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!


  1. Nice text, but an unfortunate tittle, as you state in the text, the camera was designed in Germany and built in Germany (DDR). One of the things that was voided to the Soviets was access to the photo know how of East Germany. There are no Soviet lenses copied from post war Eastern Germany designs. The only copy is the Kiev 60 medium format, but even that is not so clear. Soviets had no control over Pentacon, they had to wait several decades for an open TTL metering camera, aperture priority or a winder.

    Pentacon had nothing to do with Exacta when they marketed the first SLR. In fact, it didn't exist yet. Pentacon was formed in the late 50's and the name is an anagram for PENTAprism CONtax, as they lost the right to the Contax and Zeiss name.

    In my opinion, the best things to come out of the Pentacon era were the Praktina, the world's first full system SLR and copied by Nikon for its F, the fabulous Pentacon Super and of course the Praktica LLC, the world's first TTL, open aperture with electric simulation of the diaphragm. It took more than 15 years for the Japanese to caught up.

    Congrats on writing about Prakticas, they sure deserve a lot more credit than people give them.

    1. Thanks! The "Soviet Controlled Germany" was put in quotations as not everyone is aware that after the war when Germany fell, that the country was split. You had the Communist side (East) and the republic side, West..

      But I completely understand what you mean.. I know Exakta was "NOT" Pentacon, but eventually the company did become Pentacon..

      I had a Praktica LLC, but later gave it away to the Film Photography Project in early 2012.. sadly the meter was toast on it, even with a new battery.
      I have a Pentacon 50mm ƒ/1.8 M42e lens. It has the three little pins for the Aperture readout..

      Praktica cameras truly were a masterpiece in their own right. My Praktica L2, I may have given the first one away along with the LLC, but this one, it is here to stay. If I manage to get an LLC with working Meter, I'll be very happy indeed!

      Cheers Paulo. And thank you for the comment!

  2. Hi, only by accident I saw your post on the Praktica L2. A great post as all the others in your "My Gear" I have scrolled through now. Like you I am an enthusiastic collector and user of old cameras and the Praktica L2 is one of my favourite work horses indeed - I prefer using it with the Helios lenses though. As you rightly put it: it may have been a camera from yesterday when it came out already; but still good for today and also tomorrow. Thanks again - and good that I have your address now. Greetings from (now united) Germany. Rolf