The Exa Ia: East Germany’s Consumer Camera from the 60’s
The Exa Ia is a 35mm, mechanical SLR analog camera with both an eye-level prism viewfinder and alternatively a waist-level collapsible light shaft. It supports lenses made for the Exakta bayonet fitting, and comes standard with the Meyer-Optik Domiplan 50mm F2.8, however I bought mine with a 2.8, 50mm Carl Zeiss Jena lens.
I wanted to get started in analog photography, and a friend recommended the no-frills Exa Ia from Ihagee Dresden. Some analog cameras are rarities and as a result, can be quite expensive. However given that the Exa Ia was a non-professional consumer camera in the DDR, they are quite easy to find in Berlin. Indeed, I found a number of classified ads, the first one was a bust: the lens was broken so I paid 5 € for a functional camera body, viewfinder and case. However on my second attempt, I found a collector who was selling and managed to snag one in mint condition for 25 €.
A Great Beginner Camera for Analog Photography
If you’re just getting started with film, this camera is great if you can get your hands on one. It doesn’t have a great deal of features, which means you spend less time fiddling and more time shooting. If you’re using a prime lens, your options are limited to adjusting the focus ring, aperture and exposure – that’s it. Compared to a digital camera, where you can adjust a whole range of settings from ISO to; white balance; to metering mode; and beyond, the simplicity is quite liberating.
The Forgiving Camera
Given you receive no assistance in determining the exposure, I was expecting my first developed strip of 35mm film to a collection of black and white frames, however the camera and the Kodak Gold 200 film I used we together very forgiving. Whites were very rarely blown out, I tended to err in the direction of shutter speeds that were too slow and resulted in some blur from camera shake. In sum, it’s quite an experience to hold and use a camera that is mostly made of metal, and also very rewarding to produce interesting images on a nominally ‘basic’ camera.
If you’re interested you can see a small gallery of glorious analog photography made with the Exa Ia camera and Kodak Gold film, such as this gem below.