other Pentacon cameras in my collection
Praktica LTL [1970 - 1975]
Back in the mid 1970s - when I was a spotty teenager - photography was a very popular hobby, and serious amateurs - as opposed to snap shot camera users - wanted an SLR. Although many manufacturers were actively producing SLRs, there were only three makes that were household names: *Zenith*, Praktica and Pentax. Sure, we all knew there were Canons, Konicas, Minoltas and Nikons, etc., but very few people owned them, and even less had ever seen them ... except for in the pages of magazines. (Haha ... that sounds like my experience of girls back in the 1970. I went to an all boys school, so I knew girls existed, but had never met one!)
* Back in the 1970s, despite having
Zenit printed on the camera, Zenits were always called
Zeniths in speech and writing. It seems that in more recent times they have become more commonly known as Zenits.
The key factors that popularised Zenith, Praktica and Pentax were their shared M42 screw lens mount, and easy high street availability (courtesy of Dixons). Their compatibility allowed us less wealthy folk the opportunity to improve our photographic equipment in small steps, while aiming to get to Spotmatic ownership ... one day!
The Zenith was an entry level
proper camera. The Pentax was aspirational, and everyone wanted one! The Praktica occupied the middle ground ... but no body desperately wanted to own a Praktica; although it was much better than a Zenith, it wasn't a Pentax. At least, that's how I viewed the situation, and this opinion has stayed with me. It's only now, as a collector, that I look at the Praktica and think ... that was an important camera of its time. Plus, it's a lone East German product in a market commanded by the Japanese (OK, so the Zenith was Rusian, but who's interested in a Zenith?).
I find the range of Praktica cameras bewildering. There's loads of models, but exactly how some of them differ can be hard to fathom. There were four series of
L cameras, although the term
series is a convenient way to describe them rather than a factual statement. The first set of Prakticas comprised:
- L - no built-in meter.
- LB - with an external selenium meter and match needle on the top plate.
- LTL - stop-down TTL metering.
- LLC - open TTL metering with electrical contacts handling communication of the chosen aperture between the camera and lens (and thus not wholly M42 compatible).
- VLC - like the LLC, but with interchangeable viewfinders.
All these camera models were launched between 1969 and 1974, and share a common design. Some information sources cite other series 1 models (such as the LTL2, Super TL2, etc.), but as far as I'm concerned, if it's got a
2 in the name (or any other number), it isn't one of the first range of models.
Above and beyond the vast Praktica model range, there appears to have been variations of each camera. For example, the LTL seems to have been produced with and without a pentaprism Pentacon logo, with and without a self-timer, and with two differently sized shutter release buttons (as well as all black versions).
More details can be found at Mike's Praktica Collection.
In my opinion, the LTL was the best of the bunch: it's very like a Pentax Spotmatic (the technical specifications are shown below). I didn't want a model with a number, because they are merely revived designs with almost invisible specification changes. For example, the 1985 MTL5 is essentially an LTL, and was still using stop-down metering more than ten years on. At least the first series were up-to-date when launched. I have also read that quality control of later models became poor, and internal changes replaced metal components with frail plastic alternatives.
According to dealer advertisements in a 1974 edition of Amateur Photographer, the price of a new Praktica LTL was between £58 and £71 depending upon the lens. Prakticas were sold with a variety of different East German lenses (commonly a Carl Zeiss or Pentacon), and the low price was for an f/2.8 Carl Zeiss DDR Tessar, while the higher priced option came with a faster f/1.8 Panacolar. By contrast, an Asahi Pentax SP1000 with an f/2 Takumar cost £92. In 1974, the average weekly UK wage was around £58, so the Praktica was inexpensive but not cheap, yet it was almost twice the price of a Zenit E.
Lens mount: M42.
Focus: Fresnel lens with central micro-prism spot and ground glass outer collar. Unknown magnification level and % viewfinder coverage. DOF preview via metering system. There is also a locked shutter signal on the left side of the viewfinder.
Shutter: Vertical travel metal bladed shutter with speeds of 1 sec - 1/1000th + B, and self-timer of about 10 seconds. The shutter release can be locked by turning it so that two dots on a collar around the shutter release button, and the release button itself, align.
Meter: Stop-down, Cds meter, TTL average brightness, match needle visible in viewfinder. A paddle above the front mounted shutter release button both activates the meter and stops-down the lens.
Film Speed: 12 to 1600 ASA.
Flash: Standard X hot shoe at 1/125, and flash bulbs with the shutter speed set to 1/30th. There is no separate socket for flash connection, only the hot shoe.
Film Advance: Ratchet type rapid wind lever. 15° pre-advance and about 120° advance angle. The shutter release is locked until the film has been advanced.
Frame Counter: Automatic count-up and reset.
Rewind: Via crank and bottom release button.
Size: 142 x 96 x ?mm (W x H x D).
Battery: 1.35v PX625 Mercury type.
I paid £12.10 for this camera in August 2015, and re-sold the unwanted case for £1.00, making a net cost of £11.10. I could have got
a Praktica for much less, but I wanted an early Spotmatic-like model. My LTL is in full working order and nice condition. As to be expected, it needs new light seals and a mirror damper, which has perished to the point on non-existence (and I just need to find a lens too!).
So ... now I've finally got my hands on a Praktica - after years of dismissing it as
an also ran - what do I think of it?
Well ... my overall impression is pretty favourable. The shutter release and metering paddle's co-location is good, and makes the camera easier to use than the Spotmatic's separated arrangement. The paddle feels a little thin, but it's obviously survived for 40 years, so I guess it's fine. I also like the large mirco-prism centre spot in the viewfinder. The camera feels solid and dependable.
There's only one thing I don't like, and that's the thunderous clunk of the mirror on exposure. However, when the LTL has a new damper fitted, this may cease to be an issue? The shutter release lock is a neat idea; the dot on the collar is really hard to see, but it's easy to feel your way with locking and unlocking the shutter button.
During it's period of production, this Praktica was sooooo much better than the Zenith - in every way. Setting the big mirror clunk aside for a moment, it differs from the Spotmatic in that it feels a little less smooth and refined, but there honestly isn't much in it, plus the Praktica incorporated a few tricks that the Pentax missed-out. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's as good as the Spotmatic, but I think it was a worthy contender. Given the opportunity, back in the 1970s I would have been pretty pleased to own one of these cameras in place of my Zenith B.