The Case of the Mystery Praktica!
The Praktica FX-Something!
by Leslie Lazenby
Another lovely camera came in the door of my Imagine That shop here in Findlay, Ohio as a donation - another orphaned puppy, and as usual I could not wait to give it a spin. First I usually do a little Google research and maybe a quick eye over the instruction manual just to make sure I don't have something rare or tricky to use. Normally this just takes minutes, but I have yet to convince myself which model this is. It maybe a FX2 or FX3. FX3s were typically FX2s that were imported to the US, but there is a FX2 variation with no model number on the name badge. Regardless it was made around 1958 and made in Germany USSR Occupied. This country of origin is stamped in white on the back door and not all that straight, so it appears it was stamped by hand and for import into the US. The last time it was used it had a roll of Kodachrome 64, 20 exposures. It's been awhile since 20 exposure film was made, regardless the shutter speeds sounded good and the lens aperture worked well.
It is a classic 35mm for the late 1950s, but the viewfinder is a bit more unique than most. To me it looks like a tear drop shaped camper, rounded and sloping. When flipped open from a button on the back you have a waist level finder that you can pop open a magnifier to help with focus. For zone focusing and especially vertical shots you can use the sport finder. To use a waist level finder to shoot verticals drives me nuts, it is so much easier to focus on the glass in horizontal and then recompose with the sport finder for verticals. You can preset your lens to your desired f/stop then with an additional ring on the lens go to full open aperture to focus at it's brightest. Without taking your eye away you can then rotate this ring back to the selected f/stop. This makes it quick to focus and return to the needed f/stop, if you remember to do it before taking the picture. Mine came with a Steinheil Munchen Culmar 50mm 2.8, also another oddity as this was not the lens usually offered with the camera. It is a M42 mount so there are plenty of lens options out there.
above: Mat Marrash checks out the mystery Praktica at the FPP round-table (Episode 136)
As for the camera operation it loads normal, the back is not hinged it comes completely off. It doesn't have an instant return mirror, the mirror returns when the film is advanced and this cocks the shutter as well so you do not have to worry about double exposure. You can always tell if you have not advanced the film via the viewfinder, with the mirror not returned you can not see through the lens. The film advances via a dial rather than a thumb lever, again very normal for the time. Another feature I found a little odd was the shutter speed dial, first you set the dial for slow or fast shutter speeds then set the actual speed itself. You have B, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10 and 1/25 for the slow speeds and 1/100, 1/200 and 1/500 for the fast speeds. There is also a flash sync speed which is 1/50 with "x" and "M" sockets. There is no meter built in so no battery is needed to use the camera. I used the Sunny 16 rules to make my exposures.
Here's the biggest reason this camera gave me fits, the shutter release is on the face of the camera, not the top where we are so used to today. I can not tell you how many times I fired the shutter just picking up the camera. For me it falls in a natural place to grip the camera. One easy way to avoid this is not advance the film until you are ready to take the next picture, then the shutter is not cocked, this kind of goes against my grain. With roll film cameras that do not have double exposure prevention I will always take the picture and advance it to the next frame. If I do not shoot that "next frame" for a length of time I never have to remember if I advanced the film. It has always been my practice to advance and be prepared for the next shot. Who wants to lose time advancing to the next frame with the perfect picture is fleeting in front of you. With this camera I am just setting myself up for numerous erroneously fired frames.
So lets take a picture. Assuming the film is loaded I set the shutter speed dial to fast or slow, then the actual shutter speed, next the aperture, open the lens up to wide open to focus, focus with the help of the magnifier and make my choice of vertical or horizontal as different viewfinder is eventually used, compose my picture, close the lens down and then fire the shutter. That seems like a lot of steps compared to modern 35mm, and all in all it's been a love hate relationship. If I forget to set fast or slow on the shutter speed dial, close the lens back down or fire the camera when I pick it up, I curse myself. Yet when it is all done properly I like the results and like anything else the more you use it the more this all becomes natural. Some cameras can be picked up and used by nearly anyone, others like this one need to be used often and be the only dog in the house.
The Mystery of the Praktica is discussed on Film Photography Podcast 136!
Leslie Lazenby is the owner of Imagine That! photography store and The Mecca Studio, both in lovely downtown Findlay Ohio. Leslie has been shooting film-only for decades and is one of the few photographers in the world to shoot and sculpt Polaroid SX-70 photo manipulations. Leslie at The Flickr.