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     Exakta 500:   Last and Best Exa -- The Exa F5

 

 

OK readers, I have a shocking confession to make:  I like Exaktas. Yeah, weird, I know.  Sad but true.  I like them for two reasons:  1) Their historical significance as the first successful 35 SLR system   2) They are incredibly strange.    I am not going to get into their history here...that is for another profile...this is about the last and best of their economy line: The 1966 Exakta 500 (aka Exa 500)  -- and there is another Exakta 500 anyway.  Well, I didn't say it would be easy.  With its standard Exakta mount, the little Exakta 500 is part of what was for decades the largest 35 SLR system in photography. Hundreds of lenses and accessories fit it, though  today many are not so easy to find.   

This little beast's claims to fame are its delightful   small chunky size which fits incredibly comfortably into your hands (into my hands at least),  incredibly high (for an Exa) top shutter speed of 1/500 (wow) and wonder of wonders, an instant return mirror.    There were at least fifteen different Exas filling out Exakta's low priced line from 1952 to 1966.   Only this guy has a top speed of 1/.500th.   Another very worthwhile feature is the bright (by Exakta standards) focusing screen with central micro-prism focusing surrounded by ground glass.    No doubt about it, we're talking about the F5 of Exadom  here folks.  

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But there are other surprises as well. Aesthetically it gets my vote as the best well laid out Exakta everIts clean lines are a designer's delight.  The shutter speed dial rotates around the large and easy to grip rewind lever.  Surprisingly, it rotates without click stops.  Shutter speeds 1/2 to 1/500th plus B.   On the back side is a shutter lock.  If you see the red dot, it's locked. .   Rotated to cover the red dot,  you fire away.  Another nice feature is the shutter advance indicator  in the viewfinder.  No red flag on the left upper side of the finder means fire away.  Red flag visible means you have to advance the film.   OK, maybe it's not quite as useful as a meter or TTL flash, but it is a very nice touch on a little economy SLR.    The entire back removes for very easy film loading.  Rotate the collar around the tripod mount to lock or unlock the back.

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Ah yes, the wonderful trapezoidal shape of the Exakta 500. They don't make cameras like this anymore!   The funny thing is, I really like this shape.  It fits in my hands much better than many of today's  modern wonders.  Notice the clean control layout.   Pictured is the original 50/2.8 Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens, though of course faster lenses can be mounted.

The film counter  is manually set and sits atop the advance lever.  Set it for number of exposures of your cartridge,  it counts down to show the number of frames you have left -- pretty nifty.  The advance lever is extremely un-Exakta like with a very convenient right handed  short non-ratcheted stroke of about 120 degrees.

Notice that funny looking thing on the left side of the lens that looks kind of like a button.  That's the combination shutter release and depth of field preview.  Push it down part way to stop down the lens and pre-view depth of field. Keep going, and you release the shutter.  

The negatives?   In the US at least, this is not an easy to find camera.  While it can focus longer lenses like the 360/5.5 Schneider Tele-Xenar, its short mirror means the upper 20% of your viewfinder is black.   Who needs lenses longer than 200mm anyway??  

While I do very much like this fine post war example of Communist East German industrialization,   I have to admit  that of the six   Exakta 500's I have ever seen, this is the only one I have found  in working condition.   For some reason the advance mechanism has a tendency to jam.   Yep, dependable it may not be, but interesting it certainly is.  By the way, when it is working, the Exakta aka Exa 500  gets my vote for the best and easiest handling German made Exakta.


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Revised: November 25, 2003 Copyright  1998-2002  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.