyelets.

Praktica F.X2

This is an early Praktica made by KW (Kamera Werkstätten) between 1958 and 1959 i.e. before the merging of East Germany’s camera makers into Pentacon. In many ways, this camera is much like what became the ‘standard’ SLR camera – such as Asahi’s Pentax and Nikon’s F. In other ways it shows its position in the move from rangefinder to SLR. It also, of course, reflects the available technology of the day.

P1040504In the 1940s and 50s, East and West Germany were both at the forefront of redesigning their existing cameras into SLR cameras. East German Zeiss Ikon produced the Contax S from the Contax rangefinder. West German Zeiss Ikon also started with the Contax rangefinder and produced the Contaflex SLR series. The West German attempt was well engineered and over complicated and was a design dead end (but not for Hasselblad, Bronica, Mamiya and their medium format SLR cameras which used a similar system). The East German attempt lead to modern SLR cameras and not that much has changed to produce our current digital SLRs.

P1040505There are four things that really date this Praktica F.X2 camera. The first is then use of a film advance knob rather than a lever. This was quite usual for the time and the design changes necessary for using clever happened slowly over the 1950s.

The second thing is the shutter speed selector. In common with many cameras with a focal plane shutter, there are two separate mechanisms for fast speeds and slow speeds. There is a single selector knob but this is used in conjunction with a fast/slow selector. Fast speeds are the black range and slow speeds are the red range.

The third item that dates this camera is the viewfinder. Most 35 mm SLR cameras had/have an eye-level pentaprism finder or an interchangeable finder such as on Exakta cameras. This camera has a fixed waist-level finder but did have an optional pentaprism to convert the viewfinder to eye-level – I do not have one of these.

The fourth is the mirror. This does not return automatically after the shutter fires and so the viewfinder in blanked out until the film is advanced. Apart from being surprising, this does not really matter as you cannot use the camera without advancing the film.

top plate

This camera also has innovative features. The camera name, FX, is one of them as the camera provides flash synch for bulbs (F) and also for the newer electronic flash (X). Two PC connectors are provided for this.

The camera also offers automatic aperture closing which allows for composition and focus at the widest aperture and then closes the aperture to the set value without the user worrying about it (or forgetting it!). This is achieved by way of a moving bar just inside the throat of the lens mount – this bar moves forward and presses a pin on the rear of the lens which in turn closes the aperture.  In case this bar fouls the rear of a non-automatic lens, there is a rivet painted red just behind the bar that a can be slid to one side to disable the mechanism. I have never found this to be necessary.

Close-up showing the red rivet

I shall give a very general description: The camera body measures 155 by 90 by 48 mm and weighs 630 g. Film advance is a knob rather than a lever. The top surface of the advance knob is a frame counter. This counts up from zero and needs to be set to zero manually when a new film is loaded. Frames are indicated by marks with frames 0, 10, 20 and 30 having numbers.

The shutter speed selector has two ranges of numbers – one is black and one is red. The red range is the slow speeds and are 1/2, 1/5 and 1/10 seconds. The black range is the fast speeds and are 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200 and 1/500 seconds. Also in the black range is B. There is also a lightning flash on the black scale for the flash synch speed. The manual suggests that this is 1/40 seconds and will be the fastest shutter speed at which the shutter is fully open (at faster speeds, exposure is by a moving slit).

Shutter speeds are set by lifting the outer ring of the speed selector and turning until the red dot aligns with the required speed. To select between fast and slow ranges, you turn the inner ring so that the red arrow points at either the other red arrow or the black arrow. Shutter speed can be selected either before or after advancing the film (unlike shutters used on the Leica mechanism). If you select a ‘red’ speed while the selector is pointing at the black range then the shutter still fires but who knows at what speed. Same applies if you select a ‘black’ speed while the selector is pointing at the red range.

finder opened for use

The viewfinder initially looks very strange – there is no eye-piece! First, you must open the viewfinder by pressing a small stud on the rear of the top plate. The top of the viewfinder then springs up and forward and a small baffle at the rear springs up. At this point you can use the viewfinder (if it is blank, you need to wind-on the film).

The fact that the image is reversed left to right can make composing the image awkward until you are used to it. Focusing the lens is possible  at this point but critical focus is hard. To make it easier, there is a pull-out magnifier to enlarge the centre of the image. Using this entails holding the camera very close to your eye.

view of waist-level finder

There is a second option of converting the waist-level finder to a ‘sport’ finder. To do this, pull magnifier into place, pull up the front of the viewfinder lid and pull up a small eye-piece at the rear of the finder (see photos for clarity). Looking through this, you line up the edges of the two frames. You are just looking through the frames – no glass or focus screen is involved. You need the lens to be focused on infinity and the aperture small enough so the depth of field obviates the need to focus precisely. The idea is that it makes it easy to track movement such as a sportsman  – the image reversal in the standard viewfinder makes this very difficult.

KW also offered a pentaprism insert for the viewfinder to convert it to the ‘standard’ viewfinder used by nearly every other camera maker.

On the front of the camera, beside the lens, are two PC connectors for a flash gun. The bottom one is for F synch (that is flash bulbs – the flash is fired just before the shutter is fully open) and the top one is for X synch (electronic flash – the flash is fired as soon as the shutter is fully open).

PC connectors

On the other side of the lens, at the top, is the shutter release button. usually with front mounted shutter releases, they are angled for ease of use. This one pushes in at right angles to the front. The button is threaded for a standard cable release.

The catch for the back is a slide on the left hand end of the camera. Sliding this up causes the back to come away completely from the camera – there is no hinge. As this is a German camera, the flanges around the edge of the back are large enough to prevent light leaking in without using the silly foam seals that the Japanese insisted on.

The serial number is stamped inside near the catch in the well the film cassette sits in. Mine is 311540. The take-up spool is firmly fixed in place unlike cameras from Zeiss Ikon and Exakta at this time where the take-up spool was loose.

There is an undocumented feature. On later and more expensive SLR camera, it is possible to move the mirror separately from opening the shutter. This allows any vibration caused by the mirror hitting its stop to dissipate before the film is exposed. On this camera, you can press the shutter release gently and the mirror will flip up and then you can wait a second before pressing the release button further to trip the shutter. This works well with the camera on a tripod and using a cable release.

Other features: there is a tripod boss on the base, significantly left of centre. This is a 3/8 inch Whitworth thread and mine has a more usual 1/4 inch Whitworth slug fitted in it to allow most tripods to be used. This slug is easily removed with a screwdriver if the user wants to use a larger threaded tripod. There is a lug on each front corner for fitting a neck strap.

The name of this camera is F.X2. There were three versions: FX2, F.X2 and FX.2. The position of the dot is significant but I have no idea in which way . The site tells me that the position of the dot signifies a modification of the F synchronisation

I shall be fitting a test film this coming week to try out this camera. I have no reason to suspect the it will be other than excellent but time will tell. I would like to try it with an East German lens but I do not have one. Instead, I shall use a Soviet Helios 44M lens (which is a copy of a Carl Zeiss Jena  Biotar lens – designed in East Germany if not made there).


I have tested this camera using Agfa Vista+ film. As this camera came with no lens, I have used my Soviet Helios 44M lens – this lens is a Jena design even if it was made in Russia, so it is the most appropriate lens I have. Film was developed and scanned by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln as always. Here are a selection of results.

I am quite pleased with the camera. There are no light leaks (it is German so I did not expect any) and the shutter is behaving at least adequately. This is a delightful camera to use and I suspect I will continue to use it. All photos were taken in Lincoln.

Praktica FX2-12
Praktica FX2-7
Praktica FX2-3
Praktica FX2-22
Praktica FX2-14

Ihagee Exa 6 (or 1.6)

An unusual SLR camera from East Germany (DDR).

Exa cameras were a cut-down version of Exakta cameras. The first Exa version was just called Exa with no numbers – the second version was called Exa I. This first version Exa was produced in six varieties and my camera is the sixth variety – hence my title above of Exa 6, but the makers, Ihagee, never called it Exa 6 (nor exa 1.6), it was just plain Exa.

P1040209lens:  n/a
focal length:  n/a
apertures:  n/a
focus range:  n/a
lens fitting:  Exakta bayonet
shutter:  guillotine 
speeds:  1/25 to 1/150
flash:  2x PC sockets
film size:  35 mm

Exa, and Exakta, cameras are unique in body shape, control layout and internal mechanisms. If you are used to a Japanese style SLR, Exa take a bit of getting used to. The most obvious difference is the shape. It is rhomboidal rather than rectangular and a lot thicker than other cameras.  Another obvious difference is the shutter speed selector which is a lever. The last obvious difference is that the camera is left-handed. The speed selector is left of the viewfinder and the shutter release button is left of the lens.

As this camera is so unusual, I am going to give a very detailed description.

P1040221The camera measures 130 mm by 48 mm by 85 mm including the viewfinder but excluding the lens. It weighs 528 g.

Looking at the top plate, the viewfinder is central. Most SLR cameras have the lens and viewfinder somewhat left of centre. This camera has them centrally. The viewfinder is removable and can be replaced by various models. My camera has a waist-level finder but several eye-level finders were available (all viewfinders and focus screens for Exakta and Exa models should fit apart from those for the Exakta RTL1000). To remove the finder, it is necessary to move a slide downwards to release the fitting. This slide is on the front panel above the lens and just below the name plate. To fit the viewfinder, it just pushes into place.

When not in use, the waist-level finder folds down which makes the camera significantly smaller and prevents dust from falling on the focus screen. To open the finder, there is a small chrome button on the back of the finder which needs to be pressed in. The finder then snaps into the open position.

To use the waist-level finder, you look down into the finder at the focus screen. My camera has a plain ground glass screen (actually, it is a plano-convex lens with the plane surface ground to form the image and the convex part providing some magnification) but, again, other options were available including one with a split-image centre. The screen is easy to remove and replace – detach the finder from the camera and the focus screen is at the bottom held in place but springs but not very securely – a gentle pull and out it comes.

The image in the waist-level finder is reversed left to right but it is the right way up. There is no pentaprism here to correct the image. At first, this makes composing the image awkward but one soon learns to use it easily. Having the camera away from the eye changes the perspective of the image and looking down at the image also alters your reaction to it. I find that this makes a significant difference to my composition, and, talking to other photographers, this is quite usual.

The big drawback to having the camera away from your eye is focusing. To aid this, Ihagee have supplied a folding magnifier to enlarge the finder image. Raising the camera towards the eye makes focusing easy and you can then lower the camera again to take the shot.


On the right of the viewfinder is a nickel plated plate. Prominently, this carries the film advance knob. This requires one complete turn to advance the film one frame and to lower the mirror (more later as this part is seriously stranger). This knob is also nickel plated which I rather like. Nickel is bluer and softer than chrome plating and much more attractive in good condition. Unfortunately, nickel is prone to corrosion and on my camera is very corroded. When I cleaned the corrosion off, I was left with heavily pitted surfaces.

Beside the advance knob is the frame counter. The disc of this is also nickel plated and corroded. It is both hard to clean and cleaning has partially removed the numbers. This counter counts up and needs to be manually set to 1 when fresh film is loaded. There is a little serrated wheel to do this but this is hard to reach and turn.

Behind the frame counter is the button to release the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound.


On the left of the viewfinder is another corroded nickel plated plate. This carries the shutter speed selector. Unusually (apart from Exa being the only cameras I know with the speed selector on the left) this is a lever. Speeds are sparse – 1/25 to 1/150 seconds plus B. Asahi were offering 1/1000 on their Pentax cameras at this time. This speed selector is relatively stiff (my camera or by design?) and has very definite positions. Beside this lever is the film rewind knob. Again, a knob here was already old-fashioned at this time but I find it as easy to use as the more usual fold-out cranks.

P1040209If we move to the front of the camera – the lens mount is on a nickel plated plate in the centre of the front. At the top of this plate is the name plate. This is painted black with the name “Exa” in script and bright metal. Beneath this is the slide catch for the viewfinder – also nickel plated. Either side of the slide the words “IHAGEE DRESDEN” are stamped in the metal.

On the left side of this plate (as in using the camera) is the shutter release button. This is threaded for a standard cable release. Beside this is a swivel cap which functions to block accidental pressing of the shutter release.

Central in this plate is the lens mount. This is a standard Exakta/Exa bayonet with three lugs inside the throat that connect with the lens. With my Exakta Varex II and my three other Exa cameras, there are three extra lugs on the outside of the mount throat. These are to connect longer focal length lenses as using the internal lugs caused vignetting with lenses over 100 mm focal length. These are missing on this camera so using lenses over 100 mm focal length would be problematical. On the left side of the mount is the lens release lever.


This is probably a good place to talk about the lenses. The standard Exakta/Exa lenses are automatic in that the iris diaphragm automatically closes as the shutter release is pressed. The way this is achieved is very idiosyncratic. The lens has a shutter release button attached to one side which sits immediately over the shutter release button on the body.P1040222.jpg

When you press the release button on the lens, this pushes through the fitting on the lens and presses the release button on the body. It also closes the iris diaphragm in the lens at the same time.

On the right hand side of the lens mount are two PC sockets. These are chrome plated. The top socket is for F rated flash bulbs (F=fast) and will fire the flash bulb 12 milliseconds before the shutter is fully open. This is to allow the flash bulb to reach maximum brightness as the shutter fully opens. This requires a shutter speed of 1/25 seconds.

The lower socket is marked X and is for electronic flash (X=Xenon which is the gas which electronic flash tubes are filled with). With the X socket, the flash is fired as soon as the shutter is fully open and needs a shutter speed of 1/50 or 1/25 seconds.


The back of this camera is hinged – on my other Exa cameras, the back is completely removed together with the base. When you open the back, the ends of the base come away with it, leaving the middle portion in place.  The reason for this is to allow easy insertion and removal of the film cassettes. As you can see from the photograph, the back of my camera is rather tatty. Leatherette frequently comes loose – it was stuck on with shellac – and is easy to refit. Unfortunately, the previous owner of my camera used a plastic type glue and the solvent has reacted with the leatherette and shrunk it.

In common with a lot of German cameras, it is possible to remove the take-up spool and replace it with an empty cassette. This removes the need to rewind the film and speeds up changing the film – it is necessary only to cut the film and remove both cassettes. In order to  make use of this fast film change, you need your new film to be already attached to an empty cassette. Quite doable but it would require more organisation than I am  really capable of. The down side of this system is that the detachable take-up spool gets lost resulting in  second hand cameras being hard to use. The inner from a standard cassette will fit fine but unless you do your own developing, can be hard to find.


The base of the camera is plain apart from a tripod socket. This is a 1/4 inch Whitworth threaded socket.

Being a German camera, there are no light seals to deteriorate, the Germans preferring to achieve light-tightness by good engineering.

The shutter is worth describing – this is also unique to Exa cameras. This shutter is neither an in-lens leaf shutter nor a focal plane shutter. It is a guillotine shutter using the mirror as the first part of the mechanism. When the shutter release button is pressed, the mirror moves up through an arc, exposing the film. A curved blanking plate then swings up and finishes the exposure. Once the exposure is complete, the mirror stays raised until the film is wound on. This is the reason for the rather slow top speed of 1/150 seconds as it is not really possible to get the heavy mirror moving fast enough to get a faster exposure. Plus points are that it is cheap to make, keeping the cost of a new camera down, and has no need of lubricants and so can be used in very cold conditions.


I have run two test films through this camera and – disaster! The camera appears to be working fine when taking photos but on rewinding the film, it is tearing the sprocket holes on the upper edge of the film. This is ending with the film tearing and I have not been able to process the torn film. This camera is not a user!

My Final WordThe Ihagee Exa 6 (or 1.6) camera is a unique camera. Controls are simple and the idiosyncratic. Once you are used to it, it is a delightful camera to use although the slow top shutter speed can be restricting. I like Exa cameras! My particular camera is eating the film and so is unusable.
ImagesHandlingFeaturesView -finderFeel & BeautyHistoryAge
Bonus +1 for the overall imaginative design.
Final Score22

Exa IIa

Exa IIa
lens: Meyer Domiplan
focal length:  50mm
apertures: 2.8 to 22 in 1/2 stops
focus range: 0.75m to infinity
lens fitting: Exakta bayonet
shutter: vertical cloth focal plane
speeds: 2, 4, 8, 30, 60, 125, 250
flash: bulb or electronic
film size: 35 mm
Externally, this is very like the Exa Ia and exactly like the Exa 500; it has the usual Exakta trapezoidal shape.  The layout on the front fascia is the same – shutter release on the left at the top, PC connector on the right at the top.  The lens fitting is the standard Exakta double bayonet (an internal bayonet for short focal length lenses and a larger external bayonet for longer focal length lenses).
A PDF manual is available on my Google Drive
There are differences, however.  The IIa has a fixed pentaprism and eye-level viewfinder with a Fresnal focussing screen with a split-image centre.  The shutter is now a vertically running cloth focal plane shutter rather than the strange mirror shutter of the Ia.  Along with the more standard shutter comes a larger range of shutter speeds  – eight speeds with the fastest  now being 1/250 seconds.
The removable back/base is exactly the same as is the shutter lock on the left of the viewfinder.   Another change is that the rewind knob is now a fold-out crank.
Exa IIa
With a vertical focal plane shutter, it should have been possible to increase the flash synchronisation  speeds but they are rather slow – 1/15 for bulbs or 1/30 for electronic flash.  The fact that bulb flash needs a slowest synch speed suggests that the only synch available is as the first shutter curtain ends its travel, bulb synch relying on the shutter being still fully open when the flash bulb reaches full intensity.
The Exa IIa came with a Meyer Domiplan lens rather than the Carl Zeiss Tessar that was standard with the Exa Ia.  I have yet to see the results from this lens but it has the reputation of delivering good results when stopped down.
This lens, like the Tessar, automatically stops down the aperture when the shutter release is pressed.  Exa lenses manage this by means of a lug on the lens barrel that covers the shutter release on the camera body.  The shutter is activated by pressing this lug which in turn presses the shutter release.
On the Domiplan lens, this lug is hinged and so presses the shutter release through an arc.  Because the release is not pressed straight in it can cause internal damage to the release mechanism.  This is made worse if the lug does not exactly line up with the shutter release so that it presses on one side of the release button.
Exa IIa
There is a further fault with the Domiplan.  As mentioned above, the release lug is hinged and this hinge dries out with time.  When the lubricant has dried out, the lug will not always return to its rest position after a photograph is taken.  This means that the aperture does not re-open to f2.8, leaving the viewfinder dark.  In use, this is easily remedied by flicking the lug with the shooting finger but it is annoying, nonetheless.  I have applied clock oil to this hinge and it is showing signs of freeing itself up.

4 February 2013:

Having run a test film through this camera, it is difficult to assess the camera’s performance.  All the pictures ended up bright green.  This could not have  been down to the camera – it is an SLR and I would have seen the green through the viewfinder.
There are three possible causes for this green – defective development, defective film or defective scanning.  The staff in the lab assure me that mine is the only film to have come out green and so they do not think it was their development.
Defective scanning is a possibility but I would think it to be an automated process and if they have not changed any settings then the scanning process should not produce any colour cast.
The third possibility is a defective film.  The film I used was Agfaphoto Vista + 200 ISO, made under contract in Japan by Fuji-film.  Reputable makes of film should be reliable but in any factory process it is possible for the occasional item to escape the quality assurance system.
I am thinking that the reason for the green cast in my test film is the middle one – a defective scan – looking at the negatives, there is evidence of all three colours on the perforated rebate of the film (these are the frame numbers in magenta (the negative of green) and test lines in red and green (the negatives of cyan and yellow)) so it looks like at least part of the film has the requisite colour layers in the emulsion and the development has developed these correctly.  When I have time, I will scan the film myself to check the scan quality.
In addition to the green colour there are other problems which are definitely down to the camera.  At the bottom of each picture is a very over-exposed strip – this equates to the top of the film in the camera.  As the shutter travels vertically from bottom to top, this is most likely caused by the second shutter curtain hesitating slightly at the end of its travel.  This might cure itself with use which is quite common with ‘stiff’ mechanisms in old cameras.  I also need to be aware that I used this camera in sub-zero temperatures.  The lubricant in the shutter will be thicker at these temperatures and the shutter might well work better in warmer weather.
In general, looking at the negatives, the film has been exposed appropriately with good, but not excessive image density.
Some of the negatives are blank but this is down to operator error.  The shutter release is in the ‘wrong’ place.  Years of practise have taught me to be careful with the placing of my right hand when holding the camera.  With Exa cameras I need to be careful with the placing of my left hand instead.  I also need to learn to use the shutter lock when not actually shooting.
This is my second Exa camera and my third roll of film on Exas.  That is enough to know that I like using Exa cameras with their various idiosyncrasies.  See further down for well exposed pictures from my second roll of film.
Exa IIa
Witham by market Square
Exa IIa
Lindum Terrace, Lincoln
Exa IIa
Steep Hill, Lincoln
 I now have a test film with correct colours.  Nothing to complain about there.
Exa IIa
Exa IIaExa IIa
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