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KW (KameraWerkstatten)Praktica MTL5

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by Azjimn2son » Fri Dec 18, 2009 4:50 pm

VEB Pentacon was the successor company to KW, as most of the East German camera industry was eventually merged into one state owned company. My first SLR in 1958 was a used KW Praktica FX, which was a fairly well built camera. Most people who have studied KW feel Praktica's quality, never very high, went down further with the introduction of assembly line production on the Nova series in he early 60s. One should remember that many of the trained camera technicians fled to the West once the GDR was established. But, for short time, those skilled technicians that remained turned out some good cameras. Early Zeiss (East ) Contax "S" SLRs were well-finished and innovative. Exakta cameras up to the late fifties were also solidly made, if eccentrically designed. For a few years, KW produced a higher quality SLR model called the Praktina that was the first 35mm SLR to have an optional electric motor drive. This was KW's attempt to attract more sophisticated users, but it failed because the design was still not modern, and the Japanese cameras, which did not cost that much more, offered better value.
The L series Praktica cameras were introduced between 1969 and 1974, with the simpler models coming out first. One later model (LLC) had inter-changeable finders and screens, and featured a then unique electrical connection between certain special "Electric"" series lenses and the camera body, allowing open aperture metering. This camera did not achieve high sales in the West and the Electric lenses today are pretty rare. I have owned and used three L series Praktica cameras: an LTL, an MTL-3, and an MTL-5. There is no doubt that the quality of materials and workmanship is below that of all well known Japanese makes. But the prices of new Prakica L models were much lower than any Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax, Konica, or even Yashica or Ricoh! In my experience, the L series Prakticas have to be treated more gently than better made cameras. The self timers levers on two of the three I owned fell off eventually. I will say that the MTL-5, which I still have, and occasionally use, survived a drop to the sidewalk from about waist level and still works well. The upper plate--plastic painted to look like metal--did crack. So why buy one, even at the $30 or less you can often get them for now? Two reasons: the L series have a well made metal shutter, so there's none of the worn curtain problem found in similarly old cloth shuttered cameras. But mostly it's about the lens mount. The M-42 thread mount was invented by Zeiss East and adopted by KW, and later Pentax and many other European and Japanese camera makers. So, there are a large number of really great lenses from Pentax, Zeiss (East and West), Mamiya-Secor, Fujica, etc. And they are generally cheap to buy. Even the Pentacon 50mm 1.8 most often found on a used MTL-5 is a decent six element lens. But, if you can find one with a 50mm 1.8 Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar, or a CZJ Tessar 50mm 2,8, then you've got a world class lens capable of excellent results. The lowest level of normal lens sold with L series cameras was the notorious, three element 50mm Meyer Domiplan 2.8. While it's not all that terrible stopped down to 5.6 , you'll get better results with the other "normal" lens options. Though Pentacon introduced a "B" series of compact, plastic bodied, electronic Praktica SLRs in the 80s, it wasn't enough to save the company after reunification eliminated the subsidies Pentacon received from the East German government, and they produced their last SLR in 1992. Then, as Ivor Matanle wrote in his book, "Collecting and Using Classic SLRs," ".... thus passed into history a brand of SLR which had been in production for more than forty years."

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