They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

By Gary Gray

Photograph courtesy of Merlin Peck

Here is a return to the past for those of you who can remember photography with 35mm film and slides.

The Exakta

The Exakta was a 35mm SLR manufactured by Ihagee in Dresden, Germany.

Ihagee was camera manufacturer founded in 1912 by the Dutch born Johan Steenbergen.

The first camera produced by Steenbergen and Ihagee was the 1912 folding plate camera Photorex for 9x12cm plates.

Ihagee was the first company to produce a 127mm Single Lens Reflex camera that used roll film in 1933. In 1936 Ihagee became the first company to mass produce a 35mm Single Lens Reflex camera, the Kine Exakta.

By the 1950’s the Exakta 35mm SLR had become a camera of choice by many professional photographers around the world. The Exacta was produced in dozens of models from the late 1930’s through 1973. Today these cameras enjoy a strong collector following, though aren’t worth a lot of money, with some models in excellent condition being worth $300 or more.

Photograph courtesy of Merlin Peck


The model featured in this article is the Exakta Varex IIa, (VX denotes the American version from 1957 – 1963.)

The attached lens is an early version Zeiss Biotar f/2, 58mm fixed focal length lens.

The Exakta was made primarily of Aluminum alloy.

The Exakta camera was used to take many iconic and historic images. A notable photograph being by the notable Czech-French photographer Josef Koudelka who captured the famous Hand and Wristwatch photograph taken in Prague, depicting the exact time the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia began in 1968. Koudelka documented the invasion and occupation with his Exakta under an assumed name of “Anonymous Czech Photographer”, winning the 1969 Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal for photographs requiring exceptional courage.

The Exakta VX was featured in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock directed thriller Rear Window staring James Stewart and Grace Kelly.  James Stewart plays a professional magazine adventure photographer who is confined to a wheelchair while recuperating from a broken leg. He uses his Exaka VX with a Kilfitt fern-killar f/5.6 400mm telephoto lens throughout the movie to spy on his neighbors from the rear window of his apartment. In the movie, the Exakta name on his camera is covered with tape. Copyright and promotional issues existed back then it appears.

Hitchcock’s Rear Window is considered to be one of his finest movies from a long list of very fine movies, nominated for four Academy Awards in 1955, including best Cinematography – Color.

Personally, this was my favorite Hitchcock movie and one the sources of founding my own interest in Photography. Seriously, with Grace Kelly and an Exakta to fondle, Jimmy Stewart must have enjoyed making this movie. Who wouldn’t have?

This will be my first article in a series I intend to write for future publication in Image Colorado.

With several vintage cameras in my collection and access to many others, I thought this would be an interesting topic to explore.

My friend Merlin Peck who is a photographer and camera collector provided the following photographs of his Exakta VX for this article.


As you can see, this was an intricate camera. No batteries required.

They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To.