The Ugly Duckling…

…might be a Prince!IMG_0459 (1)

I remember very well when I was young, about sixteen or seventeen and I hunted the Photography stores for my first SLR.

The shelves were full of beautiful cameras, Olympus OM10, Canon A1, Pentax MX or Nikon FM as I remember…. beauties, all of them. Most out of my price range. And on the top shelves were the real ones, those we might dream of but will never hold. The Canon F1, The Nikon F3, Olympus OM-1…. The overlords, untouchable! You bow in their presence, you fall to your knees and avert the eyes.

Below, on the bottom shelves were other cameras. Cameras I didn’t deign to look at, too lowly for an aspiring shooter like me.

Now really would you like to get seen on the street with a…. oh man that word hardly get’s out of my mouth… with a Praktica?IMG_0461

In a time of beautiful, sleek machines, their square form, that silly shutter button planted too low on the front, all combined to make them as unattractive as possible.

Add to that the loud, thunderous shutterclap (yes, impossible to call it a sound!) and you have cameras that will hoard the shelves for a long time, as Pentacon, the maker of these things, came to realise soon afterwards.

Now, about 35 years later, being older and not much wiser I hold a Praktika in my hand and I simply want to slap myself. What a bloody stupid idiot I was!

Back then I finally bought a Canon AE-1 and was happy. Well happy less a good chunk of money! Happy but annoyed by the shutter priority, the convoluted way to check depth of field….

Luckily ( 😉 ), 2 years later the camera got stolen and I was GIVEN a Nikon F that never left my side until I did another stupid thing – sold it to buy another Canon, an EOS 300D, the plastic fantastic cheap digital DSLR.

OK, back to the Praktika! Mine is a model MTL 5 B, proudly embossed on the metal front! Wait, metal? No!

Even before Canon built their A series cameras with plastic top and bottom plates, nice plastic, with a convincing metallic coating, Pentacon had mastered the production of this stuff. Apparently the Japanese visited the factory and got some ideas there.

Forget the plastic, this camera feels solid, looks the piece too. Like Spongebob Squarepants it’s square, but as Huey Lewis used to sing, It’s Hip to be Square!IMG_0462

And it’s heavy, it somehow manages to inspire confidence that it will get the job done!

As for the handling, everything sits just where it’s needed. A rewind crank on the left shoulder, a shutter speed / ISO dial on the right with the advance lever and film counter and the shut….. ouch, no shutter release!IMG_0458

You find it lower on the front. Placed strategically so that it’s awkward to operate with your forefinger as it’s quite low and when you press it with your middle finger you don’t know what to do with the forefinger… Who thought of that?IMG_0457

Now with a bit of practice this can be a boon! Press the shutter with middle finger and operate the shutter dial with the forefinger… voilĂ , problem solved! Genius!

Just above the shutter button sits the depth-of-field-peview-/-metering-button. Grand and long name for a simple plastic thing, we’ll call it DOFP/M from now on! And it works! Compose, press DOFP/M button, adjust aperture with your left hand and/or shutter speed with your forefinger and release shutter. CLACK!!!!! Yes it’s bloody loud! It’s after all a full metal shutter running vertically, built of soviet stainless steel – well, sometimes Pentacon got shipments of corroded soviet stainless steel as it appears according to this video about the Pentacon factory (sorry, in German).

Under the shutter there’s a self timer, the usual lever giving about 10 seconds notice and a release button. Below the camera there’s the battery compartment, only for the very basic and slow meter, the rest of the camera is purely mechanic as you can hear when you turn the shutter wheel – gears ratcheting inside! Then there’s the rewind knob and a tripod socket, not in the center of the camera but under the lens mount…. strange placement again.

It’s inside that things get interesting. All standard fare with one notable exception: Pentacon had invented their own quick load system.IMG_0455

It’s easy… on paper. You draw out the film leader to a mark on the right, all the while fiddling it under the black plastic tab, at the same time over the teeth of the advance spool and under the metal bracket on the takeup spool. Got it? Then try it… takes some getting used to…. but like the shutter button, the tripod socket, the DOFP/M lever, it works somehow. When you wind on the bracket folds the film leader sharply (try that in winter with cold film….) and holds it tight to the takeup spool!IMG_0456 Hopefully!

The metal shutter is very clean and not damaged at all on my camera.IMG_0453

Often the shutter blades get crinkled from invasive thumbs while loading film. A danger that is present with any camera but particularly with the Praktica’s steel shutters. Though I heard that even a well crinkled shutter still works fine as long as it’s still light tight.

The light seals in the grooves on the back are waxed string by the way – no decaying foam! Well done Pentacon!

One word about the stuff covering this MTL 5 B. The earlier Prakticas were wrapped in some ugly ribbed plastics stuff.208_Praktica_super_TL500_front

This one however appears to sport a fine covering of imitation leatherette…. feels OK, looks fine!

Well that about wraps it up, simple as a camera can be, easy to handle once you get your fingers to cooperate and really feeling good! As I said as soon as I unwrapped the Praktica I realised what I had missed all those years ago.  could have had a cheaper camera that would have been perfectly adequate and it probably would still work today!

Ah yes, the lenses…. I nearly forgot to tell you the best news! The camera has the ubiquitous M42 mount and has about the widest array of lenses available of all cameras. From russian Helios and Jupiter glass over german Meyer Optik Görlitz (heard of that one?), Pentacon of course and Zeiss to japanese Pentax’s Takumars and Tomioka wonders. There are some expensive lenses among them but most are terribly cheap and terrible good. And all have character!

I got a Pentacon auto 1,8/50 Muti Coating metal and plastic lens with mine. focuses down to 0,33m (1ft) and looks nice and clean.

Of course I loaded a film at once and I’ll take it for a spin. Let’s see how it sees the world. More on the results of this roll soon! Stay tuned!

Now eBay beware, here I come for your M42 lenses! I’d like to score a 24 or 28mm, a 135mm and perhaps some 50’ish Takumar…

Thanks for this nice camera, Chester!

Thanks for reading

P.S.: The roll is done, now on to developing and scanning….IMG_0463.jpg


29 thoughts on “The Ugly Duckling…

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  1. Despite the bad press these cameras would get in the past, there’s nothing wrong the old East German equipment. OK, they are a little rough around the edges, noisy, and not as refined as a Japanese cameras but you can always get good pictures from Praktica cameras. I still have both MTL5 and BX20 cameras at home I have never had trouble taking pictures with one of these cameras, and the DDR optics are very good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right – my first shots will be online here tomorrow. I’m just writing the post and reviewing the photos. Nothing ground breaking but I got some nice ones I think…


      1. One thing I will point out to you. When you come to scan your images from a Praktica, you might find you cannot get the film strip to fit your scanner mask properly. This is because the negative images are spaced slightly more than from a Japanese camera. Wasn’t an issue with an darkroom enlarger back in the day!


  2. Thanks Martin, they scanned OK. They fit the neg holder of my Plustek nicely. Better that the Oly XA2 for instance where I have to realign the negatives during scanning or a 6-shot strip.

    I think the Plustek is better adapted to this camera… luckily because it will see more use, definitely!


  3. we wait with bated breath . . . My first SLR was a Mamiya DSX 1000, also M42 with 135mm, 50mm and 35mm lenses given to me by a relative. Foolishly bought a couple of sirius zooms for it and even more foolishly sold the whole kit and caboodle to finance by battery dependant but good Canon A1. Which has now developed the canon cough. I suspect the Mamiya is still doing away fine not batting an eyelid. It had a battery yes, but that only powered the meter. A meter that would give spot on exposures as I recall, and you could compensate exposure without taking eye away from viewfinder. Still we live (and hopefully) learn. Youth is wasted on the young! ; )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right! And the Canon cough is easily cured! You need a syringe and a tiny drop of machine oil and YouTube! Go in through the bottom plate, only 2 small screws. Some take off the lens mount but it’s not really necessary. I fixed a good number like that


      1. Sounds like an easy fix Frank. I had seen some references to this – although never watched video. I thought it looked too easy to be true.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It works but remember, just a tiny drop of oil and measure the syringe length correctly to apply it in the right spot. You’ll have to wait and release the shutter a number of times until the oil spreads to the right places.

        And at the pharmacy or drugstore they’ll look at you strangely when you ask for a syringe… 😉


  4. Reminds me of my first camera – a Minolta X300 bought when I was a student. At the time it was the cheapest way to get an SLR with both manual and some automatic exposure control. It also came with an excellent 50mm f1.7 lens – just that bit faster than the competition 😉

    30 years later and I still have the X300 and it still works (not counting the non-counting frame counter). And 50mm is still my favourite focal length…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No seriously, nothing beats those mechanical cameras! They work forever and when there’s a problem it can mostly be fixed. When electronics in cameras break, they are toast!


  5. Haha! – Your post resonates with my own “first camera” experience. I bought a Praktica over 40 years ago. One of my first Kodachrome shots was a close-up of a couple mushrooms which I entered in a photo-contest and won the Grand Prize trip/cruise to Mexico! (I took my mom) That was quite an ego-boost for a novice photographer alright – I’ve gone downhill ever since – but still have fun taking photos!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! Well, I entered a contest last year – 3 categories, 7 prizes each. Had to wait 6 months for the results – then got nothing. But looking at the winning entries, I wonder who does the judging?? Yes, Kodachrome was great! Although very expensive – like 50 cents a shot back then, then wait a week for the results – but sure helped to discipline my shooting and composition habits! I still have a large number of transparencies that I would like to digitize someday. I had a B+W darkroom back then too, but I love digital now – such a variety of ways to create an interesting image!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Stop press just won bid on e-bay for canon ftb. All manual camera with built in light meter and uses Canon fd lenses – hope it arrives in time for me to go away next weekend and enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gudde MĂ«tteg HĂ€r Lehnen,

    Meng Ă©ischt Spigelreflex war eng Praktica L, ouni Beliichtungsmeesser, den hat ech mer deemols mat menger Praktica fir emgerechent 3000 Frang bei Neckermann bestallt. Ech war 12 oder 13 Joer aal, an hun 2 Joer laang gespuert (all Frang koum an di ParzelĂ€ins-SpuerbĂ©x vun der Spuerkees :-)) fir meng Praktica. Ech hun den Apparat haut nach a funktionĂ©iert och nach, do war ee ganz miserablen Domiplan 2,8/50mm drop vun Meyer-Optik Görlitz. Ech hun emmer mussen op 5,6-8 ofblenden fir eng einigermoossen scharf Foto oder Dia ze maachen…irgendwann mi spĂ©it hun ech mer en Pentax Takumar 1,8/55 mm als Occasioun beim topfoto an der Belle Etoile nokaft, vun do un konnt ech och mol scharf Fotoen mat offener Blend maachen!
    Mat der Praktica selwer war ech emmer zefridden, a mĂ€i Papp huet sech dun eng MTL3 kaft, de VirgĂ€nger vun Äerer MTL5, mat sou engem komeschen Waffeleisenplastik als Gehaisverkleedung.

    Well ech awer am Laf vun de Joeren méi Uspréch u meng Kamera gestalt hun, an ech als Student an der Vakanz konnt schaffegoën, hun ech mer dun eng Minolta XD-5 kaft, déi ech ebenfalls haut och nach hun.

    Just eng klĂ©ng Bemierkung zu Äerem wonnerbare Beitrag: Et war nit de Pentagon, mee Pentacon den dee vereinfachten “Filmschnellladesystem” (Originaltext Pentacon) entwĂ©ckelt hat.

    Ech wĂ«nschen Eech nach vill schĂ©i Momenter mat Äerer Praktica, bonne Chance fir d’Fouss-OP, a wa se schon geschitt ass, eng gutt Besserung. Ech frĂ©Ă«n mech schon op nei BeitrĂ€g op Äerer InternetsĂ€it.

    Bis geschwënn a bescht Gréiss,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Merci… Pentagon, haha, daat nennt een Autokorrektur, blöde Computer! Get verbessert!

      An jo, dei schein parzeleins SpuerbĂ«chs…. daat sin Souvenir’en!

      Dei M42 Objektiven gefaalen mir eigentlech ganz gudd. Schweier an zolit…. an se sin einegermoosen OK, net wei en Takumar mee bon, nach mei bĂ«lleg!

      Hun och elo eng Asahi Pentax Spotmatic SP1000 fir en Hongerloun kaaft. Wonnerbaren Apparat!

      Ech duerf mech nach Ă«mmer op d’OP frĂ©en…. iwwermaar. Hun irgendwei Loscht unzeruffen an ze soen dass ech och guer net mei wei hun an dass mer daat vergiessen…. mee bon, muss leider sin!

      Merci fir dei gudd WĂ«nsch an e scheine dag nach.


  8. Ass schon verbessert 🙂 !

    Ech hat am LycĂ©e seinerzeit Cours’en an der Fotografie, an hat di grouss Chance an Éier wĂ€hrend e puer Fotosortien eng Pentax Spotmatic mat Pentax Objektiven vun der Schoul dĂ€erfen ze benotzen well ech de chargĂ© de cours och privat kannt hun, dat war e Rolls-Royce vis-Ă -vis vu menger Praktica! Ech schwĂ€rmen nach haut vun dĂ€r Kamera!
    Ech sin d’accord dass di M42-Objektiver gutt sin, mĂ€i Papp an ech hun der och nach e puer (Ă«nner anerem fir op eng Miranda TM mat Weesselsucher, och sou en zolitte Batti), mee den Domiplan war eppes wĂ©i een DrĂ«ppeglas vun der optescher KalitĂ©it hier gesin!
    Fir de Rescht sin di Praktica-Objektiver guer nit schlecht, dat stëmmt!

    Bescht Gréiss a bonne chance fir iwermaar,


    Liked by 1 person

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