5 frames with...

5 Frames with an Exa 500 – by Dale Willetts

June 21, 2018

This is a fairly new addition to my collection. I bought my Exa 500 just this year at the Photography show at the NEC in March. Every year at the show I always manage to add a camera (or five) to the ever growing collection. One of my first ports of call is always the Disabled photographers charity stand – this year was no different, and as usual my wallet was lighter but my bag was considerably heavier on leaving the stand.

Much of that weight was this camera; it’s a “brick”. This camera is anything but a compact; it’s large, cumbersome, strangely shaped, and did I mention it’s heavy? Ok, so it’s probably not really as heavy as I’m making out, in fact, it’s probably no heavier than a small car or a Zenit. But the weight it does have – combined with the strange body shape – (the camera not me) means it feels wrong in the hand when you’re used to holding a modern DSLR or something more traditionally shaped.

It’s Awkward to use at first too, with the shutter release attached to the lens and on the front-left hand side of the body. That said it’s strangely enjoyable to use – though of course, some of this might be down to the joy of using a new toy, as to date I’ve only put one roll of film through it. It’s going to see more use though, that I can guarantee – if only because carrying its weight will force me to cut down on the amount of other cameras I’ll be carrying.

These shots were all taken around a local church on the first day of proper sunshine this year in April. I specifically wanted a day with bright sun and hard shadows, and just for once the British weather provided.

The film was Fomapan iso 100, stand developed in 1/100 Rodinal and scanned on my Epson v600.

You can find more of my photos on my flickr

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  • Reply
    Malcolm Myers
    June 21, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing, lovely photos. I stand develop in Rodinal 1:100 for an hour as well, but I’ve never tried Fomopan. Must give it a go sometime! Do you use the Epson scanning software and do you let it use auto-exposure? I’d be keen to know.

    • Reply
      Dale Willetts
      June 21, 2018 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks. Yes I use the Epson software, I let it use auto exposure but turn off most of the other options so I get a fairly flat scan and then use lightroom to fine tune.

      • Reply
        Malcolm Myers
        June 21, 2018 at 9:45 pm

        Thanks, I never usually have enough time play with things in Lightroom, perhaps I’ll have to make time!

  • Reply
    David hill
    June 21, 2018 at 11:45 pm

    Gorgeous photos. Zeiss Tessar certainly hasn’t lost its touch, and Rodinal stand dev is working bloody well for you and your Epson.

    Awfully nice work.

    • Reply
      Dale Willetts
      June 22, 2018 at 10:47 am

      Thanks very much. Appreciate the compliment.

  • Reply
    June 24, 2018 at 4:31 am

    What a peculiar-looking camera, but I must say, the optical output is outstanding (due to the photographer, of course!). I have never seen one of those. Are other lenses available. or is it fixed lens? Like you, cemeteries capture my interest. I am impressed with your results with Fomapan. I have not been able to get it to work work for me and am mostly using TMax 100 when I use a 100 film. Cheers and keep up the good work.

    • Reply
      Dale Willetts
      June 24, 2018 at 8:37 am

      Thank you. I think it’s 70/30 camera/photographer. It is an interchangeable lens camera and I believe there was a full range of lenses.

    • Reply
      Terry B
      May 9, 2019 at 6:21 pm


      There were a number of Exa cameras and which one may view as paired down Varex’s. The simplest, something like a 1a, has a metal roller shutter with speeds from 1/30 to 1/175 + B. This type of shutter limits lens compatibility as some w/a lenses are physically too deep and will foul the shutter, and there will be a limit to the practical use of the longer tele lenses and which, although they will fit, there will be noticeable image cut-off caused by the shutter. Although limited in performance, these cameras are well built and can be fun to use.
      The better options are the Exa IIa and IIb, Exa 250 and 500. These have a fixed penta-prism but incorporate a conventional shutter with conventional horizontal run cloth curtains. As indicated, top shutter speeds are 1/250 or, in the case of the Exa 500, 1/500.
      There are any number of lenses made for Exakta cameras, all by third party optical companies. For best compatibility, those with the shutter release on the body of the lens should be chosen, as this also controls the shutter release. Excellent w/a’s will be found with Zeiss Jena Flektagons or, less expensive, is the Meyer 30mm Lydith which is a decent performer for its price. Meritar and Domiplan are entry level 50’s but perform reasonably well when stopped down. Next in line will be something like the Zeiss Jena Tessar which is readily available, with the top Jena 50 being the f2 Pancolar. For a 135, you can’t go far wrong with the Jena f4 Sonnar.
      Overall, Zeiss Jena and Meyer Optic provided a range from 20mm to a 1,000mm cat lens.
      Some Exakta mount lenses will be found without the lens shutter release as these were intended for the Exakta RTL cameras, which are simply re-badged Prakica’s, by no means real Exakta cameras. I’ve a couple of Japanese lenses, a 35 and 135 that have a T2 Exakta mount, and have fully manual pre-set diaphragms. I hope this helps.

  • Reply
    Christiaan Zeelenberg
    June 24, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    You can never really go wrong with a German camera.
    Impressive tonality in your shots. How long did you stand develop it? Did you agitate?
    I also shoot Fomapan and develop normally with Adonal, this makes me want to try out stand development.

    • Reply
      Dale Willetts
      June 24, 2018 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks. The way I do it is for two hours total. Agitate for 30 seconds at the start then three agitations every half hour.

    • Reply
      Clive W
      August 28, 2019 at 5:39 pm

      ‘You can never really go wrong with a German camera.’

      I think he’s done well to get anything right with this one! My parents had a IIb – apparently the same as this but without even the 1/500 top speed. It was horrible! Theirs also had the reviled Domiplan 50mm/2.8 lens, which at least had a cute combined stop-down lever and shutter-release-presser but gave such a murky image in the viewfinder that what was supposed to be an SLR had to be used pretty much as a scale-focus camera.

      I used to think it was just how cameras were in those (mid-1960s) days, but I’ve since acquired a Nikkormat FTN from the same period and it’s like night and day – literally so in the viewfinder! The Nikon feels heavy and clunky, but can be used as easily as a modern camera; the Exa feels like an antique. I don’t know how prices compared back then, but I know cameras were generally less affordable than now, so I imagine my newly-married parents bought what they could afford.

  • Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    June 25, 2018 at 10:05 am

    I have one of these, or rather I have the Exa 1c which is the ‘updated’ 80s version (read: exactly the same design in 80s black plastic, but with a waist level finder and M42 mount). I wanted an original Exa but was struggling to find one at a decent price with a Tessar that wasn’t full of fungus, but realised the 1c opened up a lot more lens choice. I have a Mir-1b, a Helios 44-2 and the teeny tiny Industar 50-2. I was about to write up a review, but my last roll of HP5 came out catastrophically overexposed. The ‘shutter’ doesn’t look particularly slow so I’ve shot another roll of colour to test it again. We’ll see where we are when that comes back.

    Always interested to hear about stand dev techniques. How much Rodinal do you put in per roll? I normally go for 4ml for a single roll – haven’t tried doing two yet as I worry the developer will pool at the bottom and underexpose the top roll.

    • Reply
      Dale Willetts
      June 25, 2018 at 10:11 am

      Thanks Ken, hope it’s going to be working properly. I use a 1/100 ratio. 1my rodinal per 100ml of water. I was also worried about it pooling which is why I do two hours with the three agitations every half hour.

  • Reply
    Harry Machold
    March 15, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you….you have changed my opinion about Exakta in general and the little Exa in particular….I am damned old and saw those camera´s been on the market in Germany brand new at that time…
    The image quality is stunning and I printed this article out to keep…most of the other´s I simply delete…
    I still have your images up here in front of me…there they will be kept for another day or so…we are in the new lock down mode over here in Austria…
    So I have the time to look at your images another time in these days to come.
    Best regards from Harry Machold, Vintage Camera Expert for Leica Camera Classic Austria

    • Reply
      Dale Willetts
      March 15, 2020 at 9:12 pm

      Hi Harry,
      Thank you I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
      Keep safe.


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