Rock. Solid. Beautiful manual SLR manufactured by East German VEB Pentacon (Dresden). Prakticas in general are well-designed and built to last. This is the 3rd generation of Praktica's LTL series, and was in turn superceded by the sought-after MTL5, 50 and 5b, which have some electronic capabilities. It's a very professional-looking SLR with super fit and finish and simple match needle meter readout. The lightseals are a combination of hard foam and string, so I didn't have to go through my usual black foam torture (yet).
The multi-coated six element auto Pentacon lens stops from 1.8 to 16 in half stops. It is a very nice lens with fairly small glass for its speed, and operates smoothly. Near focus is about twelve inches (!), like the Meyer Oreston on my Super TL. On further research it looks like Hugo Meyer & Co. optics plant in Goerlitz became the VEB Feinoptisches Werk and so the Pentacon 1.8/50 is likely an updated version of the Oreston. The Pentacon has an A-M switch for Auto or Manual operation, which I overlooked at first. The housing is modern plastic rather than the Oreston's metal housing, so it's lighter weight. I did notice that the grease that makes it operate so smoothly had melted a bit onto one of the lens elements (I thought it was fungus at first). This can happen if you leave your camera in a hot car, etc. Followup: I wasn't inclined to think it was a manufacturing defect until I got reports that other people were having the same problem, or worse. So I think quality control with the Pentacon 1.8/50 is suspect. With that in mind, even though it's not multi-coated I can say now that overall I prefer the Oreston to the Pentacon 1.8.
In my opinion, this camera's best feature is the super-strong shutter. (By contrast, the worst feature of the cloth-shuttered Super TL) It's a vertical focal plane metal blade shutter that sounds as strong as if the camera were new instead of over 20 years old. Similar to (based on, methinks) the Copal Metal Square. Uncalibrated but by sight and sound appear fairly accurate. At the end of the wind stroke the mechanism locks into place in a most authoritative (authoritarian? *snicker*) manner. It's hard to describe without doing it for yourself but let's say it feels like a mechanism that knows exactly what it's supposed to do and does it. With feeling.
I was lucky to get this one with the smooth vinyl (I've heard it called sharkskin) usually found on the MTL5 and later, I usually see the MTL3 with a rather industrial-looking raised-grid grip (tres bloc, no?). I assume it's a late model MTL3. The smooth leatherette gives it a very sleek, refined look worthy of the solid professional-quality camera it is. It takes awesome pictures. The trick is to avoid camera shake as the shutter mechanism is so powerful.
Like the Super TL (and presumably other Praktica models) it has what I think is an innovative film loading system: the wind spool has two spring-loaded bars on it that clamp down on the film as it turns, somewhat like the guard bar on a rollercoaster. All you do is line up the sprockets, wind on, and close the back. No threading at all! Very nice.
Oh, and the pentaprism has modern split-circle plus ground glass grid focusing. I almost failed to mention it because it's what I expect to see, even though my Yashica SLRs and even my K1000 lack that feature.
When I got it in the mail from England (no box, are you kidding me!?) it was clear that the camera, though working, had survived some sort of impact. The lens mount frontispiece was loose, the frame counter inoperative, and the little rectangular frame inside the viewfinder had slipped down, partially obscuring the scene. I first tackled the lens mount. I looked inside with the lens off and could see that it was held in place with screws but I couldn't tell where they were. I figured out that they were under the plastic insert ring that serves as a bumper for the lens, and pried that out with some dental picks. Under it are four screws, three of which were loose and one had actually fallen out inside and needed to be reinserted. The ring has a single aligning pin, indicated by a flat spot with a dot, and is just held in place by push pressure. Good as new.
After getting inside I can't say I recommend taking off the top cap without a very good reason -- the hot shoe mount includes a floating clip that is very tricky to get aligned properly upon re-assembly. That's not the real bugaboo, though, the alignment of the concentric spring-loaded parts in the shutter speed knob is a real trick. Have someone film the disassembly or pay real close attention. Once the cap was off, though, it was simple to remove the pentaprism and CAREFULLY dust the glass surfaces, and realign the little window frame above the ground glass. The frame counter was simply stuck, partially removing it and replacing it freed it up. The mechanism was all intact and working. I did find - get this - a loose fairly strong-looking spring with no obvious place to put it. It was sitting free next to an identical spring which had an obvious home and was living there, but I saw no place for the other one. I took it out and verified that all the camera's mechanisms do work, so I can't say what it was. A spare for the camera repairman? Who knows!
While it looked very nice, in practice the 'sharkskin' vinyl covering was a little too smooth, I actually thought I was going to drop it a few times, there was no grip to the slick covering. So after my success with the FED 5 I thought I'd replace the sharkskin with something worthy of this fine camera while easier to grip. I think it turned out better than the original:
Tips & Tricks
The aperture preview button, which is so close to the shutter release you can rest your index finger on both buttons simultaneously, also activates the TTL meter. It's the next best thing to full-aperture TTL metering.
Should probably mention if you couldn't tell from the picture that the shutter release is on the front of the camera rather than the top. Very ergonomic.
- The manual! Thanks doood!
- Dr. Mike Otto has a nice Praktica page with info on just about everything Praktica, including the MTL 3
- Nice page with a history of Pentacon and its ties to Zeiss Ikon et al
- Praktica site with some Links to other sites
- Comprehensive Praktica M42 mount site includes a full model history
- Pentacon is still around