35 mm Exakta and Exa Cameras

The Star Notation

Model and Version Taxonomy

This is a brief introduction to (and some remarks about) the star notation — a model/version classification scheme which I'm using for Exakta (35 mm only) and Exa cameras by Ihagee, and which I'm recommending for others to use without any strings attached.

Other Exakta and Exa classification systems

I am aware of three of those: two by the French researchers and collectors, Clement Aguila and Michel Rouah, and the third one by industry historian and Ihagee insider, Richard Hummel.

Let me briefly comment on all three.

A&R 1987

The first widely used scheme for classification of Exakta and Exa cameras was introduced by Aguila and Rouah in their 1987 work: Exakta Cameras, 1944-1978. This scheme soon became universally accepted and it was generally used for the next 15 years at least.

The scheme used was a simple tree, branching at two levels. The first level is denoted just by the model name, the second — by a single numeral, for example, "Exakta Varex IIa Version 5".

This is simple and logical, but it has some disadvantages.

  • Using full model names at the first level is a bit verbose, and an extra degree of confusion is added by the fact that Ihagee was often referring to the same model in a number (up to four!) of different ways, also stamping those various names on camera bodies.

    Thus, for example, a camera classified as Exakta Varex VX can be marked as just Exakta VX (as sold in the U.S.), and Exakta VX 1000 — as Exakta TL VX 1000, or just VX 1000, or even Elbaflex VX 1000.

  • The second level is completely flat, just one level of branching. This means that the version number is incremented at the same level for any change, major or minor, A better design would reflect minor changes at a higher branching level.

    For example, if a model undergoes two changes, major and minor, this scheme will result in Versions 1, 2, and 3 of that model. A better classification would be 1, 2.1, and 2.2, reflecting the fact that the second change was of lesser importance.

  • The classification is also inconsistent in how it treats purely cosmetic changes, like those in name plates or body engravings. Some result in new version numbers; others are ignored.

    For example, Kine Exakta Versions 2 and 3 differ just in name engraving (Exakta vs. Exacta), while Version 4 includes both spellings (and so does Version 5).

A&R 2003

Fifteen years later, in 2003, a new A&R Exakta book appeared. This was a huge development, as nobody knows as much about Exakta cameras as Messrs. Aguila and Rouah do.

The book introduces the "new" A&R Exakta taxonomy, a significant improvement over A&R 1987. In addition to identifying some previously unrecognized versions or variants, it adds one branching level, which makes the scheme somewhat more expressive. The other problems of the previous classification, however, remain unaddressed.

Hummel 1995

In his 1995 book, Richard Hummel provides a comprehensive list of 35 mm Exakta and Exa models.

Mind it: this is just a flat list, not a taxonomy scheme; it enumerates various versions without showing (or even hinting at) any relationships. It is not intended to be directly used as a collector's resource, but rather as a source material to build such classification. As such, and coming from the horse's mouth (a long-time employee, Hummel was a Chief Constructor at Ihagee between 1955 and 1964), this information is invaluable in building any Exakta/Exa classification system, but it rather should not be used in lieu of one.

The Star Notation: emergence and evolution

In 2001, I added the Exakta section to wrotniak.net, including, among others, articles identifying various models and versions of Exakta and Exa cameras. Like everybody at that time, I was using the Aguila and Rouah classification, A&R 1987.

Being not quite happy with that scheme, over the next year I developed one of my own, shared privately with a handful of fellow collectors. In January of 2003 I added that new classification to the article, under the moniker of star notation: for brevity, references to it were preceded with an asterisk.

Just a few months later, in their second Exakta monograph, Aguila and Rouah introduced the new, improved A&R 2003. It was, however, not improved enough for my needs and taste, so I decided to stick to the star notation, updated to reflect changes and additions in the new A&R as well as those reported by Hummel.

The updated version was released in January, 2004, and it remained stable since, except for some refinement of the cosmetic variants information.

The rationale

The star notation addresses all three issues identified above for A&R 1987.

First of all, it is arranged into a rooted tree structure with no predefined limit on the number of branching levels. This makes it easily extensible.

Secondly, branching strictly observes the "is-a" relationship. An item (here: a camera) classified as *1.2.3 also is a *1.2; at the same time it also is a *1 (compare: bulldog is a dog is a mammal).

For this to work well, any branch that splits, must split completely: any item categorized in it must be also categorized in one (and only one) of its children branches.

I am sure there is a special term for this feature in graph theory, but my familiarity with that discipline is very limited

Anyway, while this requirement may lead to creation of some catch-all ("none of the above") branches, there is nothing wrong with that.

Last but not least, the basic version ignores cosmetic changes limited to model names or other body etchings/paintings, as long as the nameplate itself (shape, material) remains unchanged. (A cosmetic variant differs in leatherette used.)

The cosmetic variant information, however, can be included into the notation if needed. One or more lowercase letters following the version number are used for that.

Thus, an Exakta identified as *1.2.1 can be described more accurately as *1.2.1.k or 1.2.1.c, depending on nameplate spelling: Exakta or Exacta. A&R 1987 will classify it as Kine Exakta Version 2 or Version 3, respectively.

Only one "cosmetic" branching level can be added, but it may be based on multiple attributes, each of them denoted by its own letter.

For example, for Exa *1.1.2 three such attributes have been identified; each with just two possible values. This results in eight possible combinations, but (according to A&R 2003) only four were actually manufactured, like *1.1.2.bsv (black lens flange, striped leatherette, V/E flash socket engravings).

Note no separators within the "cosmetic" part: no extra branching there.

Credits

All camera models, versions, and cosmetic variants were identified and described by Hummel, Aguila, and Rouah. They did 90% of the work, and without that effort there would be no Exakta/Exa classification or notation, star or other.

My own input was limited to design and implementation of the classification tree (or rather two trees) and populating it: mapping the Hummel and/or A&R versions into its branches.

I am not claiming any intellectual property rights to the star notation, or to the taxonomy scheme it represents. Feel free to use, re-use, post or modify the whole or any part (providing a reference to the original is just a matter of good manners). If you publish a modified version, make sure it is clearly marked as such.

Adoption

Since its introduction, the star notation has been adopted by a number of collectors, writers, and dealers.

Notably, it is used by the most comprehensive reference on classic (and not only) cameras, the Camerapedia wiki, in its Exakta and Exa pages.

It became the classification scheme for the monograph: Exakta — A Short History of Perfection (so far in Polish only, keep your fingers crossed).

It also is the most popular Exakta/Exa identification system used in eBay auctions.

Appendix A: Time capsule snapshots

Here are links to older versions of my list of Exakta models/versions, as stored by the Web Archive (a.k.a. Wayback Machine). They are included just in case; some sources may refer to them. Usually the current version is all you need.


Back to my main Exakta page

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Posted 2018/01/02 Copyright © 2018 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak