An online guide to collectable cameras and related stuff
Initially the products were very conventional for the time, folding plate cameras. In 1921 they introduced the Roll-Paff-Reflex, a simple box SLR which set them on the road to SLR development. They continued to develop the SLR design with a Patent Klapp Reflex, a folding large format SLR on par with the leading camera manufactures.
When they introduced the Vest Pocket Exakta in early 1933, they established an innovative line of cameras that were going to change history. These were a line of 127 SLR cameras with focal plane shutters. They were compact, durable and ergonomic.
They were joined in 1936 by Kine-Exakta , the smaller 35mm version of the V.P. Exakta. While not the first 35mm SLR, that honor having being taken by the GOMZ Sport from Russia the previous year. It was however, the first 35mm SLR that mattered (the Sport was an odd looking camera that never made an impact on the market).
During the prewar years Ihagee made a variety of other cameras, mostly folding plate and rollfilm cameras, and a line of 127 cameras that had a telescoping lens instead of a bellows. They released a 6x6 reflex, with interchangeable lenses and focal plane shutter, the Exakta 66, in 1939. Then the war came.
The war put Ihagee in an awkward position, as it was Dutch owned. In 1940 the German government seized it. In February of 1945 the main Ihagee factory, records, plans, and everything , was totally destroyed by Allied bombing and the resulting fires. The Red Army carted off another plants equipment and materials.
Yet a group of engineers and workers rebuilt the company. They re-established Ihagee, and began producing the Kine-Exakta. The 35mm Exakta was their primary postwar product. The Exakta 66, which was total redesigned in 1954, and a simplified low-end version of the Exakta, the Exa, were their only other products.
During the late 1940s thru the mid-1950s most professionals and serious amateurs preferred the rangefinder. However, the SLR had distinct advantages, mainly in using telephoto lenses and in close-up work. Ihagee basically had this part of the market to themselves. The Exakta was built very well, unlike most East German cameras of the time.
Ihagee refined and improved the Exakta over the years. But the changes were too little, and too late. The aging design was no match for the innovative Japanese. Asahi released their first Pentax model in 1957, followed in 1958 by Minolta's SR-2 and the Canonflex in 1959. But it was Nippon Kogaku's Nikon F of 1959 that stole the market.
By the end of the 1960s Ihagee's fate was sealed. The new decade saw Ihagee asorbed by VEB Pentacon, the conglomeration of East German camera manufactures, the Exakta name being tagged onto a Praktica VLC. The Exa name was apparently used a bit longer in Eastern Europe.
Also, the Steenberg heirs and some of the shareholders in the company began fighting a legal battle to regain the rights to the names "Exakta" and "Ihagee". In 1966 they introduced the Exakta Real, which had a very brief production life. After that, the Exaktas from the west were made in Japan by other makers.