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CCR Review 61 – Exakta VX IIa

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