Praktica L. Putting the ‘no’ into ‘No Frills”

pl8

There are basic cameras and there is the Praktica L, a large block of East German utilitarian metal introduced to consumers and comrades in 1969 as the first camera in Praktica’s L-line.  The previous PL Nova range cameras were basic enough with some models having metering, and the whole range having some curves, bevels, lines, circles and a bit of a retro look, even for 1960’s cameras.

With the L range, Praktica embraced modernity, sort of. No lines, curves – just a big heavy functional camera, and to these eyes, a thing of beauty.

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that  lil’ Pentacon decal

The Praktica L has no meter, no split focussing screen, no battery – nothing other than a shutter button, speed dial and a winder. My model has a slight deviation from conformity. A small number of the L’s had the Pentacon logo etched on the prism housing and a small ‘L’.  I was delighted when my £8 eBay purchased arrived with this decal.

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The winder doesn’t even have the black covering present on many later Praktica L ranges, obviously far too decadent.  The shutter speed dial is the usual with a flash hot shoe sync at 1/125, a fastest speed of 1/1000th and an ISO indicator.  Just as a reminder as there is nothing electrical in this camera.

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minimalist

The viewfinder is bright and bare.  There is a wee pointer which disappears when the shutter is cocked.  There is also no focussing aid like a split screen – which can make focussing a bit trickier than usual.  So nothing to distract from composition..

Which brings me to the lens – the much derided Domiplan 50/2.8, a lens with a pretty poor reputation out there.

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the dreaded Domiplan

It looks nice with the ‘zebra’ markings, it’s extremely basic in construction and, yes – a bit soft. But it’s not terrible and with metering by sunny 16 it did ok. These shots were taken in changing weather in County Donegal on a roll of Agfaphoto APX100.

glencolmkille1
Glencolmkille at f16
glencolmkille2
and at f4 with swirly Domi-bokeh
guinness
it was closed
pub
daytime drinker looking for his bike
roartys
Roartys
rock shadow
rocks shadow selfie

Like a lot of old cameras – and basic cameras – there’s a lot to enjoy using without a meter and focussing aids, and using a pretty crappy old lens while getting half decent results.  And of course using one so aesthetically pleasing.

It’s got to be… Prefect

The Halina Prefect, what can I say.  It’s a bit rubbish – but solid with a bit of heft, easy to use and it looks nice sitting on a desk.  I paid a fiver for it just to see how bad it would be.

Prefects

It’s a metal bodied pseudo TLR.  It takes 120 film with 6×6 negatives.  It has a fixed-focus lens.  It has one shutter speed – 1/30th sec and B.  It has three aperture settings – f8, f11 and f16.  It has a shutter release.  The viewerfinder is bright-ish.  And that’s your lot.  Load the roll, wind on looking at the red window for film frame number, guess the 1-of-3 f stop, and click.

Prefects Prefects

I took it on a shoot with a few musicians (mainly digital..), and grabbed a few shots using Fomapan 100 developed in Ilfosol.

Corey, Alex img005b

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And the verdict?  I was pleasantly surprised.  It was a bright day, so F16 was going to be used and they were reasonably sharp and maybe better than the spec deserves.  I’ll probably take it out for another shoot – on a bright day with lots of contrast – and play around with it.  Certainly worth the fiver.

The Kodak Retinette 1A. A first roll.

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The Kodak Retinette 1A. The site Kodak Classics gives in excellent detail the history of the delightfully well-built Kodak Retina range and its budget sibling the Retinette.  Mine is the type 042 Retinette 1A from around 1962 and the first thing you’ll notice is that this is one solid wee camera.  There’s a lot of metal and it’s not the lightest, there are no lugs for a strap (you’ve to use the case) and it’s fully manual – no meter and viewfinder/guess focussing (there are sort-of zone dots).  And it’s a delight to use.

r2

All the business is done on the lens/shutter housing. A Pronto shutter unit with a Reomar 45mm f2.8 lens. With no internal meter, it’s Sunny 16, a handheld meter or the phone app. There is a generous range of four shutter speeds 1/30th to 1/250th and B. Who needs milky water anyway.  Aperture is F22 to F2.8.

Focussing is a reasonable guess or using the sophisticated 1-to-3 dots going from close to further away, Father Dougal style. R1

You could attach a rangefinder to the cold shoe, but since you can pick these cameras up for a tenner, it hardly seems worth the bother.  And why not go fully manual – it’s part of the fun of using something of this vintage.

There’s a wee button to open the back and film goes in easily, and the viewfinder ? – nice and clear with zero information apart from the subject.

R3Rvf

There is a self timer, they’re the weak link in a lot of vintage cameras and since I’m never going to use it, I’ll assume it’ll work.

The first roll out was Agfa APX100 developed in Ilford Ilfosol with some shots taken in Lloret de Mar, Spain and east Belfast.  For the contrast..

CS Lewis statue, Belfast

CS Lewis and Wardrobe.  Belfast.
CS Lewis and his wardrobe.  Belfast
cslewis2
James McEvoy tribute.  Belfast
cslewis5
Aslan.  Belfast
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Window shopping, Lloret de Mar
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Graffiti. Lloret de Mar
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Ice Cream, Lloret de Mar
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Catalonia says Si.  Lloret de Mar
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Sant Romà, Lloret de Mar.
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A bit softer at open aperture… it may have also been rubbish focus by me..
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Tables and chairs.  Lloret de Mar.

The main thing I noticed about the Retinette is that in good light, f8 and smaller, the lens is tack sharp and nicely contrasty.  In fact all the over/underexposed and blurred shots were purely down to me and rushing a bit.  When you slow down, check the exposure and take a bit of care focussing, this is a terrific camera. If the Irish summer holds up, it’ll see a few more rolls.

Spotmatic for the People

Actually the SP500, a budget Spotmatic from the early 1970’s whose shutter speed only went as fast as 1/500th.  But actually it did 1/1000th but it wasn’t shown on the dial – you just move it round.

sp1

I got this for a tenner on the eBay with a Tessar 50mm/2.8 lens, all working except for the meter.  So Sunny 16 for using what is an aesthetically pleasing, delightful to handle and well build classic.

The SP500 is a no-frills M42 SLR but it’s useful to compare with the Eastern European counterparts.  The Pentax looks and feels smoother and lighter, it handles really well and there’s no recoil from the shutter like the Praktica MTL3.

sp3

One of the factors contributing to it’s overall sleekness is the absence of a hotshoe, but there’s sockets for normal flash sync (X, 1/60th) and FP (focal plane) for higher speed fill in flash, not that I’ll be using this much with flash.

On top there’s the basics including the unmarked 1/1000th shutter speed setting. I’m sure Pentax had a good reason for that… Shutter release (threaded for a cable) and a pointless film identifier ring around the rewind crank finishes off the lo-fi feature list of the SP500.

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Using it though, with Sunny 16, is a delight.  It’s got a bright viewfinder (complete with non-functioning exposure needle),  Olympus-OM-levels of ergonomic niceness and is a suitably admirable film camera for the inevitable Instagram post.  I took it on a photowalk with a roll of expired Kentmere 100 which was developed in Ilford ID11.

 

dee street
Donaghadee, County Down
talkative gent
A bearded oul’ lad
greyabbey1
Greyabbey, County Down
Donaghadee lighthouse, Co Down
 The Lighthouse, Donaghadee
Harbour nets, Co Down
A pair of fishnets


stadium 2
Windsor Park, Belfast

The SP500 – a basic budget M42 Pentax – has no unique selling point other than it’s a delight to handle, looks great and you can pick them up for a song on the eBay.  It’s a sleeker alternative to the DDR and Soviet M42 SLR’s and there’s a ton of lenses out there.

Suitable for Students. The K1000

The Pentax K1000 is always declared to be the camera to learn photography.  But is it any different from any other manual camera?

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I never owned a K1000 in the analogue days, I was a Praktica user – a fully manual MTL3, a selection of Pentacon primes and a telephoto zoom from Boots.  Yet even then, it was the K1000 if you were serious about learning photography – Zenits and Prakticas were only for those on a budget.

With a rejuvenated interested in film and a mission to acquire cheap stuff from eBay, I still wasn’t tempted by the K1000 due to the often inflated prices compared to similar spec’d cameras from the likes of Chinon and Ricoh.  Then I was given a well used K1000 about to be binned as it didn’t work.  Well it did – the mirror was sticking up  – a squirt of 3-in-one down the wee rod under the baseplate sorted that and I was the finally the owner of a Pentax K1000.

First things first – it doesn’t have the “Asahi” mark above the Pentax on the prism, so it’s obviously one of the later Chinese models – not as good, apparently.  And the lens is an A series f2, again I could’ve done better.  Would it, however,  be the Praktica killer?

Well, it does look nice and doesn’t have the weight of the Praktica and less of a recoil when you press the button.  The lens was pretty sharp across the apertures and the viewfinder clear and uncluttered.

pk4
nicely under-elaborate

There’s a simple + or – for the meter reading. And here is the first niggle with the K1000. The meter is always on through the lens. If you don’t have a lens cap, the battery is going to drain quickly. So I have a lens cap.

And the next .. thing.  The shutter wind lever sits fairly neat with the shutter selector so changing shutter speed isn’t as freely done as it could be.

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Compared to the Ricoh KR5 and it’s lever-resting position for both metering and selecting shutter (albeit with a smal range of speeds) these quirks would surely affect the K1000’s legendary status?

Anyway – would it work with a roll of film.  With a roll of Kentmere 400 loaded, I took a walk around Dublin.

pope merch
Pope Merch – Francis was in town
pope queue
queueing for the Pope-bound Luas
norseman
others weren’t so bothered about the papal visit
Dublin bikes
dublin bikes.  Dublin
Dublin Arlington Hotel
Arlington Hotel – the Celtic Nights show is great craic here

 

barrels
Barrels.  Probably Guinness

 

seafood cafe
Oysters no doubt served here.

So a quick photo walk with the K1000.  And the verdict?  It’s perfectly fine.  The design quirks aside it’s nice to use, looks and feels well and  – well that’s about it for me.  It’s a competent performer, I certainly don’t dislike it and would definitely use it again.  Is it the student camera?  It certainly fits the bill but you’re going to get much better value buying other less celebrated names and at 30/40 years old, reliability is hit and miss with any make.  I’m not going to sell the Prakticas just yet.

Not Overly Complicated: The Canon T50

T50 ele2
Welcome to the 1980s

I never intended to buy a Canon T50. I had rescued a T70 body from impending landfill, and after a clean and new set of batteries, it seemed to work. Needing a lens, the typical eBay rate for a 50mm f1.8 was around £30-£40 quid. So as is often the case, I ended up buying one attached to camera for a tenner. In this case the camera was the T50.

While the AE-1 and AE-1 Program had wowed the market since the mid-70’s (and continues to do so as a regular hipster choice – and at hipster prices), 1983 saw the release of a new Canon entry in the beginners market.  Gone was the sleek-lined black and chrome look the AE1/AV1 shared with it’s competitors in the Olympus OM and Pentax M ranges, and its simple, classic engraved logo .  Instead we were given the future of camera design.  It was big and chunky, plastic, noisy and a more flashy screen-printed logo.  Welcome to the Eighties.

The T range is considered to be a bit of an ugly aberration in the Canon SLR series – a short lived 1980s mistake between the classic A series and the EOS range of cameras which evolved into the DSLRs of today.   In a non-revisionist opinion however (as a young Praktica user in 1983 I seriously wanted one of these..) I have to say the T50 is not the ugly duckling of popular opinion but a beautiful design classic of the era.

It’s certainly a bit on the minimalist side.

T50 top
The new logo

It has a big black shutter button, a function selector wheel, film rewind lever, a hotshoe and a big black thumb grip.

When I say function selector though, it’s more of an on-off button.  The T50 is (almost) a fully automatic  point and shoot camera.  ‘L’ is off and ‘PROGRAM’ is on.  BC checks the battery and ‘SELF’ is the 10 second self timer, which operates in ‘PROGRAM’ mode.

T50 control
the various functions..

And PROGRAM is a glorious unknown.  There is no indication of aperture or shutter speed other than the sound of the mirror slap giving you an idea of duration.  You do have a viewfinder warning where the ‘P’ indicating PROGRAM mode flashes when you’re going to get camera shake.  Or need a flash.

The other manual intervention is setting film speed.  There’s a dial in the usual place.

T50 ISO
manual intervention – film speed

There is a slight opportunity for manual control. The A setting on the lens is for fully auto operation. But when you move this to an aperture setting, the camera responds with a shutter speed of 1/60th. No metering indication other than an ‘M’ for manual in the viewfinder, so you’re on Sunny 16 for this.

And that’s as complicated as the T50 gets.  It takes AA batteries (thank you Canon), has a remote control socket (don’t have a remote control) and takes a dedicated flash (included in my £10 bundle).    The other thing about the T50 in addition to its opinion-dividing looks is the audio.  Its built-in auto winder is one noisy fecker – no Leica street photography stealth with this camera, it’ll definitely attract the attention.  Especially if you keep the shutter button pressed where it’ll go off on a 1.4fps continuous burst.

Using it is a blast.  Stick in a roll of film, compose and focus the nicely sharp Canon 50mm 1.8 and press the button. I used  Kentmere 400 to ensure decent shutter speeds in what was overcast weather.  I was pleased with the results.

traditional
Menu includes drink
oneills
O’Neill’s, Dublin
Hairy Lemon Dublin
The Hairy Lemon, Dublin
el campello statue
Sculpty thing, El Campello, Spain
but is it art
but is it Art?  Dublin
beach costa blanca
Three trees on a beach.  Costa Blanca, Spain
bernardo
Bernardo O’Higgins, Liberator of Chile.  His Da was from Sligo

And that’s the Canon T50.  A big beautiful point and shoot with a Canon FD lens.  It’ll wind on for you but you need to manually rewind.  It has manual control but only at 1/60th and no metering.  You can get it for the fraction of the price of an AE-1 or AV-1.  But don’t use late at night – you might wake the neighbours.

The Ricoh KR-5: SLR Minimalism.

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feel the love for the KR5

The resurgence in film photography, especially with younger photographers has led to a sharp increase in the price of old film cameras.   In 2008 I bought a mint Nikon L35AF for a measly £3 . With the ascendancy of DSLRs and Mirrorless systems, people couldn’t get rid of their film gear quickly enough.

10 years on and classic compacts, SLRs, rangefinders and medium format cameras go for premium prices, although only for certain cameras with a certain cachet.  Cameras like the Canon AE1, Olympus MjuII, Pentax 67, Mamiya 7, anything Contax or Leica all seem to be a costly camera of choice for the affluent young blogger or YouTuber.

I however grew up on a Praktica MTL3 and whatever cheap M42 lenses I could get, and even though I progressed to the heights of Praktica B mount and aperture priority exposure, I still have a fondness for a more budget approach to film photography.

So while looking on the EBay for a 28mm lens to go with a battered but working Pentax K1000 rescued from impending landfill, I managed to obtain for the princely sum of a tenner:

  • A mint Ricoh KR-5 with 50mm  f2 Riconar lens
  • A Sirius 28mm lens
  • A Sirius 135mm lens
  • An olive green Miranda bag
  • A wee sync cable
  • A blower brush (essential for negative scanning)
    I don’t think I’ve ever felt as pleased with myself.

The KR5 it should be said is a basic beginners camera of the most utilitarian order. But my god it’s beautiful.  A solid mix of metal body and plastic casing  – the name and model is cut into the plastic, none of your sticker nonsense here – it has a solid, unfussy design.

It’s jet black – front, back and top with minimal controls.  You get a shutter dial, film speed dial, lever advance and shutter release button (threaded for cable release).  A self-timer on the front and that’s your lot.   Even the shutter speed dial keeps it basic.  No wide range of speeds either..

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Complex state of the Art controls

A modest fastest speed of 1/500th is complemented by a slowest of 1/8th with B the only setting below this. So any milky water shots, you’re on B and counting.  In reality of course if you’re street shooting or doing a photo-walk, this is going to cover most situations unless you’re using Ilford Delta 3200 on a bright summer day.  Equally in the studio under flash – sync of 1/60th, lens at f8 and set the lights accordingly.

Exposure is measured through a simple CdS exposure meter powered by two G13/SR44 batteries.  A useful feature is that the meter only works when the lever is half-cocked to show the red dot as seen above.  Unlike the Pentax K1000 whose meter is always on and needs a lens cap on to stop battery drain, the exposure is only read when the lever is in this position.

Simplicity is extended through to the viewfinder screen.

Ricoh viewfinder
Underexposed Rhein and bridge

It’s big, bright and has a needle that moves up and down.  No LED’s or even +/-  indicators.  When it’s in the middle you’re good to go.  Even the focussing circle in the centre is unfussy and is clear to see when you’re in focus.

And that’s the KR-5.  Next step is to load film and shoot.

 

Thomas
Kentmere 100 using studio flash.  50mm lens
Drummer, Grafton Street. Dublin
Grafton Street, Dublin.  Tri-X 400.  135mm lens
dublin larkin
O’Connell Street, Dublin.  Tri-X 400.  28mm lens
Keiserwerth
Kaiserswerth, Germany.  Kentmere 400.  50mm lens

And that’s the Ricoh KR-5 in all its wonderful simplicity.  You may ask what’s the difference between it and any of the numerous other manual SLR’s of the 1970’s and 80’s and there’s undoubtedly more sophisticated, desirable cameras out there, cameras with greater versatility and even ones with more than 7 shutter speeds.

It’s strength is in the simplicity of use and its limited options and functionality which puts the onus on the photographer.  It combines Eastern Bloc utilitarianism with a bit of Japanese reliability and sleeker design.  It’s not too heavy, the shutter’s not too loud and the solid black look and stripped back functionality make it the Johnny Cash of cameras.

And you can pick them up for next to nothing.

Olympus Tripped.

When the meter finally goes….

Trippy.  Meter no more
Meter no more

The inherent risk of bringing your 40 year old film camera on holiday is of course that it decides to call it a day.  Before loading the Trip, I always give it a quick check to ensure that it responds reasonably appropriately to light – particularly that the wee red underexposed marker appears in the viewfinder.  Day 2 of a trip to Tokyo and before the Fomapan was loaded, it was clear that the Trip meter had finally given up the ghost.  However, before putting it back in the suitcase and relying on the Nikon F60, I remembered the manual aperture settings – a quick check showed these to be responding.

So, a pretty useless 1/40th constant shutter speed in a bright summer Tokyo day and it was Sunny 22 to see how the Trip would go on manual only.  F22 for the bright outdoors and guess for the shade and indoors.

And…  it went ok.  Fomapan 100 is pretty forgiving anyway and with the bright harsh sunlight and deep shadows, I couldn’t really complain with the results from a 40 year old malfunctioning compact and a £3.50 roll of budget Czech film.

asakusa girls1
Kimonos, Asakusa – a great range of detail captured by the Trippy

It would have been a challenge getting any sort of shadow detail here given the contrast between the umbrella and background.

asakusa posing
Posing

Of course, with an aperture setting now to consider on the Trip,  there was the added risk to forget about adjusting the zone focussing from “mountains” to “2 blokes“.

tokyo books
Bookstore.  Blur unintentional..
orange street
Orange Street. In black and white
asakusa incense
Incense

 

asakusa lady
Simultaneously shot on her own phone and my dodgy Trippy

The Trip of course, is a great street camera, all you have to remember is to set the zone focus.  My immediate reaction when the meter went was to retire the Trip and have a look on The Bay for a replacement.  But doing a quick Sunny 16 setting of the Aperture is no problem, and you can learn to live with the constant 1/40th shutter.  The lens is as sharp as ever (after remembering to check the focus) and frankly there is no better looking 35mm compact out there.  My meter-less Trip hasn’t had its last holiday just yet.

More Trip/Foma100 photos on the Flickr.