Basic Exakta Viewfinders

One of the great features of the Exakta (and later Exa) line of cameras was interchangeability of viewfinders and viewing screens. This was introduced with the Exakta Varex (distributed in the U.S. as Exakta V) in 1950 and the original Exa in 1951. Both cameras would accept the same finders.

This article presents the basic interchangeable viewfinders for the Exakta and Exa lines of cameras from Ihagee Dresden. Any late-period cameras carrying the Exakta or Exa name but not really parts of the Ihagee model sequence are not included (e.g., Exakta RTL 1000, really a Practica VLC with an Exakta lens bayonet, or the West-German Exakta Real, or various Japan-made models with just an Exakta logo).

I am also not discussing here any of the specialized finders: ones with light metering, magnifying units, and stereoscopic ones. The magnifiers are described in a separate article on macro equipment; with the others (except of the Travemat metering finder) I'm missing enough expertise to speak out.

Version notation

The most commonly used notation is that introduced by Aguila and Rouah in their 1987 book and refined in the 2003 one. On spite of this, and swimming against the current, I will be using my own notation, which better reflects the similarities and differences between various models; this starts from an "H" or "P" for hooded and prism finders, respectively. The A&R 2003 notation will also be shown wherever applicable, as just "A&R".

Hooded Finders

These, often also called waist-level finders, consist of a hood, with a viewing screen inserted at the bottom, and with a magnifying loupe at top. As always in this kind, the image was inverted in the left/right plane; with moving objects this was quite inconvenient. This is why the earlier models of waist-level finders had a sports viewfinder: a small cut-off in the rear side of the hood, and a larger one in the front side; viewing through these would give the photographer an approximate idea of the coverage for a standard (50 to 58 mm) lens.

The front view of the major versions H.1, H.2, and H.3 (left to right) of the hooded finders. Note the vertical shutter lock lever at the right of H.1; it is gone in H.2.

The same models, as seen from the rear. Various A&R versions differ mainly in the etched lettering.

The one major functional difference between H.1 and H.2 is that the older version has a vertical lever, moving down when the finder was closed, to disable the shutter release.

The Varex camera bodies had a small hole to accommodate this lever. This hole was gone in the second version or Varex VX (*4.2, or A&R v2), therefore to use an H.1 finder with a *4.2 or later body, the lever had to be taken off. This is why some of these finders on the market may come without it.

Version H.3 was a radical departure from previous ones, not only in terms of looks and of the missing sports finder. The major difference was that it would now accept the same focusing screens as prism finders did, not the earlier, thick (2 cm or so) blocks. It also was released in a pretty, striped Jubilee version for the 25-th anniversary of Kine Exakta in 1961.

A plastic hood (not shown) similar to H.3 was made in the Eighties for screw-mount Exas. It is quite ugly, and it may deserve being referred to as a separate Version H.4.

Actually, once prism finders became available, very few photographers wanted to use waist-level finders, with their low image brightness, imprecise focusing, and direction reversal. Some people would even retrofit prism finders on earlier bodies without finder interchangeability (which was not so difficult for Exakta II). Still, Ihagee was selling a large fraction of cameras with only hooded finders included, to force users into paying extra for prism ones.

For those who have to know such things, the table below lists all versions of Ihagee hooded finders, with references given to the A&R classification. Note: the hooded finders bore no serial numbers.

Ver.      Year      A&R
Distinguishing (new) features, remarks
H.1 H.1.1 1950-53 1
Shutter lock lever, non-interchangeable, thick screen. A&R recognizes two versions, differing in the logo engraved in the back [1].
H.1.2 1953 3 The thick focusing screen becomes interchangeable. Again, two differently engraved cosmetic variants exist [2].
H.2 H.2.1 1954-60 4 The shutter lock lever goes away. Marked Ihagee at the back and Ihagee Dresden Germany at the front. Two variants exist, with different screws on the front [3].
H.2.2 1954-55 - Like H.1.2.b (big screws), but made by Rheinmetall for Exa *1.2. Marked Rheinmetall at the back and Rheinmetall Sömmerda Germany in the back.
H.3 H.3.1 1960-63 5 New, flat cover top covered with leatherette. Round button in the back. Two cosmetic variants with different lettering on the base [4].
H.3.2 1961 - The limited Jubilee edition with striped top. Pretty and not common.
H.3.3 1963-72
6 Similar to H.3.1, but the round button is replaced with a vertical plastic bar (ugly and unreliable). The 1977 run was for screw-mount Exas. Two cosmetic variants exist [5].
H.4 H.4.0 1985-87 7 Like H.3.1, but the cover made of black plastic. I've never had a closer look at this version. Made for the screw-mount Exa Ib and Ic.

Notes on hooded finders:

  1. Cosmetic variants of H.1.1

    These variants, listed as separate versions in A&R 2003, differ in the engraving on the protrusion in the back:

    • H.1.1.v — with Varex engraved (A&R v1)
    • H.1.1.i — with Ihagee (A&R v2), shown in the picture.
  2. Cosmetic variants of H.1.2

    These differ in the logos on the front of the black base:

    • H.1.2.g — Germany below Ihagee Dresden
    • H.1.2.n — Ihagee Dresden only.
    A&R 2003 does not number these variants, mentioning them in the text.
  3. Screw sizes on the front of H.2.1

    The two screws on the front (clearly visible in the top picture above) can be of two sizes:

    • H.2.1.s — small (4 mm diameter)
    • H.2.1.b — big (5 mm)
    I would suspect that H.2.1.b is a later variant, as 5-mm screws were used in the Rheinmetall version H.2.2, although it might be possible that some early prisms made by Rheinmetall were still marked as Ihagee.
  4. Cosmetic variants of H.3.1

    Again, the black base may have Ihagee Dresden with or without Germany (mentioned but not numbered by A&R 2003):

    • H.3.1.g — with Germany
    • H.3.1.n — without.
  5. Cosmetic variants of H.3.3

    The black base may, or may not have Ihagee Dresden on the back:

    • H.3.3.i — with the logo
    • H.3.3.n — without

Prism Finders

These were originally introduced for the Exakta Varex of 1950. Four major versions exist, as shown in the accompanying pictures. All would allow the user to change focusing screens, and a number of those were offered.

The front view of the major versions P.1, P.2, P.3, and P.4 (left to right) of the prism finders.

The same models, as seen from the rear. Various A&R versions differ mainly in the etched lettering.

Again, there was also a plastic-top version similar to P.4 and made in the Eighties for screw-mount Exas; we will refer to it as P.5.

These major versions can be further subdivided along mostly cosmetic differences, as shown in the following table.

Ver.      Year      A&R
Distinguishing (new) features, remarks
P.1 P.1.1 1950-54 1
The chrome-finished cover has two holding screws at the front. Various lettering schemes lead to the A&R version subdivision [1].
P.1.2 1954-56 2.2
No screws at the cover front. Again, at least two cosmetic versions exist [2].
P.1.3 1954-55 - Like P.1.2, but marked Rheinmetall on the cover; made by Rheinmetall for the Exa *1.2. Frankly speaking, I've seen this prism only in promotional materials, and I'm not sure if it ever went out of the prototype stage.
P.2 P.2.1 1956-58 3.1
The chromed cover gained two quadrilateral leatherette inserts (stubbornly referred to as "triangular" in some sources, including A&R). Cosmetic differences in three aspects: engraving on cover, lettering on the base, and shape of top edges [3].
P.2.2 1958-60 4 Like P.2.1, but Ihagee on the rear is in relief, not engraved. Cosmetically matches Exakta Varex IIa *5.1.3.
P.3 P.3.1 1960-6x 5.1
New cover shape: three quadrilateral leatherette inserts. The straight top cover edge matches the new name plate of the 1960 Varex IIa *5.2, but its bottom is still curved like in P.2. Minor variants differ in the sharpness of top edges [4].
P.3.2 1961 - The limited Jubilee edition: like P.3.1, but with striped top. Quite pretty and uncommon.
P.3.3 196x-67 5.3 Like P.3.1, but the bottom of the cover is straight. (This is the version shown in the picture above.)
P.4 P.4.0 1967-72 6 While generally similar to P.3, the top is covered with one piece of leatherette. This is the last prism supplied with the Ihagee Exakta cameras.
P.5 P.5.0 1985-87 7 Like P.4, but the cover is made of black plastic to match the cheap finish of the screw-mount Exa Ib. No signs or serial numbers.

Notes on prism finders:

  1. Cosmetic variants of P.1.1

    • P.1.1.v — Varex on the back; A&R v1 (1950-51).
    • P.1.2.i — Ihagee at the same location, A&R v2.1 (1951-53).

      Of this variant, two sub-variants exist: without and with the serial number; we will refer to them as P.1.2.iu and; the latter also have VX, and Germany at the base front.

    • P.1.1.o — No serial number or other markings at all, A&R No-Name v2.1.
  2. Cosmetic variants of P.1.2

    • P.1.2.i — the cover has Ihagee on front, Ihagee and Ihagee Dresden on the rear; there is also s/n, VX and Germany on the base; this is A&R v2.2
    • P.1.2.g — Only Germany on cover front, A&R No-Name v2.2.
  3. Cosmetic variants of P.2.1

    Prisms of this version may differ in three cosmetic aspects.

    • Cover front logo (the back always has Ihagee on it):
      • P.2.1.i — Ihagee Dresden
      • P.2.1.o — no logo at front
      • P.2.1.g — Germany
      The 'g' variant, according to A&R 2003, has always a serial number prefixed with an 'F' on a chromed apron over the base, and rounded edges (see below).
    • The first and second of the above may or may not have VX between the serial number and Germany, therefore
      • P.2.1.iv or P.2.1.ov — with,
      • or P.2.1.on — without VX.
    • Last but not least, all (or almost all, maybe except P.2.1.g) combinations of the above may come with sharp or rounded edges at the top. We will denote this variation with another suffix:
      • 's' — sharp edges, e.g. P.2.1.ovs,
      • 'r' &mdash, rounded edges, e.g., P.2.1.inr
    The linear (as opposed to orthogonal) classification scheme of A&R runs into slight problems here. A&R v3.1 corresponds to our (regardless of the 'v' versus 'n' aspect) while A&R v3.2 — to our P.2.1.or (with A&R v3.3 nicely mapping into P.2.1.g). Still, in my small collection of just four P.2 prisms I found a P.2.1.ivr (i.e., Ihagee with sharp edges).
  4. Top edges variants in P.3

    These differ just a little; the differences are best seen when two variants are put side by side.

    • P.3.1.s — sharp edges. These, according to A&R, have serial numbers prefixed with an 'F' at the base.
    • P.3.1.r — rounded edges.

Finder accessories

The interchangeable focusing screens deserve a separate article. The A&R 2003 book provides a comprehensive listing.

One nice accessory to have is the prism finder eyecup. Three versions of these were made by Ihagee (1950, 1956, and 1961), of which the second one is shown here (marked Ihagee Germany on the front surface, facing the camera and not visible in the picture).

The eyecup is too deep to allow for unrestricted viewing while wearing glasses. On the other hand, it has a provision (threaded ring) to install a corrective lens. I had one of these cut of my old glasses.

There was also an accessory shoe, slipping over the finder eyepiece. It could be used to hold a small flash unit or a "universal" optical finder (like those made for Leica).

Finder/Body Compatibility

Exakta Bodies. True to the system camera concept, all finders could be used on all Exakta bodies (starting from the Varex, which introduced finder interchangeability). The only (minor) problem was, as mentioned above, that you had to remove the shutter-locking lever from the hooded finders of the H.1 type (A&R v1, 2, and 3) to use it on Varex VX *4.2 or a later model. This was a five-minute operation, although a collector wouldn't want to do it now.

Exa Bodies. The original Exa line (*1) retains full compatibility with all finders, and all models up to *1.5 accommodate the shutter lock lever of H.1. This is in spite of the fact that starting from Exa *1.2 (A&R v2) the finders sold with cameras no longer had the locking arm.

Exa I Bodies. The body construction of Exa I (*2) has changed drastically, and it has a deep (~8 mm) recess around the finder well. Therefore these cameras will accept finders only starting from Version H.3 and P.3 (the earlier ones could be modified to fit by cutting off a protruding lip around the finder top).

Exa II Bodies. These bodies had a built-in prism finder, therefore did not accept any interchangeable ones.

Other Exakta finders

Just a short list, compiled from available sources (except for the Travemat, I don't have any of these items in my collection):

  • Ihagee had a metering prism finder (1958), a tall contraption with an uncoupled selenium (non-TTL) meter, including also an optical viewfinder suitable for a standard lens.
  • Sperling of West Berlin made a replacement prism finder (1953), of a different shape than those made by Ihagee, and clearly marked with maker's name.
  • Schacht of West Germany made a Travemat metering prism (1966-1970), uncoupled, with a CdS (cadmium sulfide) element measuring the light off the focusing screen.
  • A similar CdS metering prism, Examat, was introduced in 1968 by Harwix of West Berlin (but designed by Ihagee Dresden).

Note that both CdS metering prisms come from the West. The Workers Paradise already started lagging technologically behind.

There were also two stereoscopic finders, distributed as a part of stereo attachments, and two magnifying units by Ihagee, designed primarily for macrophotography.

Back to my main Exakta page

Photographs taken with an Olympus Camedia C-5050Z camera.

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Posted 2004/01/25; last updated 2004/12/04 Copyright © 2004 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak