Saturday, 12 December 2015

Praktica IV

This is an early SLR from the Democratic Republic of Germany. The early Praktica IV were made in 1959 by KW and then, in 1960, by VEB Pentacon. Production ceased in 1964. There were a number of variations on the model and the camera I have is the second series of the first model - the first ones made by Pentacon. This is exactly the same as the KW cameras except for the name plate on the front of the pentaprism hump.

Praktica IV (C) John Margetts
lens: n/a
focal length:  n/a
apertures: n/a
focus range: n/a
lens fitting: M42 screw mount - automatic aperture variant
shutter: horizontal cloth focal plane
speeds: 1/2 to 1/500 second
flash: 2 off PC connectors
film size: 35 mm

This camera is quite hefty - it weighs 718 g with no lens attached - which is roughly half as much again as most of my SLRs but in line with my other German SLRs: Contax F, Contaflex, Bessamatic.

It measures 150 mm by 100 mm tall and 50 mm thick with no lens attached (no lens came with this camera but as it has a M42 lens mount I have plenty of lenses to fit). While the camera does feel quite heavy, it fits well in my hands.

This is an entirely manual camera so controls are minimal and no battery is required. On the far right of the top plate is the film advance knob. This requires exactly one rotation clockwise to advance the film one frame and to cock the shutter. The centre contains the frame counter which needs to be manually set to zero - it counts upwards. As always, I ignore frame counters and continue to shoot until the film runs out - this means I usually get 26 shots from a 24 exposure cassette.

Next to the film advance knob is a button to release the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound. This needs to be pressed just once at the start of rewinding, not held down all the time which makes rewinding film much easier than with many cameras. In front of this is a black painted triangle which I assume is there to remind you which way to turn the film advance knob. Next along the top plate is the shutter speed selector. 

This is fairly complicated (as many cameras were from this time) as there are two ranges of shutter speeds painted on the selector - in red from 1/2 to 1/10 and in black from 1/25 to 1/500 seconds. To make it more complicated, the black range are not in numerical order. The order is 1/25, B, 1/500, 1/200, 1/100, 1/50 and 1/40 (which is indicated by a lightening flash rather than 1/40 to indicate the flash synchronisation speed). On the top of the selector dial is a second ring to select between the red and black ranges. Around the selector dial is a ring that must be lifted before turning to align the red dot on it to the required shutter speed. When the shutter is fired, this selector dial rotates, as it also does when advancing the film. The manual says that shutter speeds can be selected either before or after advancing the film.

Nearly central on the top plate is the pentaprism hump which is enormous. The large size means that the viewfinder image is both large and bright - a very good thing!

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind knob. As is common, this pulls up to allow for insertion and removal of cassettes. This rewind knob is strange in that the top half of it can swivel to one side to turn the knob into a sort of lever - see the photograph - which makes rewinding the film much easier.

Rewind knob  - camera in use
rewind knob - rewinding

In the centre of the rewind knob is a disc which can be set to either film speed (9 DIN/6 ASA to 30 DIN/800 ASA) OR to film type (artificial light colour, daylight colour, artificial light mono, daylight mono).

The bottom plate is rather strange. On one end is a cream disc with a 1/4" Whitworth tripod boss and at the other end is a second film advance, this time a lever. This is the first camera I have ever seen with two film advances. The lower, lever, advance is not as easy to use as a standard top plate lever advance but it is quite usable if you do not like using a knob. With my test film, I found myself using the lever.

In the centre (almost centre, not quite so) of the front is the M42 lens mount. This is shared by both Japanese Pentax cameras, German Praktica cameras and Soviet Zenit cameras so there are a lot of affordable lenses available - Super-Takumar from Japan, Helios-44 from the former Soviet Union and a variety from Germany, not to mention smaller makers. I currently have a 55 mm f/2 Super-Takumar fitted.

Inside the lens mount is a mix of old-fashioned and (for then) modern. The mirror is a non-return one. Once you have fired the shutter, the viewfinder goes black until you advance the film. Also, the focusing screen is plain ground glass with no micro-prisms or split-image centre. On the other hand, it has an automatic aperture plunger so the photograph can be composed with the aperture wide open and then it will close itself when the shutter release is pressed. This is itself rather strange. Under the mirror is a small rivet with a red top. Sliding this to the left engages the automatic aperture plunger and sliding it to the right disengages the plunger for when the plunger would foul a non-automatic lens.

Just below the top late and immediately to the right is the shutter release button. Contrary to later Praktica cameras, this shutter release button is not angled but presses in at right-angles to the front of the camera. This is not ergonomically ideal which is presumably why later Prakticas had the angled release.

On the other side of the lens mount are two PC connectors for flash. Then upper one is for electronic flash and is marked with an "X" embossed in the leatherette. The lower connector is for flash bulbs and is marked with an "F" embossed in the leatherette. These embossings are barely visible but I don't suppose that matters as a user would soon remember which connector to use for their own flash gun.

Under the lens mount is a sturdy chrome leg which allows the camera to be stably placed on a flat surface in lieu of a tripod for long exposures. There is no delay action available on this camera to allow inclusion of the photographer in group photographs..

To open the camera, the back comers completely off. I always find this an awkward way to load film when out-and-about - what do I do with the back while both hands are busy with the film?

Inside the camera is much as 35 mm cameras always have been. there is a central film gate with guides to keep the film in the correct place. When loading the film, you need to turn the take-up spool until the two slots are facing you. The film goes in the left hand slot and pokes through the right hand slot. When the film is advanced, the take-up spool turns to take up the film with the emulsion on the outside.

At first sight, the back of the back is plain but careful inspection will reveal items embossed in the leatherette. Centrally at the top is the Ernemann Tower - the logo for Pentacon. Lower left is then word "Germany" indicating that this was an official import to the UK. It is just "Germany" with no qualification that it came from East Germany.

On the lower right is a rather indistinct triangle with a "1" in it. This was East Germany's quality mark to show that the item is of the first quality. What I cannot find, on the back or elsewhere, is any serial number.

Test film.

I have had my test film developed and it is not good - not good at all. 

There is a serious problem with one of the shutter curtains sticking giving very partial exposures: see below. The width of the image is variable and it looks to me like the first curtain is sticking part away across and is then met by the second curtain.