Every Thursday we’ll be delving deep into the past and unearthing some vintage cameras for the pure sake of nostalgia.
In our inaugural edition, it only makes sense to highlight the Ihagee Kine Exakta—not exactly the first SLR ever made, but at least the first mass-produced model to take 35mm film.
Ihagee Kamerawerk, Steenbergeen & Co. Dresden was founded by a Dutch businessman in the German city of Dresden in 1912. The Exakta was their most successful product and was available in its different incarnations for over four decades from 1933 to the late 70’s.
The Exakta VP and Kine Exakta / Image by Jussi / Flickr
The Kine Exakta was the second SLR made by Ihagee, with the first being the 1933 VP Exakta, which used 127 roll film. The word kine highlighted the main difference between the two cameras since it roughly means cine or cinema in German, referring to the Kine Exakta’s use of 35mm cinema film.
Aside from the film used inside, the Kine Exakta was stylistically very similar to the VP Exakta, and collectively these two cameras have been massively influential to the design of almost all modern SLRs.
Can anyone explain why it was written as Jhagee? / Image by Jussi / Flickr
Rather interestingly, early versions of the Kine Exakta used two film cannisters—one carrying the unexposed film and the other storing the exposed negatives.
This curiously medieval contraption utilised a sliding knife that was built into the bottom of the camera so that photographers could physically cut their roll of film in half, enabling them to safely remove their exposed film without ruining the rest of the roll.
Image by Eddy WU / Flickr
Five variants of the Kine Exakta are known to have been produced, and they all originally featured a fixed waist-level viewfinder. It was only later in the Exakta Varex (1950) that Ihagee installed interchangeable waist-level and eye-level viewfinders—making it the first SLR with that capability.
Before researching this feature I had never even heard of Ihagee, but they seem to have made pretty damn good cameras. The Kine Exakta actually had a pretty advanced shutter system at the time that was capable of 20 speeds from 12 seconds to 1/1000. For comparison, even the upgraded Leica IIIa (1935) could only go from 1 second to 1/1000.
Image by Eddy WU / Flickr
As Ihagee didn’t produce their own lenses, the Kine Exakta used third-party optics from famous manufacturers such as Schneider-Kreuznach’s Xenar and Carl Zeiss Jena’s Tessar and Biotar lenses that fit their Exakta bayonet mount.
Looking at images today, while the complex loading mechanisms may have had difficulty aging, the lenses still seem in decent shape.
“The Kine pulled the (not entirely unusual) Exakta trick of popping off the spool midway through the roll. Next time I’ll tape the bugger down!” / thewishy / Flickr
Test shot with a Kine Exakta + Primagon 35mm 4.5 / “flower, flower, cross” by Laszlo Gerencser / Flickr
At the time, one can easily imagine that photography wasn’t as commonplace as it is now, and was mainly left to wealthy enthusiasts or professionals.
Using an online calculator which hopefully is correct, the adjusted price of the camera and kit lens according to the advertisement below would be roughly $1,729 USD for the Tessar combo, and $3,112 USD for the Biotar set.
So in fact, camera prices don’t seem to have risen that much!
September, 1935 The New Photo Miniature: A Magazine of Photographic Information.
What happened to it?
Unfortunately for Ihagee, their factory was destroyed in the infamous 1945 April bombing of Dresden by the Allied forces. The subsequent division of Germany meant that both Dresden and Ihagee were left under Soviet control in East Germany.
Pentacon, the manufacturers behind the famous Praktica camera, incorporated Ihagee and continued production until 1951. From then on, variants of the Exakta cameras were sold around the world until the final model came out—the RTL 1000—which lasted from 1970-1973.
The original Kine has mostly been relegated to the history books, although collectors today have somehow managed to find working models that still yield amazingly clean images.
Shot with a Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm Tessar & Kodak Gold 200 / Image by tatraskoda / Flickr