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Jhagee Exakta - the first pentaprism SLR in the world?

How was born the SLR?


The reflex camera:

One calls reflex camera or (SLR) for Single Lens Reflex, as a reflecting reflex camera design in which the motive for the consideration is illustrated by the objective about a mirror diverted on a ground-glass plate (see pic. below).  History and development the reflecting reflex principle was described for the first time by Johannes Zahn in 1686:

- By a lens a picture reaches a mirror which diverts round the picture on a horizontal ground-glass plate:

The first reflecting reflex camera after this principle was constructed in 1861 by Thomas Sutton. In 1893 a change magazine was patented for the reflex camera. The first reflex camera made in Germany was the Zeus's mirror camera and came from the work of Richard Hüttig in Dresden.

The first SLR made in great series (single Lens reflex) was the EXA, made by Ihagee also in Dresden, in 1951. Likewise from this company the first small picture-reflecting reflex camera of the world, the 'Kine-Exakta', introduced on the Leipzig spring fair came in 1936. Their designer was Karl Nüchterlein (1904-1944).

The other one was the ZENIT made by the Krasnogorsk Works at Moscow from 1952. The design came from the mind of N.A. Gavrilov, P.A. Denisov, and I.A. Korolkov, who decided to build a reflex prism Leica, based on the previous experiences with a Geodesiya model 3 of 1939, which actualy  was a reflex case built-in a Leica type body, and  adapting a Contax S type finder in a the FED-Zorki body of 1948.

Common opinion is that first SLR camera with a pentaprism was either Contax S or Rectaflex. This is important issue since introducing of the pentaprism is very significant step in development of the SLR cameras (there are arguments for either Sport or Exakta).


Exakta Diamant
Prototype or private venture ?

Dr. Rex Watson
Exakta Times, Number 7, June 1992

In 1983 an exibition called "Historic Cameras and Leipzig Photography, 1840-1950" was held in the Museum of Photographic Art at Leipzig. A local photographer, Peter Langner, was one of the principal contributors to the camera display which ranged from an 1850 darkslide box camera made in Vienna by Dietzel Co., to a Swiss precision miniature, the Tessina of around 1960. Langner's enthusiasm as a photographer as well as a collector could be curbed and he set about recording, sometimes in rich colour, more than 150 exhibits.
He was joined by Hans Kefle who prepared a text which went beyond the exhibits alone to become a history of camera development. The reulting book, "Historische Kameras" was published by VEB Fotokinoverlag of
Leipzig in 1989. 




Among the pearls to be found illustrated is the Exakta Diamant, which is said to be a prototype of around 1950 vintage. It was at this time that both Ihagee and KW were introducing pentaprism accessory finders for their 35mm SLR's. These were made by Carl Zeiss, Jena, and whilst the Exakta version had a rounded hump (see Aguila and Rouah page 152), the more elegant KW version for the Praktica followed the outline of the pentaprism, a shape generally used in later fixed and accessory pentaprism.
It is possible that the Diamant finder is a cut down version of the Zeiss accessory, fitting directly into the camera body instead of into the waist level finder. But we can believe that an Ihagee employee would have been allowed (or have wished) to perpetrate such an inelegant lettering in capitals of the precious Exakta name? Was there any point in the "Diamant" version when we see the Varex prism? Perhaps there are clues in the well used camera body that suffered the indignity of the ill shaped Diamant. Whoever built the camera had access to a flash socketless body and an unengraved front plate of a Kine Exakta version 5 (Aguila and Rouah) or Type 4 (Wichmann) or even Type 4 (
Exakta Circle). The lens is the prewar own brand Ihagee Anastigmat Exaktar, 3,5/5,4cm that appears in the 1939 catalogue, (not the 3,5/5,0cm shown by Aguila and Rouah), and would have been readily available.
So could this camera have been the product of an instrument maker with access to Exakta parts, but without a sense of Exakta style?

Another prism Exakta


Based on the serial number of this camera (595171), we can suppose that it is pre-WWII product. Another facts to consider:

1. Shape of the prism cover differs from other known versions. It is original, not made later. It os chromer from outside. Inner surface is painted in black.

2. Name plate is without name on it. May be some different variation of the name was planned.

3. Name plate has a factory rivets where usual Exakta has threaded holes.

Leather case is usual, so it is bit small for the prism (you can see wear inside).

It can be a factory prototype, an independent expert adaptation, or an adapting made upon requirements.

Undoubtably very well made.


Jhagee Exakta - the first SLR in the world, probably!

Two front views



Rear view with removed door







Jhagee Exakta - the first SLR in the world, probably!



Jhagee Exakta - the first SLR in the world, probably!







Five details of the opened pentaprism



Prism cover with removed shutter lock











More prism views






And here for intriguing you the prototype of Contax S of 1945/46!


Look for the high/slow spped button in the top of body . The self timer trigger in the centre of the lever, the different knob release and the Sonnar f2/57mm!


Here the Zeiss Ikon/ Sonnar  Not Zeiss Jena lens as usual.



When the prism Contax was born, immediatly there were produced prism for reflex cameras

And several adaptations were spoted.





from Pacific Rim Co.










From Mike´s Praktica / Pentacon Dresden Pages







Sperling Prism
(from cap Jack’s pages)


But I cannot understand why this magnificent idea didn’t go further -Zeiss Ikon Compact Prism-   For 6x6 TLR cameras.






The 35mm SLR beginings

The first 35 mm SLR was the Soviet GOMZ Sport of 1935, soon followed by the much more influential German Ihagee Kine-Exakta in 1936, which was fundamentally a scaled-down Vest-Pocket Exakta. Both of these cameras used waist-level finders. Further 35mm Exakta models were produced before and during the World War II, making the Exakta the first 35 mm SLR system. Ihagee invented through-the-lens (TTL) metering during the war years, but it was never placed into production; the Ihagee factory in Dresden was destroyed by bombing in 1945.

Meanwhile, Zeiss began work on a 35 mm SLR in 1936 or 1937. This innovated by using a roof pentaprism to enable eye-level viewing of an image oriented correctly left to right (waist-level finders show a reversed image). To brighten the image, Zeiss incorporated a fresnel lens in between ground-glass screen and pentaprism, forming the conventional SLR design still used today. However, the war intervened, and the Zeiss SLR did not emerge as a production camera until Zeiss in newly-created East Germany introduced the Contax S in 1949. This was the first pentaprism SLR.



How does work

The (Roof) Pentaprism



The Fresnel screen



The beginings of SLR

1887 Foundation of the camera manufacturing Richard Hüttig in Dresden.

1896 Zeus-mirror reflex camera with plate magazin as first monocolar mirror-reflex-camera from Dresden by the company Richard Hüttig & Sohn.

1897/98 Foundationof the Aktiengesellschaft für Camera-Fabrikation Heinrich Ernemann in Dresden; Foundation of the Aktiengesellschaft für photographische Industrie Emil Wünsche in Dresden.


The Russian Front



I.I.Karpova's devices

Among the Russian designers of cameras in the second half of  80s  years of  the IXXth century, I.I.Karpov reached one of leading places. In his workshop Karpov created many interesting and pioneer designs. It is curious, that the same workshop made to order, various devices under drawings of other  known Russian  camera designers.

In 1896 at the All-Russia industrial exhibition in Nizhni Novgorod were shown various I.I.Karpov's devices. They were distinguished through their original design allied to a high workmanship. One of newspapers informed: " Karpov’s Devices have the worthy advantage from foreign samples, in the respect that they are not copied., and are executed in his own workshop under his own ideas ". I.I.Karpov's  chambers received two gold medals at this exhibition. Their specifications and execution level, their design ideas are on par to foreign samples.

The same year took place at Moscow  a photographic exhibition organized by Russian photographic society, I.I.Karpov's cameras called the attention of  the visitors " not only for the grace of its work, but also concerning their finishing quality  and the continous aspiration in improvement of  design ". Special interest was caused with chamber " Russia " - of 1897 who had the privilege (license ¹ 218) of automatic change of plates.

The workshop in Petersburg (Neva, 60) has existed down to 1905. In a response about its workshop, written to 1896, it was marked: " Such workshop as that of the master I.I.Karpova who is not limited copying of various samples, but aspiring to improve them, creating new types of chambers and other devices, who promotes the most of the development of Russian photographic industry, deserves all encouragement ".




Камера "Рефлекс", 1896 / "Reflex", 1896



The chamber for the first time has been shown at the Russian industrial exhibition in Nizhni Novgorod in 1896. Its contruction has served as the prototype to the analogues which were appeared subsequently - during the moment of shooting the mirror rose, opening access of light to the film - in this case dry gelatino-bromide plates. Shutter speed was adjusted by the special clockwork device. In the bottom pictures - later variants of the chamber, presumably release at the beginning of XXth century: Plate  format 9X12, Curtain shutter,  objective " Ideal Doppel Anastigmat ". Apparently from illustrations - model (and external furnish) was constantly improved.



"Спорт", 1935-1941, ГОМЗ


The first in Russia (and can be and the world) single lens reflex 35mm camera , issued by the Leningrad factory ГОМЗ since 1936. Frame format 24X36 mm. The chamber had a metal case with rounded ends; - Curtain all-metal shutter; with speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500 sec. + "B"; objective "Industar -10" 3,5/50 with baionet fastening.





1935 has appeared, as already it was spoken above, camera " Sports " of a design of A.O.Gelgara (the initial name "Гельветта" [“Gelvetta”]; the name "Sports" was received after several improvements at "ГОМЗ" factory), become first-ever single lens reflex 35mm camera and was charged by non-standard cartridges of 50 pictures each. In total it were been constructed a nearby of 20 thousand pieces..

As price of " FED" and "Sport" cameras were inaccessible to the mass consumer, the release of more simple and cheap models were done. From the 30’s years we mention the following cameras: "Liliput", "Maliutka", "Cyclocamera", "Yura", "FEDetta", "Smena




The Mirror Reflex Camera

One calls reflecting reflex camera as a reflecting reflex camera a design for a camera with which the motive for the consideration is illustrated by the objective about a mirror diverted on a ground-glass plate. History and development the reflecting reflex principle is described for the first time by Johannes Zahn in 1686: By a lens a picture reaches a mirror which diverts round the picture on a horizontal ground-glass plate.



The first reflex camera after this principle was constructed in 1861 by Thomas Sutton,  who also invented the  panoramic and water filled lens. (See He workrd together Thomas Ross and J. Dallymeyer who constructed and manufactured the camera and lens,   In 1893 a change magazine was patented for this reflex camera.



Dresdner Richard Hüttig  Zeus” camera. (1896)

The first reflecting reflex camera made in Germany was the Zeus's mirror camera and came from the work of Richard Hüttig in Dresden.



the Reflex camera inventor



A Portable Reflex Camera On WheelsA Page Of Illustrations From Johann Zahn's 1685 Oculis

One of his reflex cameras (left) showing the interior with 45 degree mirror, raised flap at rear, and an extended lens with the cap off. This lens was really the same as used today. It could provide a clear focus because it was housed within a cylindrical tube and was then brought forward or back. Notice again, the wheels for ease of movement.





This year, Zahn published in Wurzburg 'Oculus Artificialis Teledioptricus Sive Telescopium' (Zahn, J., Wurzburg, 1685-6). In this wondrous book, we find many descriptions and illustrations of both the camera obscura and magic lantern. Zahn used the lantern for anatomical lectures, illustrated a large workshop camera obscura for solar observations using the telescope and scioptric ball, demonstrated the use of mirrors and lenses to erect the image, enlarge and focus it. Zahn also designed several portable camera obscuras for drawing using the 45 degree mirror, and used side flaps to shield unwanted light. Zahn's camera obscuras were the closest thing to what 19th century cameras were. Zahn gave credit for the magic lantern to Kircher and mentions Schott and De Chales in his references. Zahn also suggested the presentation of images under water and proceeded to explain, and stressed the importance of hiding the magic lantern out of sight of the audience. This book also goes on to show how time (a clock) can be projected onto a larger screen, and how wind direction can be seen by having a connection from the lantern to a wind vane on the roof of the building. Zahn even foresaw the use of the lantern to project the image on glass which allowed several to view at one time, as opposed to the camera obscura which was limited largely to one observer at a time [excepting the room camera] (as the kinetoscope surpassed the mutoscope for the same reason).


The page to the above right (from Zahn's 'Oculus Artificialis Teledioptricus Sive Telescopium' of 1685) shows a drawing by Johannes Zahn in the bottom frame, of a portable camera obscura with side flaps in order to shield unwanted light from the viewer's vision. It was considered portable not only because of it's size but also it's ability to be moved easily from room to room. Notice it's roller-wheels. Zahn was a visionary in many ways. He suggested the camera could be used underwater, projected on glass for multiple use and, as a clock.

Designed By Herigone And Illustrated By Zahn - The Goblet Camera Obscura

Elements placement in goblet

The mirror deviates the lens observing axis to an horizontal plane and forms the image over the liquid surface.

The lens in the cover enlarges the image and the cover itself increases the image contrast




In his 'Oculus' Zahn gave us an illustration of a very interesting camera obscura in the shape of a goblet. This design was that of the French mathematician Pierre Herigone, in 1642. Herigone wrote 'Supplementum Cursus Mathematici' and in chapter 6, page 113 he described his goblet camera obscura but without any drawing or illustration.

The goblet camera obscura design (left) of Pierre Herigone (1642), and illustrated by Johannes Zahn in his 'Oculus Artificialis Teledioptricus Sive Telescopium' (1685). An ingenious device actually if you wanted to spy on others while enjoying their company over a drink. The mirror (f ) was on a 45 degree angle in the base with a stylized opening for the lens (A) so as not to create suspicion. The goblet had a cup (CD) made of glass where the image could be seen. The lid (centre) had a magnifying lens (D) at the top. This was likely a novelty with little practical significance. One wonders what others would think of a user with his eye so close to the cup or lid.

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