Praktica FX

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Aug 26, 2011.

  1. Praktica FX

    Hummel Nr. 125
    Kadlubek Nr. KWE1520

    Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f/1.9

    Zeiss Jena Pentaprism for the FX.

    A very brief history to recap first. The Dresden company KW began before WWII and produced what is arguably one of the first five 35mm SLR cameras. Some people believe that it was the second such camera after the much more expensive Exakta Kine cameras of 1936. The first camera in this family, first sold to the public in 1939 or so, was the M40 mount Praktiflex. Many, of whom I am one, believe that this was the first 35mm single lens reflex with an "instant return mirror". (see some arguments at )

    After Soviet troops occupied Dresden, the KW works was very quickly put back into production making essentially the same camera as the pre-war Praktiflex. As it turns out, these mostly went to the USSR as a part of German war reparations. Unlike the Zeiss 35mm Contax production line, everything and the personnel were kept in Dresden. The later Praktiflex had the instant mirror feature removed, and that camera evolved directly into the first Praktica - now with the Contax S, M42 mount.

    The FX was a refinement and was much more carefully crafted, perhaps because they were no longer sending all of their production to the Soviet Union.

    Here are some variants on the Praktica FX. The one labeled "Praktiflex" is only a rebranding, perhaps because of conflicting trademark holders in the USA, but is otherwise the same camera. As in the example in the picture, however, it and the other FXs were often sold with West German lenses made in the East German M42 mount (later also adopted by Asahi Pentax).
  2. This is one of the last posts about my Reiche Auswahl collection ( see the start at , and for a listing of the other posts in the series look at which has most of them linked to except for the Weltax at ). This is the last post at least until I repair the few not yet reported on.

    The reason for putting this one off was pure inertia, since I had shot the camera (of which I have several) so many times in the past, even before I got more serious about old DDR cameras.

    Here is the Reiche Auswahl presentation of the Praktica FX:
  3. I feel guilty about always depending on Winfried Buechsenschuetz who has so kindly provided translations for these, so here is my no-guarantees shot at a translation:

    The radiant matte viewfinder of this single-lens reflex camera serves in combination with the swing-out magnifying lens to make exactly sharp images. Farther, there is fast, certain picture composition, especially for color, since this camera type has no viewfinder parallax problem. The coupling between film transport and shutter prevents double exposures.
    The shutter works from one-half to one five-hundredth of a second, with Bulb and synchronized flash contacts. The interchangeable lens enables macro pictures through simple extension tubes. With the help of additional lenses--that go from 35mm-500mm in focal length--the camera becomes a universal tool.

    Praktica FX 24x36mm
    - with Zeiss Tessar 1:2,8, f=50mm
    - with Zeiss Biotar 1:2, f=58mm
    - with Meyer-Primoplan 1:1,9 f=58mm
    - a mountable Zeiss prism for eye-level and right side to right side viewfinder
    - extension tubes (1 set = 3 tubes) for 1:1 macro .
    - additional lenses are the same as those for the Contax D.​

    I hope I did all right, at least it's the best my very rusty German provides.

    Here is the actual rig I took out with me today.
  4. As the illustration shows, the prism head sits way up above the camera, but although it makes the viewfinder a little darker, it is surprisingly adequate for focusing and composition. There is no automatic diaphragm on this camera, so it is necessary to stop down to take the picture, which does make it a little harder.

    Shooting proved to have its difficulties. This camera had been sitting with little use for a long while, and I neglected a critical step in the process -- with this older, nearly sixty year old camera, the shutter mechanism can get stiff. What I should have done was to have given the camera a good regime of shooting it at all shutter speeds until it loosened up. Since I neglected to do this, the shutter "capped" and dragged badly on the earlier pictures until the shutter did loosen up. In addition, after shooting a few scenes I noticed that I had not got the removable camera back fully into the slot on the right side, so I had to sacrifice part of the roll to open and reset the back. Such are the travails of street photography with old cameras, at least for me today. Then, my local developer gave me the dirtiest negatives back I've ever got from them. :(

    Anyway, my theme today was local eateries, and I encountered the window sticker on the left at the start - one of the few things that did go sort of right today.

    Even capped, it illustrates the theme.
    On the right, is the door of the local Indian restaurant. Rather nice food. If MacDonalds goes to Bangalaru, then here is India in southern Illinois.
    These are both taken with the Primoplan 58mm f/1.9.
  5. Here is the local Chicago-style hot dogs, of course the owners are Chinese, but the hotdogs are the real thing.
    This was taken with the A. Schacht Travenon lens 135mm f/4.5
  6. The Jewel of India not only has a fairly elegant sit-down restaurant, but also a drive-through take out place down the street on the other side. This was taken with the Schneider-Kreuznach Curtagon 35mm f/2.8
  7. Over in the next town, here is the 17th Street Bar and Grill - the World BBQ Champion for many years. Now with restaurants in NYC and Las Vegas as well as this home place in Murphysboro, IL. It is truly very fine BBQ.
    As you can see, by this stage the shutter was finally beginning to work close to right. From here on all Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f/1.9.
  8. Finally, at the end of the roll, the shutter is working pretty close to the way it is supposed to. Here is a memorial train.
    Carbondale was founded as a midway station on the then new Illinois Central line, now Canadian National, but they still stop east-west traffic many times a day.

  9. That's it folks.
  10. excellent as always.
    but you know ONE " oh heck" cancells out 1,000 attaboys or "excellents"
    a friend has two similar old wl cameras but he cannot find them.
    he gace me the 2 sensorexes and the yashica Lynx 1000
    and the worlds lowest res kodak digicam.
  11. Interesting camera and history. Every time I use an old camera I haven't used for a while I
    manage to screw up something and if I'm lucky it's a few frames and not the whole roll.
    I like the IC photo. They used to be a customer of mine way back when and I spent many a
    day on Michigan Avenue.
  12. Nice old cameras and lenses. The Travenon seems a bit low in contrast, but the other two deliver very nice images.
    I'm always fascinated by the look of those old bare-aluminum lens barrels -- practically all of my SLR lenses are black except for my black-and-chrome pre-AI Nikons. I've come to the conclusion that the aesthetics of SLR lenses have been going downhill since at least the late 1960s. Lenses used to look like little works of art, but modern AF lenses mostly just look functional.
  13. Excellent, as usual, JDM. The Praktica FX probably got me serious about photography; I was a spotty 13 year-old just beginning college when I joined the Camera Club, proudly toting my 120 roll-film Ensign Ful-Vue. The teacher, a Mr.Bandsmer, was newly-arrived from Holland with a Praktica FX, and were were all very impressed by this exotic piece of machinery. Suddenly, I had a burning ambition to own one...The rest is history, as they say.
    That's a very nice collection you have pictured, and the photographs and the little Primoplan performs particularly well. My copy of the Travenon performs really well, and I'm surprised to see that yours seems a trifle soft. Thanks for another interesting and informative post.
  14. Here's my Praktiflex FX:
    I got this off of ebay a few years ago for 99 cents, believe it or not. Works perfectly. I had another one that I paid $15 for earlier, but the curtain had pinholes.
    They are common and cheap.
    Here's a photo I took a few years ago with mine:[​IMG]
    (with a tessar I think, the Isco lens it came with was permanently fogged by some substance on the front element that wouldn't clear off).
  15. One of my FXs came with a Westar too (on the right in the first picture). It's still good optically, although it lost its filter ring somewhere along the line. Like the Travenon and the Curtagon, it's another of the Wessie lenses often sold with the bodies here in the USA and maybe in West Germany.
    Not, of course, in the East.
  16. Here is an ad for the Zeiss prism. The one on my camera was for western export and has the "made in USSR occupied zone" stamp on it and no Zeiss name.
    On the right is the Primoplan lens construction. It is not a "Meyer Biotar" in design, despite the similarity in specifications.
  17. @JDM: Thanks for the support. Your translation is mostly correct, and sometimes TOO correct as you translated word by word. Maybe this translation of the first phrase is more understandable:

    "The shining bright ground glass, together with the folding loupe in the waist level finder, is used for precise focussing."

    Actually, "strahlend" has many meanings, it means "radiating" or "transmitting rays" as well as "very bright". There was a joke about german companies building nuclear power plants, some people said that they will birng us "eine strahlende Zukunft" which means "a very bright future" as well as "a future full of radiation". After some accidents in (non german) nuclear stations you can judge yourself which version is closer to the truth...
  18. That is a truly impressive outfit, pure elegance. I do love the prism you have there. I have a prism for my FX3, but it sits much lower down, and the FX3 was the first SLR that I owned so fond memories there. How do you like the Primoplan compared to the Biotar?
  19. Once again JDM you've posted a great academic/historic study of a fascinating old camera. Not only that, I find this information quite "praktical".
  20. Very nice series JDM. I suppose that the Primoplan was a Meyer parallel to the Jena Biotar. I have been looking for one for a long time. But this and the Helioplan seem to be very expensive, now. The colours and rendering of all the lenses are beautiful. Even the capping kind of emphasizes the perspective. If you had not mentioned it I would not have noticed the same. Thanks for a most enjoyable series. sp.
  21. I've got a Praktica FX. Sadly the shutter curtains are damaged. I've had a lot of success with Compur shutters but have never really delved into focal plane types. I plan to make the FX my first endeavour, as Praktica's neat removable film rail plate means shutter access is as good as it gets, so I will tackle the curtain replacement myself one of these days. It's an interesting and good looking camera. Thanks for sharing the images.
  22. A surprising number of the old shutters still work (if one troubles to exercise them first) quite well after all these years.
    It is not clear to me, but the RA listing almost looks like the Primoplan was the premium lens for this camera. I prefer the Biotar, but as the pictures (as much as you can see of them) above show, the Primoplan is a nice crisp lens. When I looked up the diagram for it, I was surprised how different the underlying design was.
    Not least, thanks again Winfried. I suppose 'literalism' is a sin for the unpracticed translator. Nice story about the "strahlende Zukunft". ;)
    Here is the much more handsome prism attachment for the Praktica FX2. Maybe one of these days.
    Thanks all. I enjoy doing these. I will be doing more, if not directly related to the Reiche Auswahl catalog. At least until I wear out or Josh kicks me off the site, whichever comes first. :)
  23. Very nice post JDM, I like the photos from the curtagon, very pleasing color and good surroundings. I love the GDR stuff too, they are unique, and were "firsts" in quite a few things. As you know, Matanle loved them too. One little observation, the curtain on your camera needs a re-lubing and retensioning as it is capping, right side, darker than left; this is pretty common on early Praktica collections once they go unused for long periods of time. My original Praktiflex (1939-1940)had a curtain bounce issue, but it has been corrected now :) by Panorama camera in Manhattan. It is loaded but the weather has not been cooperating :-(. As I wait Irene out, all I can do is look at it and admire its classic look.
  24. AH, it looks like you and SP already spoke of the capping, pardon for repeating the same :).
  25. The early Asahi/Heiland Pentaxes also shared the same shutter problem; it was SP who traced it back to the the causes in a post some time back. I find usually just a good round of exercise, sometimes with the tiniest bit of cleaning of the shutter channel does the job. I just wasn't thinking very clearly on the day I did this.
    That's a nice early Praktiflex. I have an early post-war Praktiflex that is essentially the same except all chrome. Ihave both the Victar and the Tessar in M40. Just bought what is supposed to be a M40 Biotar from Sofia.
    I haven't made much effort to go pre-war, except that I could not resist getting a Pilot Super.
  26. Interesting history and shots. Next time your at the indian rest. ask them to make you a 'aloo paratha'. I'll think you'll like it...
  27. Good, informative post. I have the later FX-2 which had been in a junk box in an unair conditioned storage building for
    about 15 or 16 years. Surpisingly, it worked after a little cleaning. I have the CZ Carl Zeiss Tessar.
  28. Thanks for the interesting post, JDM.
    They seemed to be keen on adding detachable prisms in those days, although from the items for sale on auction sites I have never seen one for the FX so conclude that not many actually bought them.
  29. How well did the detatchable prisms work?
  30. @ Mike,
    the prism worked fine. As I said earlier, there was not nearly so much "tunnel vision" as I had expected, nor was the image too dark when the lens (f/1.9) was open.
    It was obviously a 'kludge' motivated by the twin pressures of the Zeiss Contax S and D on the one hand, and the beginning of add-on prisms for the Exakta on the other.
    If you look at the earliest Prakticas with a permanent prism (the IV and V family), you will note that the prism (like this detachable one) sits very high up, as well.
  31. It may of of interest to some to note that the path to full-scale public ownership (VEB) status in the "Soviet Occupied Zone (SBZ) and the nascent DDR was not direct.
    Some companies remained partially or totally 'private' while operating under the controls of a 'democratic' state for a while. In the end, pretty much all camera production in the mature, Stalinist DDR ended up in one large public company- VEB Pentacon.
    So Ihagee, KW, and Zeiss Jena would have had separate direction up to a point.
  32. Thanks for the the very informative historic information. I think the slow disintegration of individuality as well as partially "private" to the VEB were very important aspects of the East production and thankfully gave us such a wide variety of
    goods. Arguably, this also led to too much duplication effort and unneccesary competition that might have taken another turn on history. The FX with and without prism would be something I'd like to play with just for fun. I have concentrated more so on the "Zeiss" stuff an little on the east sister companies. At some later point though they all start to melt together.
  33. JDM, I hope you don't mind if I revive this discussion? It's relevant for me because, after acquiring an FX myself some weeks back, I've had my first film processed, and have found some exposure problems similar to those displayed in a few of your images above.
    Here are a few banal images from the roll (all made with the standard waist level viewfinder on Kodak Ultramax 400, no edits, V700):

    This was taken in the town of New Norfolk in Tasmania's Derwent Valley and is around 30 minutes from the state capital, Hobart. New Norfolk celebrated its bicentenary a year or two ago and is one of the older towns in Tasmania. This looks to be a workers cottage and probably dates from the late 19th Century. Lens was my 135mm f/3.5 Super Takumar.

    I've always had a liking for Italian vehicles having owned a few Ducatis and Moto Guzzis. So when I encountered this red Alfa parked near Hobart's historic port area one Sunday I needed little incentive to take a couple of shots. Lens for this and following images was the 35mm f/3.5 Super Takumar. Meter reading gave an exposure, as expected, of "sunny 16". Shutter was 1/500 and aperture f/11 or f/16. You can clearly see the dark band across the right side of the frame; exposure generally is OK.
    This is the view looking North along historic Salamanca Place. It's famous for its Saturday street market, which sees the whole street filled from end to end with a variety of stalls every week. On Sundays it's still busy, as people visit the cafes, pubs, boutique shops and art galleries located in the converted early 19th Century warehouses built to service Van Diemen's Land's busiest port. I think the shutter speed here was 1/200 or maybe even 1/100 due to the overcast. Again, a slight dark band is evident along the right, but not as pronounced here.

    One more shot of that red Alfa. I've had quite a bit of experience with waist level finders the last few years via my Hasselblad and various Rollei TLRs, but the smaller size of the FXs 35mm size viewfinder definitely takes a little getting used to. I've since acquired the optional prism for the FX which will be useful for portrait orientation, but I'll persevere with the waist level for landscape images, as it is so effective for candid images out in the streets or markets. The dreaded dark band can again be seen along the right edge.

  34. I should add that the camera is not as purchased and has received some attention. Although I've done relatively little tinkering with focal plane shutters, I've had a good run of success with various Synchro Compur shutters fitted to a few Rolleis and eight or nine Contaflice of various models, amongst other makes. The design of the earlier Praktica focal plane cloth shutter seems fairly uncomplicated in comparison to other types, and the easy to remove bottom cover, and separate film rail plate over the film gate makes access to the curtain spindles about as good as it gets without stripping the mechanism. So it seemed a good place to start learning about some of the basics of FP shutter cleaning and adjustment when I adopted a stray Praktica IV that needed a good home last year. When this FX arrived in lovely original condition (photo to come) for the princely sum of AUD $15 including postage, I felt it was worth making an effort to get it working properly again.
    It was actually running reasonably sweetly as per the sellers description (he was offloading several Praktica bodies after selling the original lenses for same for considerably more dollars). But the slow speed escapement was was stalling a little, so I removed the bottom cover to clean and carefully lubricate the mechanisms within.
    The film rail plate was also removed, and the curtain spindles were each treated to a dash of synthetic watch oil. After exercising the shutter dozens of times at various speeds it was running very sweetly (and still is) so it received its first roll of film in my hands. But I'm hoping to get some input about what the cause of the dark band across the right side as seen in some previous images could be. Clearly the relationship between the curtains is the issue.
    I've done some research of course, and have all the Tomosy repair manuals. In his article about the Nova in his first repair guide volume, [Camera Maintenance & Repair, by Thomas Tomosy; Amherst Media; 1993] he states that:
    There is a flat L-shaped spring on the left hand side, under the film gate. Watch out for this spring. If you lose it, or someone has lost it already, there is no way to adjust the high speeds properly. No matter how much or how little tension you put on the curtains, the second curtain will catch up with the first.
    What you normally do in this situation is tension the first curtain to speed it up, or slacken the second to slow it down. However, this method doesn't work with the Nova, as the first curtain and related mechanism has too much inertia. There is more mass (more gears) to the first curtain than to the second. All the gears visible on photo 25.3 spin with the first curtain
    [25.3 is a detail of gears and shafts under wind side of top cover]​
    There was no sign of this mythical spring to delay the second curtain inside my example when I removed the film rail plate (nor, indeed, inside the other example of the FX I have, which awaits replacement of a torn shutter curtain). There is what looks like a friction pad attached to the underneath of the plate and would appear to bear on the wind side spindle for the first curtain if I am not mistaken. This is present on both my FXs.
    As Subbarayan has so helpfully documented in previous PN discussions here and here it seems the retarding spring is not as omnipresent as the good Mr Tomosy would have us believe. And I could see no sign of the adjustment screw for same. If Tomosy is to be believed, increasing the first curtain tension is a futile exercise. Decreasing the spring tension of the second curtain would appear to be the best alternative, however he also advises against this. What to do? The options would appear to be:
    1. Disregard his comments, and adjust the spring tension anyway (he is, after all, wrong about the universal presence of the spring) If so: which ones, and by how much? Or;
    2. Fabricate a spring brush myself, in order to slightly retard the second curtain.
    Any input on the above from the forums esteemed Praktica devotees would be appreciated. Although a self-professed Contaflex addict, I've taken quite a shine to its Eastern cousin, and even lashed out on a pre-set red T Biotar for it the other day (no longer a bargain-priced lens!). So I'm actually quite keen to use it a bit, or even, more than a bit, and would like to try to fix this fault.
  35. More is always welcome. :)

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