By Marek Orihel
These are simple but great camera coming from the factory of Pentacon – the company responsible for cameras such as Exakta 4.5×6, Contax S or Pentacon Six. Following the success of their M42-mount cameras, found its way out of the Soviet Union as a cheaper alternative to cameras from Western Germany or Japan.
To start, a little history lesson in East German cameras: Pentacon released the B-series Prakticas in late 1970s to rival other cameras from the West and to improve outdated technlogies used in their M42-system cameras. They brought new lens mount, equipped with electronic contacts to read the aperture values, new lenses made by Pentacon and Carl Zeiss Jena, later followed by lenses from Sigma or Vivitar.
Aperture-priority mode was also a big step for the Soviet-aligned countries, since eastern technology was often outdated by the West due to the planned economy, which dictated how many pieces of what product were going to be made, not accounting for the demand or technological evolution.
Either way, a surprising amount of them reached the UK market, popping on eBay from all over the country these days.
This particular camera was their later model, introduced in 1989, being basically a BC1 stripped of its AV mode and depth of field preview.
Equipped with TTL metering, it only tells you exposure time you have selected and the one that is recommended for the set aperture and, if you are in area that is too bright or dark, that you need to change the aperture by telling you OVER or UNDER.
With the ISO speeds from 12 to 3200, exposure times ranging from four seconds to 1/1000 and a decent set of lenses, this camera has no issues to perform in any lighting conditions, as long as there is battery inside.
The battery is used to operate metering, as well as the shutter, which is electromagnetic. It uses four LR44 batteries, which are easy to find in any store and last a long time.
Lenses for this camera are easy to find on eBay or similar websites, local flea markets and antiques. Those from the Pentacon, Sigma or Vivitar are often priced lower than their M42 alternatives.
Zeiss Jena lenses for the B system cameras, on the other hand, are much more superior optically and can reach prices a few times more than their Pentacon counterparts, often costing hundreds of dollars.
This means you have many lenses to choose from, prioritising either optically performing Zeiss lenses or budget friendly Prakticars, with Vivitar and Sigma lenses being a bit harder to find on eBay, so one has to do some digging before finding good deals.
My experience with this camera started the day my brother-in-law gifted it to me, alongside with some M42 lenses and Pentacon Six TLs, which I will hopefully cover later.
They were all destined to be scrapped in the process of a warehouse clearance, which is shame, knowing what value it has these days.
While starting on the Zenit 11, which is fully manual, and then continuing to the Olympus OM-10, this camera was the perfect middle ground being both easy to use but fully manual, I have immediately fallen in love with it.
Upon opening the film compartment, I found a piece of paper saying ‘’Remove before use’’ and no scratches or dents, which means it has never been used before.
I popped in the battery and it has been working flawlessly since then. The only thing malfunctioning is the battery check button, so I just always carry a spare battery with me, no big deal.
While the outside of the camera is plastic, the inner workings are all metal, so it is not even remotely as heavy as my Zenit, it is built almost like a tank. On the top is the ISO dial, film advance lever, exposure time setting dial, rewinding knob, battery check (not working, in mine at least) and the shutter button, which is lockable and threaded, which means I can use soft release button and throw it in my bag, not having to worry about it firing accidentally.
On the front, you find the self-timer and release and on the bottom is the battery compartment and rewind button. Fairly standard equipment for that era, only differentiated by the small window on the front which reads the current aperture on the lens and displays it in the viewfinder.
The viewfinder has some dust in it, but overall is very bright, with the shutter times being easy to read.
The only issue with the viewfinder comes when I use slower lenses. The small split circle in the viewfinder used to accurately focus turns one of the halves black when not held totally straight to the eye, and since I wear glasses, it sometimes gets frustrating.
The camera is comfortable to handle and operate, and with the Pentacon Prakticar 50/1.8 it came with, compact enough to carry with me all the time. The leatherette wrap makes it comfortable in hand, but overall it is still an 80’s functionalistic boxy design.
I ran a few rolls through it for the testing and was surprised by the sharpness of the flimsy lens and accuracy of the metering system. Then I have soon expanded my lens collection by the 80-200/4.5-5.6, which is not very fast, but sometimes useful and for 20 euro, not much to complain about.
The next lens to the system was the 135 f/2.8, which quickly became my favourite one, but too heavy to carry around with other stuff in my bag.
When the summer came, I finally had enough time to creatively use my camera without being limited by the school or weather, and took it on vacation to the UK, alongside with some Kodacolor, Agfa APX and Fomapan film (which unfortunately suffered from airport scanner, making it all foggy and grey).
I searched some of the Oxford’s thrift stores and flea markets and found an bargain on 35-70 lens, only to find out it has fungus inside after buying it for £4 pounds. Not so bad after all, knowing that Pentacon’s primes are better than zooms.
With enough time to spare, I used every opportunity to take my camera with me (only equipped with 50/1.8, because of the weight savings) and to take photos that turned out pretty good. From the bunch, the Agfa APX film turned out best, with beautiful grain, deep blacks and excellent overall contrast.
Later into the trip, I ended up buying more film (this time 3200 from Ilford), to try this camera’s metering in the dark. It turned out, as expected by this point, properly exposed and sharp as always.
Since then, I have experienced with Yashica GT or Lomo LC-A, but always end up coming back to this camera. It’s great quality, ideal size, uses great lenses, it’s versatile and its manual controls make it great overall camera.
With few additions, such as a soft release button, lens hood and cable release, I get trusty companion for everyday use and artistic expression. I wouldn’t change it for any camera in that price category or above, and would recommend it to anyone considering getting into Soviet-era cameras or film in general.
- You can see more of Marek’s pictures on his Instagram.