Monday, July 22, 2013

Praktica L2 - Soviet Design Brilliance

In the 1970's, Pentacon, a GDR based company (Soviet Controlled Germany) released a camera know as the Praktica L2.  During a time when their Japanese rivals were releasing cameras such as the Nikon F2, Canon FTb, Pentax Spotmatic F, Olympus OM-1, Minolta SRT-102, they released a camera that has almost none of the features of the aforementioned cameras, except for the 1/1000s shutter speed.
For one, this camera had a all-metal vertical travel focal plane shutter curtain with flash sync-time of 1/125s, which beat the Spotmatic, OM-1, Minolta, and many cameras even following, which had a horizontal traveling cloth shutter curtain, which has a much slower flash-sync time of around 1/60s.  Take the Canon AE-1, or Pentax K-1000 cameras, which both have a 1/60s shutter sync due to the longer travel of the shutter curtain.
This meant narrower apertures for fill flash outdoors. 
The thing is, this camera came in under the radar, pretty much unnoticed in North America, but recognized for its German robust construction, and the M42 mount which was very versatile and had some amazing variety when it came to lenses.  From mediocre to divine... to some of the best lenses.. In the world!
The Pentacon lenses were amazing.  Super sharp, and based off the Meyer-Optik designs, which are still highly sought after lenses.
The aperture was actually limited to prevent diffraction, and as German optics go, not surprising. 

The thing about this camera is that it looks very German.  Cold, chiseled, and plain.  Perhaps this is why it never caught on to be imported into Japan, but sold well in the UK.  Unlike other cameras that were being made at the same time, this camera had not a single spot of electrical control on it, aside from the hot-shoe. 

This meant that it would always operate.  In the highest temperatures of the Sahara and Arizona desert, to the freezing arctic and Serbian winters.  There would be no stopping this camera from operating at its fullest potential in any climate.  The thing is, unless you knew how to meter by eye, or wanted to hand-hold a meter, it was very limited.  When the FTb was a fully mechanical camera, but had a built in meter, same as the Nikon F2, it was overshadowed by these two facts. 

Or was it?

Sure, it's nice for the amateur photography to have the Auto-Everything Point-And-Shoot ease of the Canon AE-1Program where you just pointed, focused, and tripped the shutter (the camera did the rest) but what good is that when the battery runs dead? 
Or you're using a non-dedicated flash?  It's no good at all!  The Praktica L2 didn't have that worry at all.  It was built for one purpose, and one purpose only.  To take stunning photographs.

From Transparencies, to B&W, to Colour Negatives and prints, it was good for everything! Incredible optics, big bold and brilliant viewfinder (some may argue about the focusing screen being hard to read) and a little arrow in the viewfinder that would remind you to advance the camera to the next frame as the shutter has been fired.

Yes it was a very good camera, and still is today. 
I would say it is a Mechanized Mechanical Masterpiece that was Masterfully built.  Solid, tough, and bold.

Pentacon made some of the "FIRST" cameras in the world.  From the Exaka, which featured the first 35mm SLR with interchangeable lenses, to the Praktica LLC, the first TTL camera that could do wide-open metering by reading through a coupling on the mount and lens.

Why not be one of the only manufacturers that made a NON-TTL camera when everyone else was making TTL cameras.  Back to the basics, when shooting film wasn't just a hobby, but a form of art...

The Praktica L2 SLR...  Your everyday camera...  Then... Now... And Tomorrow!

Praktica L2 35mm SLR
Metal Curtain Vertical Travel Focal Plane-Shutter 1s to 1/1000s +B
24x36mm frame size (Full 35mm Frame)
1/125s Flash X-sync
Manual Rewind
Mechanical (No batteries)
M42 Mount for a wide-variety of lenses, from preset to auto-aperture
ASA reminder on speed select knob
Threaded shutter release

Until next time, keep those shutters firing!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Exakta RTL1000 - The Last Exakta

This camera is funny.  It's not a True Exakta, as it is actually built by Pentacon.  But it is an Exakta mount, and has the Interchangeable viewfinders.
For all intents and purposes, this is a Praktica in Exakta clothing.

That said, of course, the RTL1000 is also a some sought after camera, in some ways, and not in others. For one, it is a typical SLR construction, and has a dual-release.   One for left handed operation, and one for right handed operation.  Both releases are located on the front of the camera.  The left handed release is in the typical Exakta location, right beside the upper corner lens mount. The second release, or the right-handed release, is in the typical Praktica location, which is beside the lens mount around the center of the mount, and right above the self-timer.
You can use either release to trip the shutter curtain.

As you can see, the particular model I got is in rather rough shape.  And believe me, when I got it, the camera looked much nicer than this.  The body still had its skin on, and it had a Carl Zeiss Flektagon 35mm ƒ/2.8 lens attached.  That really made the camera stand out.
But, sadly, the Flektagon lens was a write-off, as was the other 50mm ƒ/2.8 lens that came with it.  The Zeiss was mangled.  Someone had attempted to repair the lens, screwed up the retaining rings on the back of it, and left a HUGE glued thumb print on the second last element.  What a disaster!  I could not open the lens to clean and repair it.. so sadly,. the lens went into the trash...
Talk about upsetting.

The other lens, the aperture dial wouldn't adjust the aperture..  It wasn't a highly sought after lens, and I have two Exakta's already, and both have Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lenses on them.  So needless to say, this lens has gone into storage until I feel I have time to repair it.  At least, I think it went into storage.

So aside from those minor let downs with this camera, it had a major flaw.  The shutter wouldn't fire at any speed, and the winder was jammed.  I told you, I bought the camera for the lenses!
I paid, or around $20.00 + shipping for it all..
Well, I decided to get my monies worth out of it, and decided to have a go at fixing the camera.
Sure enough, I got the camera apart, and checked out why the advance lever wasn't working.  Well, one of the gears was stuck, so a little bit of gentle coaxing, and it released.
I was very gentle, because if it didn't release I would have to look deeper into it.
Sure enough the lever started advancing the film winder no problem, which I thought was problem #1 solved, and back to having a working camera.
I was wrong...  The shutter fired at all speeds, but those speeds were all the same.  1/1000s.
Wow, I was pretty upset at that..
Enter the screwdriver set.  I have my fine-tipped jeweller screwdrivers as well as a camera screwdriver set.  Unfortunately my kids have run off with a bunch of them, and so I'm stuck with two that aren't the best suited for the job, but they are functional.

I got the top plate off on both sides, then removed the back.
After that happened, I had to pull the skins off, and remove the lens mount so I could get to the shutter mechanisms.
Oh that was fun!  The four screws to the lens mount were removed, and the mount was released from the camera.
I had to gently coax it off as the glue from the skin was still in place.  Once it was off, I had access to the shutter release mechanisms.

This really left me with a feeling of trepidation, confusion, bewilderment, and especially anxiety.
I blinked probably a few dozen times trying to make heads or tails of what I was looking at, and just couldn't figure it out.
So into a box along with all the parts for storage.
And there it sat for a good year!
Well, that year ended when I got the news that I was going to be delayed going to work.  So, since I couldn't go to work, I decided to hunt around in my basement for lost treasures.  Sure enough, I came upon my RTL1000 that I had completely all but forgot about.  Funny, I was thinking of this camera recently.

I opened up the storage box, and got that same feeling of anxiety, and bewilderment again, but gritted my teeth and thought to myself.. "It's now or never!"

So I pulled out the body, minus the lens mount, and cocked the shutter.
I found the inner release lever, and fired..
Yup.. same thing, still 1/1000s.

What came next, I don't know..  I started to check out what happens when I trip the shutter and cock the shutter.
Well, I noticed that there was a free floating lever, or pin, or something that seemed unattached.
So, I did what came naturally to me.  I sat and figured out where it went.
I was shocked when I found a spot for it, and it fit.
No clue what this thing did, but maybe it had something to do with adjusting the tensioner for the shutter.  Not really sure, but after I did that I cocked the shutter, and pressed on the shutter release catch.
Sure enough, at 1/30s it was... slower..
So I tried 1s...
Click...zzzzzzz.... clank...

The shutter was working!

So... What abut Bulb?

Click clunk... Nope, no bulb mode.
I shoot my head.  I tried to get BULB to work.  I found the locking mechanism for the shutter to keep it open when the button was depressed, but couldn't get it to hold the shutter open like it should. 
No matter what I tried, so I just finally gave up.

I checked out the mirror box/lens mount and moved a couple levers to male sure the mirror would flip out of the way.
Sure enough the mirror flipped up easily, and the aperture pin fired just fine.
Good!  Everyone is looking good now..

Now to close it all up...

What a chore that was!
Lens mount/mirror box was re-attached, and I had to make sure that the shutter release levers were in the right spot.
I pressed it into place, cocked the shutter, and released it..
Sure enough it fired beautifully, the mirror moved out of the way, and it looked like it was in business.. definitely in business!

Next, got the top plates back on, and the camera reassembled and screwed together.
That's when I noticed... No bottom plate!


Ah frig!  Where the hell did it go?

So far, no avail to finding it..
I know it was there, because I still have the screws for it!  But, since I can't find it, I'll just have to get another parts camera and shift some parts around.  That's fine, of course, as there is a spring missing from the lens mount to hold the lens on at the release.
So once assembled, I took out my big flash gun.  Now to test out the shutter and X-Sync at the same time.

The nice thing about using a Flash gun is that you can test out the shutter timings with how it looks by shining the flash through the lens mount without a lens attached.
Starting at 1s I released the shutter.
Yup, bright flash, full mount..
And so it went up to 1/125s.  The flash filled the film plane nicely..
Well, 1/250s and I could see part of the shutter curtain in the way of the flash...
1/500s, and half the shutter was in the way of the flash..
1/1000s and the last 1/3 of the shutter closing was all you'd see when the shutter was tripped and the flash gun fired.
That was a great sign!  The shutter WAS firing at different speeds, and seemed fairly accurate.
Plus the X-sync was functional.

Now I need to load up some film, and get shooting with it!
Sure, it's a little ugly right now, but it definitely has its charms!

Exakta RTL1000
35mm SLR w/Interchangeable lenses on an Exakta/Topcon mount
24mm x 36mm frame size on 35mm Perforated (135) film
Metal Vertical Travel focal plane shutter 1s to 1/1000s +B X-Sync @ 1/125s M-Sync 1/30s
Dual Shutter release (Left/Right hand operation)
10s self-timer
Threaded shutter release
Chrome and Black colour pattern/body

Until next time fellow bloggers, keep those shutters firing!