The Praktica L is an amazing camera, even after 32 years of use!
For years, my mother’s East German SLR sat unused in an over-filled basement, quietly waiting in a grey camera bag, surrounded by lenses and old PRL-era coins for someone to stumble across it. While sifting through the boxes of unwanted Christmas ornaments and pieces of obsolete technology, I did uncover this brilliant eastern-bloc camera.
In the late 70’s, my mother came to the seemingly endless fields of Kansas from Warsaw, a decrepit city flooded with Soviet-modern architecture. As there is no better way to document a foreign land than with a camera, she immediately set about searching for something good-looking, cheap and reliable. After consulting several of her fellow students, my mother found herself in a quaint camera shop in Wichita where she purchased a Praktica L “miniature single-lens reflex” camera with a Pentacon 2.8/100 lens, a Zeiss Flektogon 2.4/35 lens, a Nikon Nikkor 50mm lens (which doesn’t fit the M42 lens mount), and a Vivitar 50mm lens . The Pentacon is an excellent lens, though it can be problematic at times. The Zeiss will only shoot at the maximum aperture, which, though irksome, provides me with wonderfully dream-like colors when coupled with Lomography 35mm film or, my favorite, Agfa Vista 400/24. But, as much as I would love to babble about lenses and films, this review is to be about the camera itself.
The Praktica L series of SLR cameras was produced from 1969 to 1989, an amazing period of 20 years. It is said that an L was rolled of the Dresden production line every 30 seconds, and these cameras are therefore still fairly easy to find on ebay and in the flea markets and bazaars of eastern Europe. After using a Diana, the “rapid wind lever” seems like an amazing invention. Being an SLR, the L has a mirror that beams exactly what the lens is seeing into a catoptric chamber on the top of the camera, showing precisely what each shot will look like when you press down on the shutter release through the Praktica’s rectangular view-finder.
The L, despite having a minimal amount of features, has many quirks, and is a joy to have in my humble collection of analogue cameras. It’s a tank of a camera and for $100, I think mein mutter, as I’d call her in Dresden, bought herself a good camera. And these days, it churns out Lomographs!