Christopher J Osborne

Praktica MTL3

Praktica cameras, made in East Germany by Pentacon, provided many people with their first introduction to SLR photography. They were basic by contemporary Japanese standards, but positively luxurious by the standards of the Zenit cameras the Soviets produced for export. The MTL models were the mainstay of the Praktica range from 1978 to 1989. The MTL3 you can see here was produced from 1978 to 1984. Later cameras like the MTL5 and MTL50, where functionally very similar but ‘benefited’ from updated cosmetic finishes. I put ‘benefited’ in speech marks as I much prefer the 70s ‘hand grenade’ finish of the MTL3 to the more conventional smooth leatherette covering of the later MTL5 and MTL50 models.

The MTL cameras all provide a full shutter speed range from 1-1/1000 second, an M42 screw lens mount and stop-down TTL match-needle metering… you use the lever above the front mounted shutter button to stop the lens down and activate the metering system. Most MTL3s also have a mechanical self-timer on the front, but that seems to have been missed off this one… maybe this was a Friday afternoon example!! What you don’t get is any form of exposure automation, extensive viewfinder information read-outs, dedicated flash systems or motor-drive options, all of which were becoming fairly standard in contemporary Japanese cameras.

I got this camera from a car boot sale July 2012. Rather surprisingly the camera itself seems to be in full working order (though it took a bit of fiddling to coax it back in to life!). I always think you should count yourself very lucky if any car boot sale camera works at all! The camera came with 2 lenses: the standard Pentacon 50mm f/1.8 and Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8. The former works fine, but the automatic aperture diaphragm of the latter is stuck at f/2.8.

A lot of people get quite giddy when ever they come within spitting distance of anything with the Carl Zeiss name on it. But it’s important to remember that post WWII East German Carl Zeiss Jena is a very different proposition to pre-war Carl Zeiss Jena or post war West German Carl Zeiss. After WWII East German Carl Zeiss was really just a brand for cheapo Praktica stuff. Even within the lowly Praktica universe the Carl Zeiss Tessar was the budget option (though there was the even cheaper Domiplan 50mm f/2.8 option). But it seems people will pay silly money on eBay! I paid £15 for this camera and it’s two lenses… probably about £5 too much for a car boot find!

But when I get around to buying an M42 to Micro Four Thirds adapter, or an M42 to Pentax K adapter, I will have some fun experimenting with both the CZJ Tessar and the Pentacon 50mm lenses on digital cameras.