Category: <span>Tools of the trade</span>

The Last of Her Line…

Praktica MTL50 was the last model of the L series. Manufactured in the late 1980’s it was roughly concurrent with the EOS 650 from Canon.

In the 1950’s Exakta Varex might have ruled the SLR game, and the VLC model of the early 1970’s, with its interchangeable focusing screens and open aperture metering, could still be – if you squinted your eyes somewhat – considered a player when compared to the Japanese models of the era. But by the late eighties the technology gap between the East and West was huge.

The main selling points of the camera back when it was new – its rugged simplicity and compatibility with the lots of existing M42 lenses – were focused backward. The technology was something clearly 1970’es. And not top of the line seventies, but mid-range seventies to that. Gone were the advanced features like open aperture metering of the LC models.

My favorite little detail is that even though the battery was upgraded from obsolete PX 21 to a smaller (and still manufactured today) PX 28, the battery compartment door retained its 1970’s specs. It was not a major surprise that the production did not survive the fall or the Berlin Wall.

Praktica MTL50 with Flektogon 20 lens

The fun part is that while the Praktica MTL50 might have seemed inferior when compared to the Japanese competition of the time it makes an excellent film body by today’s standard. The mechanics are simple yet sturdy, the shutter loud but reliable. There is next to no electronics to speak of – so the risk of an irreparable catastrophic failure is low.

And the other main selling point – compatibility with the vast reservoir of M42 lens – remains as relevant as ever. In my case the body is paired with the excellent Flektogon 2.8 / 20, the widest angle lens of the Jena Zeiss lineup.

Praktica VLC

When I was a young man – during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, in a country that ceased to be – a serious camera meant a Praktica. It had all the features of an advanced camera: interchangeable lens (even if only few users ever owned more than one), built in light meter and build quality worlds apart from the Russian Zeniths. And the most advanced model in the Praktica lineup was the VLC.

The features did not quite compare to western competitors – the L series was roughly concurrent with Nikon F2 and Canon F1 – but as these were completely out of the question for an East Block kid this did not truly matter. And as it was made by the hundreds of thousands the camera was widely available.

Praktica VLC2 Camera
Praktica VLC2 camera, in a very good state & perfectly working. With a Pancolar lens top of the Praktica line in the late 1970’s.

The Practica cameras came in two chief variants – screw mount L series, and bayonet B series.

The newer B series was supposedly more advanced, with more electronics and more plastic parts. But by the time it entered production the gap from western technology was already too wide. The shortcuts that had to be taken led to an inferior and unreliable product. It suffered from a bad reputation even when new, with many experienced users preferring the older model.

The earlier L series on the other hand represents a solid all metal piece of work, in line with the finest German engineering tradition. It remained in production from 1969 to 1989, with close to 5 million pieces (supposedly 4,836,879) produced.

The Praktica VLC model was special for combining two (by the 1970’s standard) very special features:

  • open aperture metering: the aperture value was transferred from lens to body via 3 electronic contacts; a remarkably advanced method for its time.
  • interchangeable prisms & focusing screens: the black pentaprism can be replaced by a waist level finder or a special loupe magnifier; this required placing the exposure metering cell behind the mirror, again a remarkable method for the time.

My camera is from the second generation, produced from roughly 1975 to 1980. I count myself lucky that I was able to purchase recently one that saw only a light use. I had the light seals replaced as a precaution, and the shutter mechanism got a CLA.

The electronic system is surprisingly resilient, given its 40 years of age. While the official 4.5 V Varta V21 PX battery is no longer available, the meter works perfectly OK with a plain 1.5 V AA battery of the same size. This is due to the ingenious Wheatstone bridge design of the photo sensitive element, making it voltage tolerant. The meter readings are to this day reliable, if a bit slow. The meter accuracy is perfectly within the tolerance for a B&W film.

And as a bonus I get the warm and fuzzy feeling of showing off a piece of camera history that I remember as a status symbol from the times my youth.

Flexaret Filter Adapter

I am a great fan of the Flexaret camera. But despite my warm feelings I am aware of its shortcomings. One of them is that it uses a proprietary B36 filter bayonet. This bayonet was introduced by Meopta Přerov in the 1960’s and included a number of filters – the classical sequence from ultraviolet, through shades of yellow, green and orange up to red. Even an almost mythical polarizer, of which many collectors have heard but nobody that I know ever saw one.

But the last Flexaret – and the last B36 filter to go with it – was produced in the year 1971. The number of filters available is therefore limited. More significantly the range of filters is limited to 1960’s technology. To overcome this I have obtained a simple filter adapter.

Flexaret Standard camera and Rollei Infrared film

My main film camera is the Bronica ETRSi, which uses 62mm filters over the whole fixed lens range; a major advantage. I have over time obtained a large stack of 62mm filters, including some rather exotic ones. I have therefore requested my favorite camera technician, Mr. Maštalíř of Škoda Foto, to make a B36 to 62mm adapter.

The adapter has the look of a home made hack, but it does the job. It fits the B36 bayonet snugly. The big 62mm filter seems sort of awkward on a 36mm lens, but I do not mind. I was at first a little worried that it would obstruct the view from the upper focusing lens, but it just about clears the view. The only problem is that the camera with the filter adapter on will not fit into its carrying leather case, and I can live with that.

A stack of 62mm filters with a Flexaret Filter Adapter.

The Flexaret Filter Adapter allows me to use the full modern range of filters, up to and including the Hoya R72. This greatly increases the possibilities of my Flexaret.

Shooting infrared with a non – SLR camera is great fun; I can have the best of both worlds: shoot with the opaque filter on my taking lens, and focus easily on the screen. With a little care, and fast infrared sensitive film such as the Rollei Infrared, it is even possible to shoot handheld.

Big Sister & Little Sis

The Zenza Bronica ETRSi is my main camera. It is a system camera, modular, big, and beautiful. But the negative size comes at a price – it is not the kind of camera I can carry all day, every day. The Rollei 35 T is in many ways its exact opposite – it produces smallish negatives, but fits easily into my pocket.

Bronica ETRSi and Rollei 35 cameras

I have even found a way to share my substantial filter collection between the two cameras. Finding a reduction from 62 to 24 mm was not easy, but the Chinese eBay sellers rose to the challenge.


The Flexaret is the only Czech camera that has “made it” on the world market. As a Czech photographer I felt obliged to own, and shoot, at least one.

Flexaret film camera


My camera is the simplified “Standard” version, targeted at beginners and youth. Somehow that felt appropriate…