A very personal rating chart, for those who like Prakticas
With my collection complete for a while now, I thought it might be worthwhile rating my Prakticas not just in terms of personal preference, but also in reliability and handiness. Here the scale runs from 1 as top, making 10 an absolute bottom, but of course even a 10 would mean you get a better camera at a lower price than most competitors. I also review only what I own, and I don’t comment on the lenses, which are marvellous and (mainly) interchangeable.
1. Praktica FX2
The original and, in my opinion, still the best. A remarkably simple, basic, and durable camera. Shutter speeds remain accurate on the ones I own, and it has an extremely solid and reliable feel. Beautifully simple design, and with a Tessar lens it remains my all-round favourite camera. The waist level viewfinder might put a lot of people off, but you can buy a push-on prism if really required for eye level shooting. It’s still not a ‘classic’ SLR though (wind on lever is still just a knob, viewfinder is basic, no lightmeter), and so is not for everybody.
2. Praktica IV
An upgrade on the FX series. A permanent top prism has now been fitted for eye level shooting, but you still need to wind the shutter on every time to lower the mirror and actually see what you want to shoot. Shutter speed dial remains quite small and odd by modern standards. Rapid wind on lever is mounted on the bottom rather than the top, requiring a special carrying case. Opinions are often mixed on this one, it was produced as the wall went up, and quality reportedly varies, but in general I’ve found mine to have the tank-like reliability of the FX series. It’s also perhaps the biggest camera Praktica ever made in terms of physical size, whilst the very angular top prism and bottom mounted wind on lever are really bizarre. Gets points then for both eccentricity and robustness, as it’s still all metal and would double as a club.
3. Praktica MTL3
The modern SLR in perfected form, produced and used in the thousands. Was a standard camera in many film classrooms for many years. A real workhorse, still (mostly) mechanical and still with the old M42 mount lens system. Completely reliable system with a new (at the time) metal shutter, self-timer, and of course lens reflex so picture is always in view even with shutter uncocked. Noisy shutter, but a good basic shooter, if lacking either past eccentricity or some even more modern bells and whistles.
4. Praktica B200
The earliest, and supposedly the most reliable of the new ‘B’ mount SLR cameras, comes with aperture priority as an optional shutter speed setting, internal lightmeter LEDs in the viewfinder, and needs a battery to work at all. It must be set on ‘B’ (bulb) when loading film. Still feels quite solid and chunky, if smaller than the MTL series. More plastic has started to appear, but there are still quite a lot of metal parts, and in general it’s a very comfortable shooter. Prakticar B (bayonet) lenses are also every bit as good optically as their M42 predecessors.
Joint 8. Praktica Bx20, Praktica BMS
Prakticas from the end of the line. Quality control was becoming more and more of an issue in the 1980s. The emphasis on electronic aperture priority also meant that a burnt out wire or a loose fitting can mean your camera suddenly turning into a useless paperweight, potentially even in mid-shoot. Many of these cameras have aged less benignly than their older counterparts in the series. My Bx20 is a great camera, very modern, reliable, and high tech, and still looks great because it has had only one previous owner. The BMS by contrast I’ve had more issues with, though it’s still a very nice camera, as the last blog post indicates. The shutter failed on one, the replacement body is currently working, but the battery needs pinching and pushing sometimes to make connections work. By contrast the general size and handling capabilities are really great. I do feel though as if I’m holding my breath a lot more with the BMS sometimes when I’m loading it, praying nothing will go wrong. I have no such concerns or sensations with my 1950s or 1960s Prakticas. So in general these black plastic Prakticas, as the last in the line, are ergonomically wonderful, well designed systems. But the electronic set up really does make one perhaps overly nervous, and can cause aggravation on a level one will practically never experience with the older models. With the extra plastic of course also comes the need for slightly gentler physical handling.
Hope some will find this very personal and subjective guide of interest.