Praktiflex, 1st generation, 11th model, probably 1946.

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Oct 31, 2010.

  1. Praktiflex, 1st generation-4th change- 11th model
    Hummel-Nr. 078 Schulz-version:11 Kadlubek KWE 0264

    made by Kamera-Werkstätten Charles A Noble Niedersedlitz from Dec 1940 to February 1946.

    The first Praktiflex was introduced in March 1939 and continued up to September 1949, when it was transmogrified into the Praktica.*

    The first Prakticas were the first mass-market SLR camera (or so KW hoped), designed by KW to sell at a price point nicely below the older Ihagee Exakta. Instead of the bayonet-type mounts used by Exakta or Contax, KW chose to use a Leica-like screw mount, but in this case 40x1 rather than the LTM 39mm diameter mount. Unlike subsequent cameras in the KW and descendant lines, the shutter release was on top of the camera.
    The second generation (1947-1949) of Praktiflex was mostly M40 mount, and the shutter release was moved to the front right side of the camera where it would remain. The 1949 late models of the Praktiflex may have included some with M42x1 mounts, but these may have been later piece-together production out of left over parts - In the waste-not conditions of socialist production, few left-over parts were discarded, so many hybrids can occur. The various variants listed for these cameras are created by differences in camera speeds, markings, size of knobs, and other minutiae of import to mothers and lovers.

    There is more history of the Praktiflex at

    There was no automatic or even pre-stop aperture. They were generally outfitted with a small Tessar 5cm f/3.5 or with the E. Ludwig Anastigmat-Victar 5cm f/2.9, not highly considered. Both these lenses were also made in Exakta mount (see

    Oh yes, one other little feature was introduced in this Rodney Dangerfield of cameras: a mirror that flipped up when the picture was taken, and then was spring-loaded to return to its original location. Asahi has long been given, and even claimed, credit for introducing this feature in 1955 on their Asahiflex camera (see Pop Photo honoring them for it below).
    By some strange coincidence, the Asahiflex even looks virtually identical to a pre-war Praktiflex, except for a Praktina-like (VW, 1952) optical viewfinder tacked on to the upper deck. Hmm. (My broaching of this topic sometime back stirred very heated discussion: I was even called an "idiot" for peddling inaccuracy (disagreeing with Ivor Matanle - gasp! What audacity! [Matanle is sort of the Ken Rockwell of old European cameras†]). Besides, it wasn't _really_ an "instant return mirror" anyhow, right? It was just one on which the mirror returned to full focus position really quickly.

    Despite the war in Europe starting in September of 1939, some 1st generation Praktiflexes were marketed in the USA, despite the start of the the war in Europe. Olden Camera (one of the B&H or Adoramas of its day) in NYC was offering the Praktiflex still in January of 1941, and one was also offered by them as early as April of 1945. Those were probably new old stock,
    Nearly all of the immediate post-war production went to the USSR as war reparations. However people at Olden some other NYC stores may have been able to resurrect some of their pre-war connections, because there were Praktiflex generation 1 cameras that came in after the war. They were probably unofficially (read: black-market) diverted from the reparations production. They share a common signature literally, a crudely scribed "Germany" next to the rewind lever. Every example I have seen is scribed by the same hand, perhaps the NY importer?

    Anyhow, my copy of this 1940-46 camera is almost likely a post-war specimen. It certainly has that hand-scribed 'Germany' on it. I have shot it here with both the Victar and the Tessar M40 lenses. I was trying to get a post-war version because my collecting interest in these was in the SBZ (Soviet Occupied Zone and DDR period. Aside from the features already mentioned, there are more specifications and discussion at .

    The ground glass is decently bright even brighter than you'd expect stopped down. Unfortunately, it is small enough so that it is very difficult to see whether things are in focus or not. It is essentially impossible with reflections in the open light. I ended up focusing by zones, using hyperfocal distance, and the fold-up sport finder.

    *The name Praktiflex FX was briefly used in the 1950s for a USA export name for a version of the Praktica FX. I am not sure why, but it may have had to do with there being several different holders of US trademarks on Dresden camera production. This Praktiflex FX is NOT a true Praktiflex, of course.

    †I'd gladly contribute a number of examples of Matanle's much-wondered-at accuracy, but not here. Start another thread and I'll come armed for bear.

  2. Here's the original Praktiflex model 1, and the "Germany" inscription common to USA-bound Praktiflexes of its day.
  3. I loaded the camera on Saturday with some more of my Ilford XP2 Super 400 (C41 processing), but one thing and another intervened and so I didn't get out until today.

    I had tested the camera in my backyard when I got it some time ago, but I thought I'd spare you all a lot more pictures of my Darwinian Garden experiment (survival of the fittest) as well as more pictures of my elderly Labrador Retriever (she's a great dog, but like all of us, she's winding down a bit).

    Anyhow, the first picture on the left was taken with the Ludwig Victar. It does show my Darwinian back yard. The next step is to do some thinning, but it is fairly quickly re-establishing native growth and a small forest.
  4. The second pair of shots are a siding shot (big treat, not a brick wall!) taken first with the Tessar 5cm f/3.5 and then with the E. Ludwig Anastigmat-Victar 5cm f/2.9. It's a toss up and given the uncertainties of focus and hyperfocal distance, I think it would be a mistake to conclude that there's really much significant difference despite their very different reputations.
  5. Finally, a couple of shots of the town library and of its annex building (where I was shortly to go to the bargain surplus books sale).
  6. That's all folks. ;)
  7. Obviously the reference to VW in reference to the Praktina was intended to be KW.
  8. PPS
    I should also have noted that the return mirror was omitted on the second generation of Praktiflexes, possibly representing simplification of production for the Soviet reparations production.
  9. Great post, JDM. Thanks for the info on the Praktiflex. And great job getting the most from the Victar lens. I find focusing WL ground glass finders difficult in low light so I sometimes just set the distance.
  10. A very interesting post, JDM! I am puzzled as to why your "critics" cannot appreciate the fact that Asahi Pentax imbibed a lot of its designs from KW, Pentacon and CZJena, including the trade mark name "Pentax." True, that they did improve on the originals a lot and established their own. More, it is even suspected that as a part of these deals they seem to have shared the markets toward America more for the Pentaxes and Western Europe more for the Prakticas, as proven by the abundance of the Prakticas in the UK and Netherlands. East Germany, in those years, found many round about ways to get hard currency flows into their economy for some essential inputs to enhance and sustain their technologies and production schedules. [Of course, many other camera manufacturers did that too, such as, Nikon from Contax, Canon from Leica, Topcon & Miranda from Exakta, etc.].
  11. I like the soft tones and gradation in your pictures, [very subtle] especially the wood work and the Library sets Thanks, sp.
  12. Another great treatise on an interesting camera, JDM. I've never seen one in the flesh, and you've increased my knowledge immensely. As you say, there's not a lot of difference to been seen between the two lenses, and your pics give an impression of that age of optics. Love the garden...I guess it's human nature to forget what went before the introduction of a great commercial success such as the Pentax line of SLR's, but I know M42 is really the "Praktica screw". Thanks for a most interesting post.
  13. I had an Alpa Model 5 many years ago that also had a mirror that operated in the same fashion as the Praktiflex in my collection. Pressure on the shutter release caused the mirror to rise and releasing the pressure allowed the mirror to drop ready for the next focus and compose action. By the way my version originally came with the Victar. I was at a camera show in the Boston area here in Mass. USA and a vendor had the Zeiss Tessar. I asked which camera it fits. He had no clue but thought it was Leica thread. I offered to tell him because I recognized the 40mm mount and asked if he'd be willing to sell it for $10 USD. The deal was done. I recovered the camera in leather scavenged from an ladies old glove, very thin leather, looked ok with years of light wear lending an appearance of patina. Both the Alpa and the Praktiflex are now long gone as I have spent the last 4 years downsizing my collection so my survivors aren't saddled with the task of cleaning out my belongings should I not be able or around to continue my hobby.
  14. "(My broaching of this topic sometime back stirred very heated discussion: I was even called an "idiot" for peddling inaccuracy (disagreeing with Ivor Matanle - gasp! What audacity! [Matanle is sort of the Ken Rockwell of old European cameras†]). ?"

    I would never call you an idiot, JDM, but don't you be dissin' my goombah Ivor. The only way I want to see a commie camera is through a bomb sight.
  15. Of course, it's entirely possible that KW did make bombsights during WWII, they were definitely involved in war production. Moreover, during the years of Soviet domination, East German technology in optics and electronics was of critical value to the Warsaw Pact.
    I find the best view for me of the commie cameras is through the viewfinder, however. :p<
    Anyhow, although both of the Nobles may have been in prison camps by this time, the KW plant was not formally nationalized until after this particular camera was made.
  16. Thanks for the course in Praktika history.. I have it down basically but a little refresher now and again is helpful1 Nice comparison for the nay sayers on who made the better lenses!? As you point out in the last post and sentence, this
    slow strangled death of individual innovative development among manufacturers was done a forgone, or a thing that happened overnight beginning with the end of the war. It's so easy to rationalize the communist methodology from the outside in. I'd definitely like to try out one of these post war Praktikas and now I'm going to follow that link you sent and read some more history in case there's a test on Friday!
  17. I was just joshing you, JDM.
    I actually own a few Kiev's.
  18. I thought so, but around here, you can never be quite sure. :)
  19. JDM, interesting post. The Victar seems to hold its own against the Tessar and bears out the Vademecum description of 'low contrast...excellent sharpness'. I was surprised that KW should have risked such an innovative design immediately after the war until a more careful reading when the 1939 production date filtered into my brain. Post-war designs in a Europe picking itself off the floor seems to have gone for 'let's not be too clever, we have no money for development. Let us just update one of our tried and tested pre-war designs.' I have a 1946 Retina II that is technologically identical to its pre-war versions except that the lens is coated.
    As to the Praktiflex / Asahiflex war, I find that whenever someone claims a technological 'first' there is almost always at least one precursor or competitor. The Tessar / Cooke Triplet is one example but there are almost too many to count. As I understand your Praktiflex the shutter trips and then the mirror drops back into position. (Is that under its own weight or is it sprung?). As I undersatnd it this is the same as the later copy Asahiflex I. The difference between it and the Asahiflex IIB seems to be that in the IIB the shutter holds the mirror up while the shutter is open. This allows a much wider range of exposure times. The Asahiflex IIB shutter going from 1 second to 1/500th sec. Boh the Praktiflex and the early Asahiflexes had shutters which went from 1/25th to 1/500th as they were limited by the mirror return.
    Does this make any difference? I think it does in that with the 'instant return mirror' in the IIB the 35mm SLR has all the essentials to make it into a system camera with a wide range of lenses and accessories. And a few years later along comes the Nikon F to cash in on that. So the significance of the Asahiflex IIB instant return mirror is not so much the thing itself as what it makes possible. The innovation was small but the consequences for camera design were far-reaching.
    So I would go along with the Asahiflex IIB as a landmark camera for its shutter / mirror mehanism while noting the precursors such as the Praktiflex. Clearly Asahi cpied the Praktiflex almost exactly for the Asahiflex I but then did the Japanese trick of improving on the original.
    Anyway, thanks again for the interesting post and the enlightenment about the early Praktiflexes.
  20. In the later models made by Asahi, it is true that the mirror was not spring loaded like the Praktiflex (it wasn't gravity 'fed'), but a more "positive" return was there. However, there is one little detail that gets forgot -- the Pentax mirror did not actually return to the original position, not even on the S2/H2.
    Here are pp 2-3 of the Heiland Pentax H2 manual cautioning the user not to try to focus until the film was wound on, at which point the mirror actually returned to its focusing position, a problem not present on the earlier return mirrors from Praktiflex, and I suppose on the Asahiflex. Who, then, actually had the first "true," non-spring loaded mirror return? Could it have actually been the Nikon F? ;)
  21. I like it! So from that description (wearing both my sets of reading glasses to see the print) it seems that the sequence went something like this :
    1) winding on cocks the shutter and also pushes the mirror into the correct focus position.
    2) when the shutter is fired the mirror flips up, the shutter opens
    3) after the shutter closes the mirror drops but not necessarily into the correct position for focus.
    4) back to 1)
    If that was true of the Pentax derivatives then the Asahiflex must surely have been the same. Anyone got an Asahiflex IIB?
    One of the things that impresses me about my 1946 Retina II is that there is absolutely no sign that it was made in what must have been difficult postwar conditions with problems getting skilled people and who knows what sort of other difficulties. Does your Praktiflex show any rough edges that you think might be signs of the times it was made?
  22. Much later addition.
    Perhaps even the Nikon F does not precisely return the mirror to the shooting position:
    From "Too Hot to Handle", a regular Modern Photography feature, in the Keppler days

Share This Page