SLRs

Praktica L Rievew – A Yearning for this old Line of SLRS – By Rock

February 29, 2020

As a 15 year old I got my first ever SLR for a Christmas present. It was a Soviet made Zenit and served me well for a while. When I opted for ‘A’ Level Photography at school, I decided to upgrade. With a small budget made up from part-time work, the only new camera I could afford was a Praktica, the latest model being the MTL5b. Literally made in their millions in the old GDR (or East Germany as we knew it), Prakticas were relatively cheap and had a decent reputation for reliability. And perfect for learning with. Others in my cohort also had Prakticas. One class mate had a neat, sleek SLR which looked rather impressive. I worked out years later it was an Olympus OM.

An early photo of my mine in London Docklands – I always used to crop my prints even into irregular dimensions

Manufactured by Pentacon in Dresden, the so-called L Line of Prakticas ran from 1969 to 1989 (as the Berlin Wall came down) and produced at least 5 million bodies in at least 50 models, although there were often miniscule changes between each variant. They were all M42 scewmounts and often shipped with either a Tessar or Domiplan 50mm 2.8 prime. Sometimes it was the faster Pentacon auto or Pancolor 1.8. The ones I have used have all had stop-down TTL metering controlled by depressing a switch, but there were also others with different metering options or none at all. The shutter release on all is located on the front of the body, rather than the top plate.

Here are some more prints taken in my youth (somewhere between 1986 and 1989). At the time I was shooting almost exclusively ORWO B&W film, in keeping with the East German theme: it was cheap and quite forgiving to process. None of my negatives from this time exist. However, I did keep some prints. The main exam question was ‘People at work and at leisure’. I remember doing a lot of candid street photography in those days. I was much braver and no-one seemed to mind, unlike modern times! I also enjoyed industrial landscapes. I printed my own photographs, always on Ilford or Kentmere paper, until I no longer had access to a darkroom. Nowadays I scan my negatives and dodge & burn digitally.

Gravesend town centre – we were a bunch of school kids happily snapping away without any bother

My milkman at the time – I asked if I could take his portrait for my school work and he obliged

Gravesend canal basin – workers here were generally a little more suspicious of people taking photos! ORWO film.

Back to Praktica, and photos taken on a LTL3 which is a second generation L from the mid 1970s. I found this camera a few years ago on a charity stall at a country fayre. My sudden and burning desire to reunite with Praktica made me buy it for £15. However, I have only used it for one roll as unfortunately it suffers from what I assume is curtain drag at the hand-held shutter speeds (i.e light leaks from the the second shutter curtain not closing fast enough). At least it came with a clean, working CZJ Tessar.

View of Rochester Castle through Two Post Alley – shame about the light leaks

Getting close-up – is this a case of shutter curtain drag? Fuji C200 film.

One or two frames showed no signs of light leak – I think this one was at 1/30th second

I have tried to find a working MTL5b ever since (which I thought shouldn’t be too difficult considering half a million were made!). Why, you might ask? I believe this is in part to rekindle the kind of passion for photography I had thirty years ago when it all seemed so much simpler. A yearning for that basic, square-edged rectangular body. A yearning for M42 lenses. A yearning for that mechanical shutter that went clank. Ah, beautiful! Luckily I recently acquired a MTL3 which was a Praktica best seller right up to 1984. I specifically went off on a long walk with a roll of Vista Plus to finish this post…..

A Cuxton valley – on a beautiful countryside walk to test out my ‘new’ Praktica L Line SLR

The decent enough CZJ Tessar is now fitted to the MTL3 – it can focus down to 33cm

Private Keep Out – needless to say the Praktica and I went the other way. Vista Plus 200 film.

Thank for reading. Here’s one more photo from those early days, a high contrast study…

Some of my stuff at www.rocksreflex.com

 

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Mark
    February 29, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    Enjoyed the article and photos.
    Learned things -think I’m well read but find large gaps in knowledge of other countries, cameras, life.
    Made me smile this AM drinking my coffee

    • Reply
      Rock
      February 29, 2020 at 6:32 pm

      Thanks Mark. Glad it made someone smile…encouraging to keep writing new posts. Cheers.

  • Reply
    Claudio Odorico
    February 29, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    Very interesting post.
    Prakticas have a special place in my heart too. Also for me it was my first camera 30 years ago when my father, that went to East Germany for work, smuggled it to Italy and gave it to me as a gift. It was a PLC3 with three lenses 35 – 50 – 135 made by Carl Zeiss Jena. I still have that camera and lenses and still use them. When I grab that Praktica it feels like home, everything falls in the right place in my hands. I guess there is some kind of imprinting of the photographer and his first camera….

    • Reply
      Rock
      February 29, 2020 at 6:28 pm

      Glad you found it interesting, thanks. I agree that our early cameras seem to hold a special place with us. And, of course, they were generally reliable things that produced decent photos…and Not too complicated.Keep that Praktica alive!

  • Reply
    Roger B.
    February 29, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    Good post, loving truth about the pickup truck of 35mm SLRs!

  • Reply
    Dean Linney
    March 1, 2020 at 8:03 am

    The Practica’s are really excellent cameras and I own a couple.The MTL 3 like yours and the L. As good as they are, the M42 Chinon CS & CX are even better and more solidly made than the practica’s. If you get the chance, grab one off Ebay. Bodies normally go for about £15, £25 with a chinon 55mm 1.7 lens. which is an excellent lens. Great article by the way.

    • Reply
      Rock
      March 1, 2020 at 1:54 pm

      I am a fan of Chinon also! In fact, I did a 5 frames post recently on 35mmc featuring 5 models. I have 6 Chinons, with another on its way. They are massively underrated which keeps their prices down. Currently using a CS4 for a work project.

  • Reply
    Guy Bryan
    March 1, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    I have still got two Prakticas. I admit I haven’t used them for some years now. I used them for taking climbing photos. Never let me down.

    • Reply
      Rock
      March 1, 2020 at 1:49 pm

      Time to give them another go maybe?

  • Reply
    Charles Edington
    March 2, 2020 at 12:50 am

    Great article! My first camera was an MTL5B as well, and I used it for my O level in photography back in the day in Lincolnshire. I wish I’d kept my portfolio from the course. The camera got sold later as a poor student…

    Fast forward 30 plus years I’m now living in the USA but always wanted to get another one – I recently picked up a working MTL5B from Canada. It took me back in time 🙂

    • Reply
      Rock
      March 2, 2020 at 1:31 am

      I can’t remember how much I sold mine for (bought a Nikon F501 urgh), probably for peanuts. At least my MTL3 is virtually the same

  • Reply
    Sally
    March 6, 2020 at 10:43 am

    These are fantastic. Especially love the Gravesend Town Centre. “Private Keep Out” is like something from a horror film… Good title too.

  • Reply
    Molly Miller
    March 6, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    That certainly bought back memories Neil when seeing John the Milkman.

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