Monday, 12 August 2013

Praktica MTL5B

This is my second Praktica (the other one being a Praktica TL3).  It is in good condition - including the battery compartment - and came with a number of extras.  These were a Vivitar 2x teleconverter (M42 thread so usable with my other M42 thread cameras), a Praktica flash, a Leningrad light meter and a cheap but quite good carry bag.

Praktica MTL 5B

lens:  Helios-44M
focal length:   58 mm
apertures:  2 - 16
focus range:  0.55m to infinity
lens fitting:  M42 thread
shutter:  metal focal plane
speeds:  1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000
flash:  Hot shoe, no PC connector
film size: 35 mm

This is a fairly standard late 70s to mid-80s SLR camera. My first Praktica - I also have a TL3It is squarish and heavy with minimal use of plastics.  It is 150mm by 95mm by 55mm, not counting the lens.  The controls are standard for the time and where you would expect to find them.  The film advance is on the top right of the camera and is a lever which moves about a quarter of a turn.  At this late date, advancing the film also cocks the shutter.  Next to the film advance is the combined shutter speed selector and film speed setting control.  Shutter speeds are noted above and are all any photographer could realistically want.  Film speed can be set from 12 DIN/12 ASA to 33 DIN/1600 ASA.  The setting can be changed in one DIN increments (one third of a stop).

The camera came with a Soviet Helios-44M lens which is not original.  The Helios-44 lenses have a very good reputation - they are good copies of the Carl Zeiss Biotar lens - and this one is in very good, clean condition.  It is an automatic version of the lens - I also have a manual Helios-44 lens which came with my Zenit E - with a switch  to change between manual diaphragm and automatic diaphragm.  The aperture can be changed in half stops which is an improvement on my other Helios-44 lens.

The shutter release is an angled button on the right face of the camera.  My finger falls fairly naturally on this and it is comfortable to use.  Right by this button is a plastic lever which actuates the TTL metering system.  In use, you put your finger on the shutter release and instead of pushing down, you push towards yourself.  The diaphragm closes and the needle in the right side of the viewfinder moves.  You then adjust either the shutter speed or aperture to get the needle lined up with the notch in the middle (this is basically a match-needle type of meter).  It is designed as a shutter priority system, the idea being that you set the shutter speed with the camera away from your eye and then move the camera to eye level and adjust the aperture ring with your left hand while pressing the meter lever with your right hand.  Used this way, it is fairly easy to use.

If, like me, you prefer aperture priority metering, you need to set the aperture first and then adjust the shutter speed while looking through the viewfinder.  It is just about possible to do this but it is very awkward to do.  I am finding myself moving the camera down to adjust the shutter speed which makes the whole operation slower and less fluid.  The meter is powered by a 1.33V button battery.  Originally, this would have been a mercury cell which is now not available.  I am using a same sized silver button of 1.5V which will cause a slight mis-reading of the meter but of less than a stop so this will not be a problem with negative film.  With reversal (slide) film this might be a problem.

Focusing this camera is a delight.  The focusing screen carries the usual plain ground glass screen with a micro-prism circle and a split-image centre.  However, the split-image part on this camera is diagonal. With a standard horizontal split-image centre, it is necessary to find a strong vertical to focus on.  With this camera either a strong vertical or a strong horizontal will work as will a strong diagonal.  When I was using this camera to photograph a bush earlier today, there were no verticals, horizontals or diagonals I could focus on. I used the micro-prism circle which also worked well.  For those who have never used a micro-prism focusing screen, what you do is focus until the micro-prisms disappear.  The further from focus you are, the more prominent the micro-prisms are.  Once you can not make out the micro-prisms (or until they are as indistinct as you can make them) the image is in focus.

Below the shutter release there is a self-timer (Vorlaufwerk in German) which works by turning the small lever through 180 degrees and then pressing the centre button to actuate the shutter instead on using the shutter release button.  This does work on my camera but not well.  It is very hesitant and stops for significant times but the mechanism is clockwork and has probably not been used for the thirty years since the camera was new.

The left side of the camera is bare apart from the rewind crank.  This is the normal small folding crank  that became usual during the 1960s.  It is released by pressing a button on the base of the camera.

The other external features are a frame counter beside the film advance lever which is reset by opening the back of the camera.  This counts up from one.  I prefer the Voigtlander system from the 1950s where the frame counter counted down to tell you how many frames are left but this did not become the industry standard.  There is also an accessory shoe which is a hot shoe in flash terms.  There is no PC connector (these had become passé by the time this camera was made) so flash must by on-camera flash or the photographer must buy a third-party flash attachment to allow studio flash.  The tripod boss is not on the base plate but moved forward onto the underneath of the lens mount.  This will give better balance when using longer lenses and is something I have not seen on more upmarket cameras although it makes a lot of sense.

The outside of the camera is 'silver' plastic top and bottom plate and a padded leatherette which is very nice to hold.  This is a big improvement on the standard leatherette on my Praktica TL3.

Inside is mostly standard film SLR layout.  The shutter is a metal vertical focal plane shutter.  Superficially, this is the same as on my Canon SLRs with several horizontal metal strips.  However, the fixing does not look as sophisticated as the Canon's shutter.  It does, however, work well and offers shutter speeds up to 1/1000 and flash synchronisation at 1/125.

This camera has automatic film loading.  You pull the film leader out to the green mark on the right and wind on.  One of two metal loops will then pull the film onto the sprockets and around the spool.  This works very well although the manual mentions that with particularly curly film it might be necessary to manually move the metal loop over the film.

Light seals are foam by the hinge of the back and black 'string' along the top and bottom of the recess the back fits into.  These pieces of string look rather amateurish but have the advantage that they will not deteriorate like foam always does.  On this camera the string light seals as as good as new while the foam light seal by the hinge is reduced to a sticky mess and needs to be replaced. (edit, 27-2-2017: I am advised by James Hays that the strings are not original items and have been added by an owner.)

Sample pictures.

These pictures are taken on Agfa Vista + colour film from Poundland (£1.00 per cassette!) and developed and scanned by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln.  I am quite pleased with these.  I have also tried out the Vivitar 2x teleconverter to see how it performs.  I quite pleased with the results - a teleconverter is never going to be as good as using a designed lens - and I think the teleconverter is usable for non-critical work.

carving on Lincoln's Stonebow - 50 mm lens

carving on Lincoln's Stonebow - 50 mm + 2x teleconverter

Piano busker, Lincoln

Lincolnshire Wolds

Thimbleby main street, Lincolnshire