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.
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.
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.
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…..
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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