All my cameras, 10 – Praktica super TL

July 28, 2012

This was a surprise – I found my first camera while cleaning out a garage. I bought this second hand when I was a teenager in the late ’70s and had lost track of its whereabouts years ago. I had remembered it as a piece of junk and therefore being one of the reasons why I wasn’t a particularly good photographer as a teen, and looking at it now I think I was correct – this is a pretty shoddy old camera. Part of the explanation for how I ended up with such an inferior device is that I bought it from a dodgy character I knew around Bondi, rather than doing the sensible thing of going to a camera store and asking for advice. I must have put the word out that I was interested in photography and one day this character presented me with this camera as the supposed answer to my prayers. From memory I paid $50 for it, which would have been a lot of money for me at that time.

It is a basic mid ’70s SLR, from an era when there were some exceptional cameras being made by Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and the like. Unfortunately Prakticas were made in East Germany rather than Japan, and the build quality is second rate. The overall feeling is of uninspired design, cheap materials and poor workmanship. The shutter speeds are unpredictable and the controls such as the shutter speed dial are a bit loose. Of course this might happen with a camera that has been in storage for decades, but I remember this was how the camera felt at the time. It was a surprise to find it again, and my first impulse was to put it out for council collection, but then I decided I might as well put a few rolls of film through it to see what the results were like. I didn’t bother putting a battery in as it is from the era of mercury batteries and would only power the light meter, the rest of the camera operations being completely mechanical. The standard lens is a 50mm f/1.8 prime made by Meyer Optik, with the designation Oreston. It was covered in dust when I found it and I decided to leave that there in case it gave an interesting look to the photos. By ear I could tell that the shutter speeds were all over the place so I decided to use ISO 400 B&W film to give as much exposure latitude as possible.

The rear view shows the odd film loading system. One useful feature is the thin vertical metal bar on the take up spool. When loading the film you insert the leader under this and it grabs the film tightly, which makes loading easy. A not so good element is the small metal panel at the bottom next to the take up spool. The lower edge of the film has to go behind this, which seems like poor design as there doesn’t seem to be any necessity for it. Another good thing about the camera is the depth of field preview button. This is the large black button on the front of the camera next to the lens. Pressing this closes the aperture down to whatever is set on the lens, so you see the optical effect through the viewfinder. From memory this button also operates the light meter. I’m thinking now that I might try putting a cheap hearing aid battery in to find out if the meter still works and if so whether it’s accurate. The shutter speeds allegedly range from 1/500 of a second down to 1 second, plus a bulb setting. The camera doesn’t have a hotshoe for a flash but does have two sockets on the body for flash connectors, marked F and X. F was for old fashioned flash bulbs while X is for electronic flash. The maximum sync speed for flash is 1/40 of a second and there is a lighting bolt symbol next to the B setting on the shutter dial for this.

When looking through the lens I had the feeling that it might be low contrast and likely to give diffused highlights. Apart from the external dust it also appears the lens has small scratches and some specks of fungus.  Old lenses are also lower contrast and more likely to flare and give highlight diffusion when compared to contemporary lenses because of the simpler coatings that were applied then. The film used was Fuji Neopan 400 processed in Agfa Rodinal. The results were as expected, and I somewhat like the look. Rather than throwing the camera out, I am now thinking about using it a bit more. I’m interested to see what results it will give with colour film and also to try it with flash. The second test roll jammed part way through, the mirror is prone to getting stuck in the up position and the shutter release getting jammed in the down position, while the film advance lever sometimes needs more than one stroke to advance the film, so it’s questionable how much success I will have. It’s not worth getting it serviced, but I am tempted to show it to the camera repair guy I use to see the expression of horror on his face. I have also realised that the lens mount is the M 42 screw mount which means that it would be possible to put my Krasnogorsk K3 zoom lens on it.

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3 Responses to “All my cameras, 10 – Praktica super TL”

  1. jojonas~ Says:

    wow I’m positively surprised by the results you got out of it. by the looks of that lens I might not have put film through it. did you ever try it with colour film?

    • whystoptime Says:

      I haven’t tried colour but it sounds like a good idea. I had a look at your flickr photos, some interesting stuff there. I particularly like the flipped lens box camera photo of a table.


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