Tag Archives: praktica

Praktica history – chapter four – the Praktica FX2

In my first post a about the history of praktica cameras, I wrote about the very first praktica manufactured by Kamera Werkstaette Niederselitz near the Saxonian city Dresden. The target was to make an effortable camera for the people who had an increased desire to take pictures of their lives after WWII. In 1952 the original camera was replaced by the praktica fx. The big new thing were the flash synchronisation ports for fast syncing bulbs (F) and electronic flashes (X). Otherwise the camera stayed pretty much the same with waiste level finder and the fact that the aperture wasn’t automatically set when hitting the shutter but needed to be pre-set. 

In 1955 a new model was introduced, the praktica III or FX2 or FX3. The model I got was made in 1956 and was one of the last without automatic aperture setting. However, my camera came with an insert to change the waiste level finder into a nice and bright prismn finder. Also, the camera was sold with a Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm/f2 lens which i desperately wanted to have. There aren’t many differences between the FX versions optically. Aperantly the finder of the FX2 is improved to be brighter. Also later versions come with the automatic aperture setting which improves focusing a lot. For me one of the most painful things of my FX2 is the focusing: open up aperture, then focus and then back to the target aperture. It makes me want to shoot fully open all the time.

In general the FX2 handles quite intuitive. Focusing takes time but works well especially with the prismn finder. The release in front needs a bit of getting used to but it’s smooth and makes a nice dull sound. Yeah, dull and deep, not as annoyingly high pitched as a Leica. These old cameras often have problems with the film transport. This one does as well. I can never get the film tightly wrapped around the empty reel which makes it harder and harder to advance the film and leads to horrible scratches and half winded frames towards the end. That’s and the fact that I took quite a number of personal photos is the reason that there are only three images coming from two rolls of film here. I have an idea how I can insert the film a bit better and make sure it’s tight. I’ll lose a couple of frames but still better than losing many later.

At this point I wanted to say a couple of things about the lens on my FX2: the Biotar 58mm/f2. However, I think the lens is worth to have its own post but to get there I have to shoot some more rolls. In the first picture below taken on Fomapan 400, it can already be seen how incredibly sharp the lens is. I didn’t have a chance to check the bokeh yet which is the other outstanding feature of the lens. 

The other two images are taken on Fomapan Retro 320, a low contrast, high grain film with anti-halation layer that gives the last image a certain gloominess. I like the grain and I think the film is good for contrast scenes without many small details. 

Coming back to the camera for the summary: in 1956 the FX2 was everything one needed to have a great tool to take pictures. I certainly don’t need all the fancy things dSLRs have nowadays but I really look forward to the introduction of the automatic preset of the aperture in one of the next Praktika I’ll get. Focusing will be so much more convenient and efficient.

In my next posts I’ll write some more about the Rolleiflex 6008 nightmare and pushing and pulling of Ilford’s HP5+. 

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Praktica history – chapter three – the BX20s and the 135/2.8 tele lens

I acquired a Prakticar 135/2.8 with the Praktica BX20s. I haven’t used a tele lens for at least five years and shooting with it was feeling strange. Everything seemed so close looking through the finder and instead of moving closer to the subject, I suddenly had to move backward. Also the 2m minimum focus distance is more than different from what I’m used to.

Anyway, looking at the images, there are two very nice things to observe: the pronounced separation of subject from for- and background and the nice bokeh. I don’t think the 135mm/2.8 will become my favorite lens now but I might take it out of the cabinet every once in a while. 

The images are taken on Fomapan 400 and developed in Kodak HC110.

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Praktica history – chapter two – the bx20s

I started my shopping for Praktica SLR with the KW and an older Tessar 50/2.8. Now I’m going straight to the last model the BX20s which was manufactured between 1992 and 2001. Altogether 33,319 BX20s were built during these nine years. I got three prakticar lenses with the camera: 50/1.8 standard lens, a 135/2.8 tele and a 35-70/3.5 zoom lens. I took out the later first since I haven’t used a zoom lens in ages.

The camera comes with a pretty convenient auto ISO detection as long as the film has a DX code. You can also choose to push or pull two stops. Setting the ISO manually is a bit limited and only allows a range from 25 to 400. I also haven’t figured out a way to switch the ISO detection off. However, I’m not sure if this is needed since the +/-2 stops seem sufficient.

Using the centerweighted metering combined with the aperture priority “automatic” mode also comes in handy. I like to choose the aperture to decide what depth of field I want and let the camera do the rest and just watch that the speed isn’t too slow. Of course you can also use the manual mode, set the speed you wish to use and then choose the aperture according to the meter reading. 

After taking the camera out of the box and holding it in my hands, it felt kind of “plasticy”, light and not very robust. The back door seems lose and together with the “rapid” film advance lever a bit flimsy. However, I didn’t observe any leaks and the film advance works as well.  Inserting the film is easy and it didn’t take long to get familiar with the features and to start shooting. The finder is very bright and focusing using the split screen is fairly straightforward even for a semi blind person like myself. 

The camera was built at a time when autofocus SLRs already dominated the market. The BX20s was basically the last camera designed and developed in East Germany before the wall collapsed but sold afterwards. Comparing with the Contax RTSIII released around the same time, the BX20s was short of many things e.g. embedded motor drive, 1/8000s shutter speed, the first ttl  spot meter and others. I wonder if the by 1989 more and more declining GDR industry also impacted the once prestigious camera industry. It seems the Pentacon development wasn’t able to keep up with the speed of the industry since the first AF cameras hit the markets in 1985/86. The company had plans to build an AF camera but even though they continued selling the BX20s, they were not able to take the next steps and compete on a very different market.

The lenses are built extremely solid when compared with the camera. It’s all metal and big Carl Zeiss glass. The first roll in the camera was shot with a zoom 35-70mm zoom. Honestly, I didn’t expect much but the lens surprised me. The pictures are sharp, the bokeh is reasonable and taken shots right into the sun is reasonable as well. The macro mode with a magnification of 2:1 is quite usable as well. 

The first roll shot was a Kodak Gold 200 which is a bit on the grainy side but has very natural colors and it’s easy to scan. The camera is easy to handle and is, in spite of being manual, reasonably fast. The automatic aperture priority mode helps a lot and seems to be quite accurate. The BX20s doesn’t add a lot of weight to your bag and is a convenient and reliable companion. I don’t think it will replace my Contax RTSII but I will only know after testing the 50mm/1.8 and 1.4 lenses as well. 

I’ll post images taken with the 135mm/2.8 followed by the 50mm/1.8 next. 

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praktica history – chapter one – the praktica kw

the history of the series of praktica cameras is in a way connected to me growing up in eastern germany. I think I got my first plastic point and shoot when I was 6 years old. It was a beirette sl100 and I would carry the camera loaded with a 12 frames fast loading cassette everywhere. Later I got a beirette vsn, also a point and shoot but already loaded with 36 frames. But what I wanted was a SLR. My brother had a Exa 1b and I always wanted what my brother had. But I wanted a praktica, the bigger brand of the east german SLRs. When I had saved up the money, my parents and I would drive to Berlin to get the current model since the cameras weren’t widely available. Berlin was a good guess since the east german capital was preferred for its many international visitors as well as Leipzig during the internally trade fair in spring and autumn. My first own SLR was an MTL 5B with a pentacon auto 1.8/50mm multi-coated lens. All this happened in 1985 and I was about to enter high-school. The camera was used heavily until about 1990, the year of the german re-unification, when I got a Canon SLR with auto focus, motor drive and a zoom lens.

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The canon has been sold for many years already but the MTL 5B I still posses. I even shot a couple of rolls until it started having issues with the film transport. Repair would be more expensive than getting the same camera on ebay. So, the camera sits on the shelf and it’s being looked at with sentimental feelings which are even strengthened by the fact that my farther threw all my negatives away in the summer of 1989.

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Recently, I had the rather weird idea to start to collect praktica cameras from the first model introduced in 1949 simply named “praktica” to the last model “bx20s” made until 2001. I also found a nice looking praktica according to the serial number manufactured in 1950/51 with a zeiss tessar 2.8/50mm lens right away on ebay which started this new project. The camera was the successor of the praktiflex which was only the third 35mm SLR introduced. The praktiflex was the first camera with a returning mirror as well as an interchangeable lens with a 40mm screw mount. The later prakticas introduced the 42mm thread mount which was an industry standard until the seventies.

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After shooting the first roll, I also realize that this will take me through many years of 35mm photography, how it advanced and how the photographic opportunities developed. On the other side also the way viewing an image changed a lot throughout these years of ever changing technologies. already while deciding whether to scan an image or not, I was thinking if I had done a darkroom print many years ago. Looking through photo magazines of the fifties and sixties, it’s easy to conclude that the perception of sharpness, detail, contrast have changed significantly throughout the years. I don’t even claim that the biggest steps in photographic development were made in the digital age. This honor is undeserved by bits and bytes but goes to many step by step innovations of the cameras, the film material as well as the ever improving chemicals and darkroom techniques. The aim is not only to collect great work of engineering but the re-creation of the conditions at the time the camera was made.

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The camera has just a few knobs to do things. The waist level finder is fixed with a condenser type ground glass as focusing screen. On the upper right side is the wheel to advance the film with a frame counter and left the know to rewind the 35mm film. The exposure times can be chosen with the remaining third wheel. The release button is in front of the housing and makes a nice pleasant sound when hit. The mirror remains up after the release and needs to be charged by advancing the film first. The fact that there is no “communication” of body and lens takes a bit of getting used to since focus needs to be adjusted with an open lens before stepping down the aperture for shooting. I don’t think I’d be able to work fast with the camera. But looking trough old magazines photographers were still able to catch fast moving. For some shots I tried to use the largest depth of field possible by moving the infinity marker to the aperture used but these images turned out to be out of focus throughout while the manually focused images are OK.

The 2.8/50 tessar lens is quite OK considering its age. It’ fairly sharp and responses well shooting against the light. Of course it can’t be compared with today’s fancy and expensive glass. I’m not sure if I will run many more films through the camera. Yet, forcing myself to shoot with this camera is a re-thinking process and not just hit the shutter and go to the next frame. However, it will also look nice in my just started praktica collection.

These images here were taken on an long expired ORWO NP20 (ASA 80) and semi-stand developed in 1:100 Rodinal. What the camera looks like can be seen here.

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