One great thing about being a film photographer is that you are given lots of dusty old film cameras. In the past I’ve received some weird and wonderful plastic things and occasionally the odd gem. I was really lucky to be handed an Olympus OM2, case and a couple of lenses – which I still use. A few months ago my neighbours gave me a bag of bits which included a Ziess Ikon folder in pretty much immaculate condition! And yesterday, a work colleague handed me a wash bag with a wonderful Praktica MTL50, Penticon lens, Super Takumar and a couple of flashes. Apart from a super ding to the filter thread on the Takumar everything seemed as good as new. Even the battery sprung to life after fiddling with the lightmeter switch! They insisted I could just have it or else it would have been given to charity or simply thrown away.
Its obvious by the Praktica’s looks and sheer clunkiness that it is an Eastern German camera from the early ’80′s. Although in the ’80′s most SLR’s were becoming more computerised and plastic ie the Canon A series, this little beauty is still very mechanical, mostly metal parts and easily manually operated. Unlike most SLR’s of the era, the battery only powers the lightmeter so it can happily carry on shooting if the battery dies. Although she is clunky, she is still a quality machine. The Praktica has all the charm of Eastern European cameras but seems to be built to a much better standard. The leatherette covering is study and comfortable, and the metal finish and mechanics are made to a very high standard.
The automatic exposure system works with both aperture and shutter priority but can only be adjusted while still looking through the lens. It has two arrows in the right of the viewfinder which when correctly exposed are lit with equal brightness. On the left is a little flag which tells you the camera is uncocked. The ground glass has various focusing systems to help you but each is not that great compared to the double image of a rangefinder.
In use the camera is reassuringly heavy and feels great in the hands. It is a very solid machine which gives the impression that it could withstand alot of rough treatment and keep on shooting.
The shutter and lightmeter are operated with your right middle finger while your index is used to support the top of camera and, with the thumb, adjust the shutter speed – in practice this is a very practical setup which I enjoyed a lot.
Inside the camera is a fantastic metal curtain which is precise and the timings are spot on. It also allows a maximum flash sync of 1/125 which is a really refreshing change to most cameras 1/60th. With slow film, a small flash and an overcast day you could get some dramatic fill flash shots with this camera would be a great experiment later. Film loading is odd, the take up spool has two spring loaded bars – but in practice I still managed to successfully load the film first time.
The Praktica shares the same faults as every other SLR that puts me off using them. Firstly, all the settings are adjusted while looking through the lens. It seems you are twisting the lens forever to focus, you then fiddle with the exposure meter either by adjusting the aperture or shutter. Meanwhile you are holding the camera to your face and its so obvious to everyone around that you are preparing a photo. I much prefer Rangefinders as settings are done at waist level and just a tweak if needed with the focus at head level. As a result you can get much more relaxed photos of people. And finally, the shutter sounds like some kind of movie set clappers. If standing around fiddling with the camera at eye level has not brought attention to yourself, then the sound of your mirror slapping about certainly will!
The Super Takumar is a nice fast lens with a pleasing narrow DoF. You can close focus to well under 1/2 meter and be certain that what you see is what is in the photo. This is a big plus compared to rangefinders as, even with parallax compensation, you never really know if you have composed correctly close up.
I was surprised at the results from this camera and lens.
In conclusion the Praktica MTL50 / Super Takumar is a meaty, durable SLR workhorse that is fun to use and will guarantee well exposed and composed photos every time. If you like fully manual cameras and like the SLR style camera, then this camera comes highly recommended.
Photos were taken on ADOX chs 100 and developed in Rodinal 1:100 stand.