You don’t have to break a leg to get a kick out of using the Exakta VX IIa, but if you’re not careful if you drop it on your leg, it just may break the bone. I was a little wary of this camera at first. All the controls are on the left side. Thankfully it didn’t take much to get used to the odd layout, and luckily it didn’t take me 39 steps to get used to the machine. And I found it fairly intuitive after a while; there was no throwing this camera out the rear window, I’d by a psycho for doing such a thing.

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

The Dirt

  • Make: Exakta
  • Model: VX IIa
  • Type: Single Lens Reflex
  • Format: 135 (35mm), 36×24
  • Len: Interchangeable, Exakta Bayonet
  • Year of Manufacture: 1956-1963

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

The Good
There are a few things that the genuinely awkward Exakta has going for it. The first item is the optics, beautiful sharp Carl Zeiss lenses, like the iconic Biotar makes this a camera worthwhile for the simple reason of image quality. Along the same line as the lens is the aperture opening lever. On the bottom of the lens barrel, there’s a pull lever that will open up the aperture as the camera doesn’t have an automatic aperture or TTL metering. So having the ability to set the aperture, open it up for focusing, then with a half push on the shutter release the lens stops down before tripping the shutter, gives the VX IIa somewhat of an easier operation. Then there’s the wonderful option of using a waist-level finder. Yes, you read that correctly, you can put a waist-level finder onto the Exakta. It does make for a different shooting experience with the camera and certainly makes using the left-handed controls a bit easier in the long run.

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

The Bad
Throw out everything you know about shooting SLRs; when you pick up an Exakta. I’m not sure of the reason behind this radical departure from the norm, but it certainly makes for a unique shooting experience. And it doesn’t stop there, nothing on this camera is quick and easy. You have to cut down the film leader to load the camera, and there’s little to no feedback on if you’ve loaded the film correctly. The film advance pulls down the meter and cocks the shutter, so it has the longest pull in any camera I’ve reviewed, it’s almost a full 180 degrees. Even rewinding the film, what should be the easiest task of them all is awkward, I lost about five or six frames because when I though I had rewound the film, I hadn’t and opened the back…twice. And finally, the shutter release takes a bit of an effort to push down. All these points combine to a rather awkward shooting experience, even more so than the Leica R3.

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

The Lowdown
If you want a serious challenge, with some great results, the Exakta VX IIa is the camera for you. Everything is mirrored, everything takes a lot more of an effort to operate and use. This isn’t a camera for quick and dirty operation. So I can see why a wheelchair-bound photographer would use the camera for spying on his neighbors in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. But if you do run with the camera, you won’t be disappointed in the images you get out of it.

All Photos Taken at Westfield Heritage Village, Rockton, Ontario
Exakta VX IIa – Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 2/58 – Kodak TMax 100 @ ASA-100 – Kodak D-23 (Stock) 9:30 @ 20C


  1. Nice to see this.

    An Exacta was my first 35mm camera; a hand-me-down from my father in the mid-60s. Built like a tank and dead reliable. I loved that you could wind the shutter separately from the film, making double-exposures a breeze. Also, it was the only camera I ever had with the little blade for cutting the film so you could process partial rolls.

  2. Before buying an Exakta always check for tiny holes in the shutter curtain. Do this by opening the back of the camera and shining a light through the front. Another option is to take a test roll of pictures and look for little round white disks on your photographs. There is at least one repair shop that will replace your shutter curtains but expect to wait 4 months. This is indeed a unique camera way ahead of its time.

    1. Author

      Oh yes, pinholing, common issue with cloth shutters. I had a Zorki rangefinder with some serious pinholing. I called the images “Starry-eyed”

    2. I realize this comment is now 4 years old, but by any chance do you remember the name of the shop?

  3. Good review. The Exakta had lenses made for it by almost every important optical house in the world at the time, even Nikon. Other names are Zeiss, Schneider, Meyer, Steinheil, Soligor, Angeniuex, Killfit, etc, etc, etc. In other words, your photos with an Exakta will be great. The other Exakta strength of the Exakta is its versatility. As I write this, I have a beautiful Exakta VX (and they ARE beautiful) sitting on my kitchen table with the same great Biotar lens with a prism finder and a modern fresnel focusing screen with a 45 degree split image rangefinder with a fine focusing donut. Its bright 100% finder is equal to any modern camera. There were tons of specialize focusing screens made for the Exakta, which take about 5 seconds to change. Sitting next to the VX is a Magnear scientific finder with a clear cross hair center on the focusing screen to be put on my Celestron C8 telescope if I can ever get a clear sky in this cloudy Spring. When I do get it on my scope, I will have speeds from a 1/1000 second to a full 12 seconds plus B and T! Not bad for a camera that came out in 1936. Speaking of 1936, people complain that the Exakta is a left handed camera. The author spoke about a “departure” from the norm. In 1936, there were no fixed “norms” for cameras. Ihagee the makers of the Exakta reasoned that the thing you do most with a camera is focus. Therefore, focusing should be done with your dominant right hand. If you realize this, using the Exakta is quite intuitive as the author himself remarked. After owning an Exakta since high school and having a decent Exakta collection, I find that when I pick up my Canon F1 and focus with my left hand it is somewhat awkward at first. BTW, I do find that certain model are more prone to pin holing than others. Perhaps it is just the luck of the draw, but I never had an Exakta VX with pinholes and I have 3 of them. I have 5 Exakta VX IIas and every one eventually got pinholes. I own a number of Exakta VX 1000 and Exakta VX 500 with no pin holes in any of them. Good shooting to all of you.

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