Thursday, September 16, 2010

So Pretty

Awhile back the photography blog, The Online Photographer, had a thread of comments going related to what folks thought was the best looking camera. Mentioned were Leicas, Rolleis, and some of the sleek new digitals. For me, though, and I suspect also for many others, the most beauteous was the first one lusted for, saved for, and purchased with hard-earned money. It was 1958, and our high school camera club advisor was into the first 35mm SLR, the Exakta. I was enthralled with the view through the pentaprism viewfinder of the same image the film saw.

1958 Exakta Varex IIa with 50mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Tessar and 135mm f3.5 Schneider Tele-Xenar

After a summer of saving mine was shipped from Bern, Switzerland to our local bank, which was holding the funds for it - about $400 of summer earnings. Once it arrived, and I had inspected it and pronounced that it was indeed what I had ordered, the funds were released to the seller. Kind of a 1958 version of Paypal. But much more exciting. Way exciting. The gleam of chrome against black leather and the intricately turned and engraved knobs produced a better thrill than my first car. It served me for well for many years, including a summer in Europe, until it finally succumbed to age and too many dunkings in the snow during ski outings.

Orleans, France, 1961, a Kodachrome taken with the Exakta

That blog and memories led me to eBay, and a seller in South Africa with a fine looking version of the same model that I had traded away many years ago. Today it arrived, with two solid and precise-feeling German lenses. Everything seems to work smoothly, including the nifty depth-of-field indicator on the Schneider 135mm lens, the unique dual knobs for controlling shutter speed (the slow speed knob must be wound up fer each shot!), the pretty little left-hand operating film advance lever, and the funny shutter release, also left-handed, called for by the semi-automatic diaphragm design. I'm as giddy as a high school boy again, and eager to run some film through it. They do still sell it, don't they?

So what gorgeous hunk of photographic machinery first put stars in your eyes?


  1. They still sell some film although it's getting harder and harder to get locally unless you live in a major city; not Dallas - some place like NYC.

    An old Kodak box camera was my first. I have quite a collection of older functioning cameras.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Eric. Fortunately there is always B&H Photo. Besides the "new" Exakta, I've a couple of Nikkormats and a Mamiya C330f. I think one "sees" differently with different cameras, especially a manual film camera - don't you? The square format, and waist level finder and shooting position of the Mamiya - that's the camera that automatically makes me see in B&W.

  3. Yes, I love square for some things. I have a 127 Primo JR. I was just given a Stereo camera. Still had film in it. 120 in any old box camera is some what magical. I hope my scanners get working; Niokn 9000 and an Epson V750.