The former "DDR" or "GDR" (German Democratic Republic, that means East Germany from 1949 to 1990) had a very important camera industry and produced some really great cameras; One of those is the Ihagee Exa 1a, a beautiful bulky SLR with top viewfinder. Let me introduce this little gem! :)
The Exa 1a was constructed by the Ihagee Kamera Werk from Dresden in 1964. This company was founded 1912 and produced essentially the Exakta and Exa camera series. The Exa was conceived in the mid-50’s as a simple camera evolution of the Exakta to have a larger public access. And it’s true that the Exa is a very simple camera, no particular technical specification and very easy to use for everybody. A soft shaped round body (typical of the Exa/Exacta cameras), and a nice design made this camera very seductive for my eyes when I discovered it.
It’s a typical SLR camera with a vertical mirror viewfinder (a “TLR like”) coupled to the shutter. If you don’t advance the film, you’ll see nothing in the mirror (because, opposite to TLR cameras, there’s only one lense….) The image of the viewfinder is very clear and great enough to have a idea about what you’re shooting. In case of more precision for the focusing, you can unlock a little magnifying glass attached to the
viewfinder. There are really some interesting ressemblances with a TLR camera, and you can almost have the same kind of feeling when shooting with the Exa.
The lens is a Meyer-Görlitz Domiplan 2,8/50, but you can also find it with a Meyer-Görlitz Primagon 4,5/35 and other lenses with Exakta bayonet. The position of the shutter is unusual, because it’s on the upper left side of the lens, and the Domiplan lens has a shutter button corresponding to the camera shutter, coupled to the diaphragm: that means that if you push half this shutter, you can “previsualize” the image with the selected aperture… depending of course of the film sensibility you use…
Even if the speeds of the camera are limited (B, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/175) I really find this cam very comfortable to use. I really like the viewfinder looking from above, it’s another kind of shooting and people don’t notice if you’re taking pictures of them…. and if they notice and as you have an almost clear picture of what you shoot in the viewfinder, some people even think that it is a kind of digital screen!!!
Well, a solid and simple camera with great optic qualities (like almost all DDR cameras…) and a real pleasure to walk around with.
A little tip (shared with other cameras with vertical mirror viewfinder): take the “rats view”, that means shoot from the ground, as low as possible to have a very different point of view. It’s very easy because your looking at the viewfinder from above and it gives a
special taste to your pics! And it works well too when you’re shooting up, at the sky, the buildings or the intersections from small streets (the “cross effect” like I call it…)…