Sometimes your lust over-rides your head and clouds your better judgement. This was certainly the case with the next camera in “The Best Camera I Never Knew” series.
THE EXAKTA 66 MOD III
The Exakta 66 MOD III (model III) is a medium format camera introduced in 1997. Though the original Exakta 66 was produced by West German company Ihagee, the exact origins of the MOD II and MOD III are somewhat unclear.
The main thing you need to know is that all these Exakta models are a variation of the Pentacon Six, so they are all 6×6 mechanical SLR cameras that use 120 medium format film. They resemble, from afar, the Pentax 6×7 and look like a giant 35mm camera on steroids.
There is a great website http://www.pentaconsix.com that will tell you the differences between the models, and anything else you might want to know about them.
In the context of my story here, just know the MOD III was considered the “ultimate” as far as variations of the venerable Pentacon Six goes. It was the last model so it technically had all the upgrades and enhancements that was done to the basic Pentacon that it’s modeled after. One enhancement was the inclusion of a mirror lockup.
Another reason for its desirability is that the Exakta 66 Mod III is sometimes paired with the superb 80mm f/2.8 Schneider Xenotar lens, though the Exakta 80mm f/2.8 or 80mm Russian Volna or Biometar lenses are more commonly seen.
WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?
Ok, so in 2013 I came across the Exakta 66 Mod III body on KEH Camera’s website. A used body only for around $300.
I hesitated at first, knowing that it was basically a glorified Pentacon Six or Kiev 60, but the camera lust took over me and I thought I had to have it! That, despite the fact that I already had a Pentacon Six TL and a Kiev 60. Both bodies combined, cost me less than the Exakta alone!
I’m drawn to extremes…the best camera, the worst camera, the last model, the smallest model, the strangest one…you get the idea 🙂
Anyway, I said to myself…if I get the Mod III, I won’t need any other Exakta or Pentacon. And perhaps I could cut my losses by selling the Pentacon and Kiev once I got the Exakta.
Ok, this is getting too long, so to cut to the chase…
I got the MOD III. I press the shutter. The mirror goes up. Stays up. No big deal. If I recalled correctly, the Pentacon did that too. All that it requires is for you to wind the lever and the mirror comes back down. So I did that.
Surprise! The film advance lever won’t move so the mirror won’t come back down!!
So without damaging the camera, I was trying all the emergency remedies I knew. Tried to gently move the mirror down, it didn’t move. Tried to toggle the mirror lockup, no go. Tried to press the shutter release again, nothing.
I then took out my Pentacon Six and pressed the shutter release. Mirror goes up. Stays up. I wind the film advance, mirror came back down. Now I knew for sure something was wrong with the Exakta.
Knowing that I would probably have to return it to KEH, I stopped myself from messing with it further. I did some research online and found the email of a noted authority on repairing these cameras. For the sake of privacy, I will refrain from leaving a name, but if you need one of these cameras repaired drop me a line and I will give you his contact.
Anyway, his advice was to first try to gently bring the mirror down with my fingers which I had already done. I don’t remember everything else he told me, but he tried the best he could to help me through email and I appreciated that very much, but nothing worked.
Finally, he told me I should return the camera because they were well known to have “issues” and he had seen a fair share of them for repair. He said these cameras go bad quite easily and parts are no longer available and/or are hard to find.
I believe him, though I wished I had seen something online about that before I purchased it. I did not find much negative on this camera in my pre-purchase research. Indeed, I did not find much positive feedback either!
I recall finding only a few nice shots of the camera on Flickr from some proud owners, but other than that there wasn’t much as far as real world users. In fact, if you did a search now you will see a few of the pretty pictures I’m talking about 🙂
Ok, so I really wanted to keep this camera! Never mind that I didn’t have the elusive 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar. I could use the Biometar and other Pentacon Six lenses I already had first.
So before I wrapped it up to return to KEH, I decided to take one last shot at making this thing work. I played with the advance lever. I felt that this was the root of the problem. I had a thin nail file and I poked it in the thin sliver underneath the film advance lever. It hit something and wallah…
The film advance moved and the mirror came down! 🙂
But, this does not have a happy ending. When I pressed the shutter again, the mirror became stuck once again. The nail file worked once again, but there was no way I was going to use the camera if I had to do this for every shot!
So back it went to KEH, and before I shipped her off, I took this shot. I should’ve taken more, but I took this at a Fedex Kinko and making a review of this camera two years later was the last thing on my mind.
To show you how much I wanted to keep this camera, I even told KEH if they could repair it, I would take that over a refund. They tried, but in the end they gave me a refund.
Just want to put in a good word about KEH Camera. They are the best used camera dealer out there, I even prefer them over eBay because of their great products, prices, and return policy.
Even though this Exakta 66 Mod III turned out to be a dud, I cannot blame them. Things happen and especially so when you’re dealing with the kind of photographic volume that they deal with on a daily basis. I’ve been buying from them for maybe twenty years or more and over 90% of my purchases have been satisfactory or better. They took this camera back with no hassles.
If looking for one of these, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, prices are trending at over $1000 for the body and Exakta, Volna or Biometar 80mm lens and probably quite a bit more with the 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar lens.
I am certainly no camera repair expert and I am sure it’s a good possibility that I just got a bad sample and there’s a lot of good working models out there.
However, based on the information I got from the veteran Pentacon/Kiev/Exakta camera repair man, I would have to say Exakta 66 cameras are not a good buy in my opinion.
You are better off with a Pentacon Six or Kiev 60. They are not without issues either. Many have the same problems with film advance, film spacing, etc. However, they are much cheaper than the Exaktas and parts more readily available should you need a repair.
The Exakta Mod II and Mod III may be cooler, prettier than the brutes that the Pentacons or Kievs are, but they are in essence the same cameras.
I knew this before I made the purchase. However, I went ahead and bought it anyway. I should’ve listened to my head but as Emily Dickinson and Woody Allen said…”The heart wants what it wants” 🙂
If you’re looking at the Pentacon Six or Kiev cameras, then the Exakta 66 Mod III is the ultimate medium format camera from that West German/Russian/Eastern European heritage.
However, it gave me nothing but headaches and wasted time and became one of…the Best Cameras I Never Knew.