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 Ihagee Kiné Exakta - 1936                    New! WidePhotoViewer for iPhone/iPod/iPad       

First 35mm SLR
$150 with f3.5 Tessar lens in 1936 ($2353 in 2010 dollars)

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The Dresden camera company Industrie- und Handelsgesellschaft was founded in 1912. It's better known by its initials IHG, pronounced eehahgay, or Ihagee, which how the brand appears on its Exakta cameras, as you can see in the photo above.

Ihagee introduced its first SLR in 1920 (a box camera called the Paff). In 1933 they introduced a much smaller version that took 127 roll film which we call the Vest Pocket Exakta, or VP Exakta. (Pockets were big in those days, I guess—my 1905 Ansco folding camera was called a Pocket Ansco.)

Leica introduced a still camera that took movie film (ciné film) in 1925, so it was a natural step for Ihagee to make a slightly smaller version of the VP Exakta that took ciné film, and they brought out the Kiné Exakta in 1936. (I'm trying to track down the exact origin of "Kiné", and my current theory is that it's ciné spelled with a K, just as Exakta is "exact" spelled with a K. Possibly a French word that made its way into German usage, at least for English-speaking countries. Email me if you know anything about this.)

My Kiné Exakta, shown above and in the other photos on this page, I bought on eBay in August 2009 for only $87. It's the 2nd version; the first, shown just below in the May 1940 Popular Photography Directory, had a round magnifier instead of square. Note also the two 127 roll-film cameras, the Exakta B and the Exakta Junior.

Nearly at the end of World War II in Europe the Ihagee factory was destroyed in the bombing of Dresden. Like the other Dresden camera company, Zeiss Ikon, they rebuilt and resumed producing the Kiné Exakta after the War. I know mine is pre-War from its serial number, 486171, which places it probably in 1936 or 1937. (There are two sites for tracking down when an Exakta or Exa was made and what version it is: and Exaktaphile.)

Here's an ad for a Kiné Exakta that appeared in the October 1948 issue of Popular Photography:

Exaktas weren't cheap: $280 in 1948 is about $2500 in today's money.

Ihagee kept right on making 35mm Exaktas until about 1970. After then the name appeared on other cameras, but those weren't made by Ihagee.

In all those years Exaktas hardly changed. They introduced their first instant-return mirror in 1966. Exakta's advertising spun this as "perfected, no need to change", but it was also the stubbornness of the post-War German camera companies, seen also, for example, in Zeiss Ikon's fixation on leaf-shutters.

Probably in Exakta's case the criticism is unfair. SLR's didn't really start to catch on until the late 1950s, and all during that time Exakta's technology was up-to-date. Their cameras only started to seem old-fashioned in the 1960s, after the Nikon F came out and the Japanese manufacturers all seemed to offer instant-return mirrors, instant-reopening diaphragms, and through-the-lens (TTL) metering. But East Germany in the 1960s, in the height of the cold war, was no place to innovate, especially in a state-controlled company. (Zeiss Ikon West didn't have that excuse.) By the end of the 1960s all of the German companies were fading, East and West, done in by Japanese innovation in features, quality, and prices.

Some more photos:

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Here's my 1936/1937 Kiné Exakta next to my Varex VX:

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There's lots of information about Exakta on the web, but here are the three of the best links:

I've never actually used my two Exaktas or my Exa, so I can't say how they operate in practice. My best guess is that they were OK for their time, but it's easy to see why a rangefinder would be much better than a waist-level finder, although maybe not with lenses greater than 135mm or so. The pentaprism, like the one on my 1952 Varex VX, made a huge improvement, although mirror blackout was still annoying—no way to know if you got the shot.

When I bought my first SLR, a Konica FP, in 1963 or 1964, I remember knowing about Exaktas because they were heavily advertised in the issues of Popular Photography that I read over and over as a teenager. But I thought of them as antiquated back then. Now, from the distance of 50 years, I think that was about right.



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