Praktica BX20

Praktica BX20 – Meeting my Old Friend after 30 years, a Happy Reunion or a Disaster?

I re-bought a Praktica BX20 to relive the experience of the very first 35mm SLR I bought new. My previous camera, the Praktica MTL3 I had acquired in a ‘well-loved’ state. Did brand loyalty from the MTL3 influence my choice all those years ago? Not even remotely, it was the best I could afford to buy new, and boy did I love the thing.

Black and white image of a poppy - Praktica BX20
Poppy – Fomapan 100 Classic

Fast forward to 2023 and would my Praktica BX20 eBay haul still bring about the same feelings? Well before we explore that, let’s talk a bit about the kit I had acquired. The body was in great condition and came with a trio of lenses. A Pentacon 50mm f1.8 and 28mm f2.8, joined by a Sirius 28~70mm zoom. I couldn’t resist rounding it off with a Pentacon 135mm f2.8 I picked up for £10. Total cost £45, a bargain in my eyes for the nostalgia alone.

Black and white image of a flower - Praktica BX20
The 50mm is capable of good subject separation – Fomapan 100 Classic

The BX20 was Praktica’s penultimate SLR before it collapsed following the reunification of Germany. Life for photography students and budget-seeking photographers would never be the same again. The very final model was a slight ‘upgrade’ to BX20, called the BX20S. The BX20S added DX coding and a hideous grip making the camera look like it had been attacked with a blow torch.

So what’s the Praktica BX20 like? Well, the best word to describe one would be ‘plastic’, to expand would be to add ‘hard’ and ‘cheap’. That said I’m not sure where they conjured this East German plastic from, but it’s certainly capable of surviving the passage of time. Even the faux leather grips (still 100% plastic) on mine haven’t shrunk or come away.

Black and white image of a flower
Bokah time- Fomapan 100 Classic

The Praktica BX20’s specification, for a camera released in 1987 it was nothing at all to shout about. In common with all B series bodies it has the Praktica bayonet mount. Shutter speeds run from 1/1000 second down to 1 second, and bulb. These are indicated via an LED light in the viewfinder, and a Judas window shows you the selected aperture. One nice touch is the red filter that covers the Judas window if you have forgotten to wind on (always a nice touch). Modes are limited to manual and aperture priority ‘auto’ mode. Add in an ASA range of 12 to 3200, +/- 2 stops for exposure compensation, and an AE lock button and the camera provides the basic tools needed.

Black and white landscape with a railway line stop
End of the line – Fomapan 100 Classic

However it’s not 1987 anymore, and I’m a lot older and have worked my way through a lot of cameras in the intervening years, yet I fell straight back into the flow of things with the Praktica BX20. The viewfinder is clear and bright, with a nice diagonal double-split ring and micro-prism collar that makes focusing a doddle. The metering remains accurate and apart from the odd placement of the AE lock button the ergonomics work more than well enough. The metal shutter is still accurate and it all just works.

I soon found myself forgetting about what I needed to do to use the camera and just use it. It’s small and light enough for me to carry it for long periods, even with a bag of lenses. And it’s those lenses that are just as important as the camera itself. Cheap to buy, and with even the kit variants being solid performers optically, they represent a cheap way to put a solid film camera kit together.

black and white image of a thistle
Thistle – Fomapan 100 Classic

It would, however, be remiss of me to cover only the pros, without addressing the cons. Cons that certainly do exist. I was lucky to find an example as clean and well-kept as this one. The vast majority I see up for sale have clearly had a hard life. Many are covered in layers of grime, dust, and dirt, and it’s not a camera built to handle that kind of life. Abuse and lack of care are likely to seriously impact reliability.

The other issue is that the PB mount camera bodies never sold anywhere like the numbers the M42 models did. This means that the lenses around are far more limited in quantity, and heavily biased towards the kit versions. While 3rd parties did produce some glass, the numbers are small, and the quality is not generally high (that said the Sirius I have isn’t terrible). Now you can mount M42 lenses onto the PB bodies using an adaptor, but the only company to produce the adaptor was Praktica themselves. Making them uncommon and not as cheap as you would expect.

Black and white image of a duck
Duck – Fomapan 100 Classic

As such it’s really quite difficult to recommend the Praktica BX20 as a film SLR to anyone starting out. Particularly given the better bodies, with far larger eco-systems exist that you can pick up for similar money. I don’t regret re-buying one for a second, particularly when the 135mm is on the front of it, but for me, it’s an old friend, and I’m not sure their quirks have widespread appeal…

Thanks for reading.
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8 thoughts on “Praktica BX20 – Meeting my Old Friend after 30 years, a Happy Reunion or a Disaster?”

  1. Hi Gideon,
    thanks for your BX 20 review.
    I shot this very nice SLR for 10-15 years.
    The best lenses i have is the CZJ Prakticar 50mm f1.4, a heavy piece of glass and the CZJ Prakticar 35mm f2.4. But the standard 28mm, 50mm and 135mm lenses are good too.
    Today i use more often the Praktica B200, because they built it more reliable, more sturdy.
    The weak point on the BX 20 was the transport gear, which broke down on my BX 20 two times.
    The earlier B100 and B200 cameras are much more reliable and they use the battery power more effizient too.

  2. In answer to the question in the title – a long way from a disaster!
    Given that it is fairly easy to put together a set of wide, standard and telephoto lenses for relatively little money, I don’t think I’d have too many qualms about giving the thumbs-up to someone thinking of exploring film with one – Your shots show that lovely images can be taken using one. It does everything (full info viewfinder, depth of field preview, exposure lock..), albeit it does nothing spectacularly.
    Part of the problem is definitely the materials and standard of manufacture (my copy shows some de-silvering of the prism – just enough to be annoying, but a long way from making it unusable) – It isn’t a camera that encourages you to nurture it.

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