I stood at the cash register in my favorite camera store, waiting to pay for film. At my feet, in front of the counter was a carboard box containing several old cameras in various states. It reminded me of a box of kittens you might see with a sign that read “free to a good home.” Perhaps that was their clever ploy to elicit my sense of compassion for these seemingly neglected veterans. They were not free. On the other hand, you could buy one Leica M3 or one of these and 244 rolls of film for about the same cost. I decided to rescue one of the dusty, 70-year-old cameras and review my experience with it in this article. I reached into that box and pulled out an Exakta VX. And to be completely unscientific, I introduced a second variable: Ilford Ortho Plus, a film I have never used before.
I love playing with old lenses (and interesting color films, too) for their character. Creativity is a form of play, and the Exakta VX is a fun toy for exploring these things (and it’s Jimmy Stewart’s camera in Rear Window). There are the aesthetics, especially that gorgeous Spencerian script on the finder, and the overall art-deco vibe. In the late-30s, the Kine Exakta and its successors, the VX and VX II, were the first “system” 35mm cameras. They have interchangeable lenses in a bayonet mount, interchangeable finders, and accessories for macro, microscope, and astronomical photography. Their built-in knives and available take-up cassettes allow film swapping mid-roll. I have four lenses, a Carl Zeiss Jena 58mm Biotar, a CZJ Flektogon 35mm, a Schneider 135 Tele Xenar, and a 100mm Steinheil Tele Casserit.