I have a number of Exakta RTL 1000 cameras, having something of a “thing” for the underdog. Coming across a reference to an Exakta TL 1000 (no “R”), I initially assumed it was a typo, but further investigation showed that indeed there was an Exakta TL 1000 and its sibling the TL 500.

Let’s get this out of the way straight away — these are not Dresden Exaktas or even VEB Pentacon Exaktas but cameras marketed by Ihagee West Germany after settling the rights to the brand name with Pentacon. Pentacon had used the Exakta name on the Exakta RTL 1000, and the last models of that particular camera were sold without bearing the brand name, just RTL 1000.

Ihagee West Germany was what was left of Ihagee after the separation of Germany into East and West Germany and the original founder was still connected to this company.

The camera came in two versions the TL 1000 and the TL 500 with respective top shutter speeds of 1/1000s and 1/500s respectively. Otherwise, the cameras were exactly the same. The cameras used the “universal” M42 mount, not the proprietary Exakta lens mount meaning that the extensive range of Exakta lenses that had been in circulation since the mid-1930s could not be used with this camera. In fact, the cameras were not even made in Germany, they were badge-engineered versions of the Petri FT 1000 and FT 500, made in Japan. That said the M42 lens mount gave users access to the enormous range of M42 lenses available at the time.

Ihagee West Germany supplied branded Exaktar and Auto-Exaktar lenses for the cameras, which were also manufactured externally by companies like Cosina or Nissin / Sankor in Japan and Samyang in Korea.

The M42 lenses, with their auto iris actuators, are based on Zeiss Distagon, Zeiss Planar and Zeiss Sonnar designs, with formulae modified to take account of using Japanese / Korean glass in the construction (Zeiss lenses used Schott glass). The Exaktar 55mm f/1.4 lens was made in Japan, but the 35mm and 135mm Auto Exaktar lenses were made in Korea, for example.

The camera is fitted with stop-down, match needle, through the lens (TTL) metering. Stopping down is achieved with a button to the lower left (viewed from the front) of the lens, and the light meter is turned on by moving the wind-on crank from its stowed position to the cranking position. The light meter then remains switched on until the shutter button is pressed.

Focusing takes place with the lens at its widest aperture, which stops down automatically when the shutter release is pressed — when an “auto” M42 lens is fitted, that is.

I saw my first one on eBay. It was a cheap offer, marked as needing attention by a “hobbyist” and for the sum of €41.50 I got the camera, 3 lenses, a camera bag, and a cable release. Two out of the three lenses were in good clean useable condition (the 35 and 55mm lenses) the 135mm lens had signs of fungal growth beginning, but not too obtrusive. I exposed all three to UV light on my UV table to kill off any remaining fungus, just in case!

The camera advanced and fired, and I thought I was in luck, however, the winding mechanism jammed after two frames and remained stuck. Opening the back showed the cloth shutter to be in pretty much perfect condition, but obviously the camera had been stored in a damp place, as the aluminium shutter casing and film guide had badly corroded.

As purchased, serial No. 836412, January 2022. Camera along with 35mm, 55mm and 135mm lenses. Signs of mould growth can be seen on the leatherette.

I think this may up end as a display camera and so a replacement body was purchased to utilise the lenses.

The camera is of an odd design, most 35mm SLRs have the mechanism vertically around the winding spool, the TL 1000 has all functions controlled by a camshaft running across the bottom of the camera.

This camera (below, serial number 882196) was in much better condition and fully functional. I have run a couple of films through it and both the camera and lightmeter seem to be functioning correctly.

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I always found the location of the battery holder on these cameras somewhat intriguing, being mounted on the front, but as the camera mechanics are in the base there was probably nowhere else to put it!

It was designed to use the old PX 625, 1.35 volt, mercury cell, but the modern alkaline version seems to work in the meter ok. I suspect it is a bridge balance meter, as the meter centers when switched off and therefore the current is 0 when the bridge is balanced, hence voltage (within reason) is immaterial.

A Prinz automatic M42 bellows, and slide copier came up on eBay with another TL 1000 body (serial number 851037) for an extremely attractive price, and so I also purchased it. The camera also came with a Beroflex 50mm f/2.8 lens

Beroflex was a Berlin-based company and large importer and distributor of photographic equipment, chemicals and film. They produced a large number of “in house” brand lenses fabricated in Japan or Korea, again most likely by Cosina, Sankor or Samyang.

It is hard to find data about these cameras or lenses, a copy of Popular Photography dated 1970 has the camera, 35mm, 50mm and 100mm lenses and a flash bracket listed for $143.99, equivalent to $1075 today (2022)

And now for the proof of the pudding. How does it perform?

Below are photographs taken with my first Exakta TL 1000 (serial number 882196), using the 29mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2.8, 55mm f/1.4, and 135mm f/2.8 lenses that I acquired. Shot on Kodak T-Max 100, exposed at box speed and processed in Ilford DD-X.

The following photos were taken with the same camera and Pentacon 29mm lens but on Fomapan 100 Classic exposed at box speed and processed in Kodak HC-110 dilution B (1+31).

From these photos, it can be seen that the camera and its light meter were functioning pretty well. Whilst not as good as current lenses, the lens performance is quite adequate. (Not on a par with the Olympus Zuiko lenses or the Olympus iS-3000 lens.)

Some photos were taken with the other working TL1000 I own — number 851037 — also shot on Fomapan 100 Classic film, processed in Ilford Ilfotec DD-X, 1+4 dilution.

Judging from the negatives, I suspect the meter on camera serial No. 851037 is overexposing by between half and one stop.

As yet I have not run a colour film through either of the cameras, but the metering seems adequate enough on both of them to give a reasonable chance of success, at least with colour negative film.

This collecting habit is kind of addictive!

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