The first thing you notice about this and most Prakticas is the design, or ergonomics. The camera has a square-edged body and the shutter button is on the front rather than the top. Many cameras look like the outside shape is moulded around the internal components. This Praktica looks like a box that was made to hold the working parts. It’s at the brutalist architecture end of camera design. It’s reminiscent of the Argus rangefinder, although the Argus was probably made that way for ease of assembly.
This, and many of the other Praktica models, use a vertically-run, metal-bladed shutter that seems to be reliable and long-lasting. It has the usual suspects of speeds, spanning 1s to 1/1000. Unlike its Russian cousins you can safely change the speed without winding-on first
This was very much the thinking person’s cheap camera. There were lots of different models, so pay attention. Be aware too that Praktica used electrical contacts between the lens and body before they moved to a bayonet fitting. If you have an electric-type camera I believe you will need an electric lens to be able to take advantage of open-aperture metering. My version, the LTL, uses plain and simple stop-down metering and has no electrical contacts.
The bonus features in this model were a visible indicator in the viewfinder that the shutter is not cocked, plus a lock for the shutter button. Heady stuff, but mine lacks the shutter lock.
The meter takes a mercury battery, but you can also use an air-zinc one. Or you can just treat it as a meterless camera and forget the battery.
The other thing you will notice using the camera is the way it winds on. What I’m used to with other screw-mount cameras is the feeling of gears moving. They feel like you are winding-up a clock. The Praktica has a sort of clunk to the action – like a switch is being set. It’s hard to describe, but you will know it if you try say a Pentax and a Praktica. It may be down to Praktica’s method of holding the end of the film (see peeve below).
Mine came with a typical Praktica lens, the Domiplan 50mm f2.8. This is a basic triplet design with a reputation of being soft wide open but sharpening up a bit when stopped down. The Tessars are better lenses if you find a camera with one on. Or fit any number of sharp M42 lenses. I’m using a Yashinon on mine, with Pentax 35mm and 85mm lenses rattling in the bag.
But it’s a standard screw-mount camera. Get one of the models that does not use the electrical contacts and it will take a huge range of lenses. I’m pretty sure the electric ones will work too, but the meter probably won’t work without the matching lens.
The one feature I really don’t like though is their design of film take-up spool. Praktica switched from the usual slot in a tube to a clever piece of wire. I struggle to get the wire type to engage the film. I can do it, but it’s a slow film load as I wind-on the first blank bit of the film while watching for the rewind crank to revolve. I’m sure there is a knack to it, that I lack.
In use, the camera works as you’d expect. The shutter speeds seem accurate, which is a tribute to their design. The meter works if you get the battery voltage right. The negative frames are evenly spaced, so the mechanical bits are working ok. The rest is down to the lens, so the pictures are as sharp as the lens I fit.
Respect is due though. They made a lot of cameras and seem to have built them well. Mine must be at least 47 years old and still works reliably. I’d much rather use a Praktica than a Zenit.