I had an Exakta Varex IIb camera for twelve years. Bought in Hong Kong with a 50 mm f/2 Pancolar lens, it served me well enough but I had no qualms when the time came for a change to the Olympus OM series.
|Exakta Varex IIb with Tessar 50mm f/2.8 lens|
|Showing the external coupling from lens to body release|
Exakta Manual, Werner Wurst, Fountain Press, 1966
On fully automatic lenses, the diaphragm can be locked at the set aperture by pressing the release and turning the knurled ring under the release button. This procedure is needed for T and B exposures.
The lever wind is also in the left side of the body. This needs a complete all-in-one turn of 270°. I achieve the wind first by using the thumb to advance it half way and then the forefinger to reach the full distance.
|Lever wind - left, at rest; right, near the end of its travel.|
The shutter speed dial is also shown.
Changing shutter speeds is awkward. To avoid damage, the speed-setting dial is turned in one direction only. Therefore, when wanting to change from 1/250 to 1/500 (adjacent settings on the dial), the dial has to be turned nearly 360° while lifting it against a spring. A tiny red dot indicates the speed in use.
Using the slow speeds (longer than 1/30) often has newcomers fooled. The slow speeds start at ⅛ second on the Varex IIb and at ⅕ on the IIa. Therefore, the natural progression of speeds between 1/30 and ⅛, i.e. 1/15 is missing. To set a slow speed, the normal shutter speed dial is set to T or B. Then the slow speed dial is wound up by turning it clockwise until it stops. The speed on the large dial is set (up to 12 seconds) using the black numbers. Finally, the release is pressed.
|The slow speed/delayed action dial with film reminder|
disc in centre
Rewinding the film can be a nail-breaking experience in the Varex IIb. When the rewind crank is unfolded, the rewind knob turns without engaging the rewinding. When it is extended, the rewind axle turns. However, as the crank is turned (while holding the film release button on the top of the camera) I find it slips out of gear leading to the film being rewound in fits and starts and the finger nails catching on the knurled and tiny crank handle. I supposed Ihagee changed that in the Varex IIb in order, theoretically, to speed up the rewinding process and therefore the changing over of films. In the IIa, the rewind knob is engaged by pressing the centre section such that prongs make contact with the cassette spool.
|Varex IIb. Rewind crank in use (left) and closed (right)|
|Varex IIa. Rewind engaged (left). Disengaged (right)|
A real idiosyncrasy of the Varex is the film cutting knife. This knife allows a short length of film to be cut and processed separately. Coupled with its presence is the ability to have a cassette instead of the standard open spool at the receiving end of the film gate. Using that system, short lengths of films can be exposed, cut, wound into the receiving cassette and removed from the camera in daylight. That was a brilliant system for checking exposure and composition with technically difficult subjects. However, I have yet to find an Exakta owner who has not bled as a result of catching a finger on the blade.
|Film cutting knife in closed position - waiting to nick an unwary finger|
|Knife being pulled across the film plane|
|The back of the camera can be removed by pulling|
out the pin
|Varex IIa. Release catch for the viewing system - not present on the IIb|
Initially, I thought the bayonet lens mounting system fine. However, when I used the extension tubes and a heavy lens on the front I noticed a pronounced droop. When I asked my colleagues if they too could see the droop, one thought it resembled Concorde’s nose (then of major interest in British newspapers) while others thought I had taken it to the pub too often. Somewhere or everywhere in the bayonet connexions the tolerances were too great.
|Early 50mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar with|
conventional depth-of-field scale
|Later 50mm f/2 Pancolar with automatic depth-of-field indicators|
changing position as the aperture is changed
By the mid-1960s there is now no doubt that Ihagee, like the rest of the German camera industry, east or west, was losing its way. Japanese camera manufactuerers were overtaking them rapidly and I soon realised that I had actually made the wrong choice. For the same money (prices in Hong Kong were one-third of those in U.K. at the time), I could have bought a Pentax SV with its huge range of accessories (and internal linkage) or a Nikkormat. They were the future; Exakta was the past.