Praktica Nova (no name version)

This camera has no name on it anywhere – in fact, no writing on it at all. The only clue to its identity is the Ernemann Tower embossed in the leatherette on the back. Ernemann was one of the four camera makers that merged in 1926 to form Zeiss Ikon. With the partition of Germany after WWII, East German Zeiss Ikon (Zeiss Ikon also got partitioned along with the country) used the distinctive Ernemann Tower as a logo. With the morphing of East German Zeiss Ikon into Pentacon and the establishment of VEB Pentacon as a merger of the East German camera makers (Exakta, KW, Balda, Zeiss Ikon and others) the Ernemann Tower was used as a logo on all of them.

P1040580So this is a Pentacon camera. There are clues to the marque in the design. The shutter release is angled on the front right of the camera. This narrows it down to Contax or Praktica (a dangerous statement as I do not know all East German camera models!). There are two PC connectors on the top of the front left of the camera. Looking at imagers of Contax and Praktica cameras on Google, only one camera looks like this one – an early Praktica Nova. As a check, I went to www.praktica-collector.de and they have details of a model that was issued with no printing – the Praktica Nova No-Name. I already have a Pentaflex SL which is a cut-down Praktica Nova and this camera is very similar although the Pentaflex SL dates from the year that the Praktica Nova No-Name was discontinued.

P1040584
Ernemann Tower embossed in the leatherette

This is an early part of the Praktica Nova series. It dates from 1964 to 1967. It lacks a meter and has a top shutter speed of 1/500 seconds. The shutter speed selector is old school for the time with separate low and high speed rangers. The slow speed range is in red and offers 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 seconds. The high speed range is in white and offers 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500. Also in the high speed range is the flash synch speed (denoted by a lightning flash) and B. The flash synch speed is between 1/30 and 1/60 seconds and I am guessing 1/40 based on other Praktica cameras of the time.

P1040582Although B is in white and so a part of the high speed range, it can be used with the selector set at red. Switching between low and high speed ranges is done by a ring on top of the speed selector dial. Actual shutter speeds are selected by lifting the outer ring of the selector snd turning. The selected speed is indicated by a red dot. This works both before and after advancing the film.

This camera is a big step forward from my Praktica F.X2 which lacks a pentaprism. The shutter release button, as mentioned, sits on the front right the camera and is angled for ease of use. This is an improvement over the F.X2 where the shutter release is at right angles to the camera body. The button is threaded for a standards cable release. The edges of the button are milled and the button can be turned clockwise to lock it – a feature that will save me many blank frames.

P1040581The lens mount is M42 (42 mm diameter and 1 mm pitch) and not to be confused with M43 digital mount. It is the automatic version. This means that a bar comes forward when you press the shutter release button which presses on a pin on the rear of the lens to close the aperture. If you are using a non-automatic lens which would foul this bar – or if you just don’t want to use it – there is a red rivet just behind the bar which can be moved to one side to disable the auto feature.

The viewfinder eyepiece has a sort of bayonet fitting which I assume was for fitting a rubber eye cup or correction lenses so the user can discard their spectacles while using the camera.

The focus screen is a Fresnel lens which gives uniform brightness over the focus screen. In the centre is a plain ground glass circle (I initially thought that this was a micro prism ring but it is plain ground glass). Inside this circle is a split-image disc. This has a horizontal division. To use this, you find a strong vertical near the centre of the image and superimpose the split-image part over it. While the image is out of focus, the image in the part will be disrupted. You adjust the focus until the disrupted image comes together again.

P1040583There are a few other features worth noting. Under the rewind crank on the left of the top plate is a film reminder. This has two components: film length and film speed. To use this, you rotate the film speed ring until the required film speed is against the film length. Available film lengths are 12, 20 and 36. Film speeds are in either DIN (German system) or ASA (American system). Din speeds range from 9 to 33 and the ASA speeds from 6 to 1600. The back of the camera, as well as having the Ernemann Tower embossed in it, also has a triangle with a ‘1’ in it embossed below the Ernemann Tower. This indicates that the camera is of the first quality. There is a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket on the base which is otherwise plain.

Also, there are two PC connectors on the top, front left of the camera. One is marked ‘F’ and is for using flash bulbs and the other is marked ‘X’ and is for electronic flash. The ‘F’ connector will fire the flash slightly before the shutter is fully open to give the flash bulb time to burn to maximum brightness while the ‘X’ connector will fire the flash as soon as the shutter is fully open. The frame counter is below the film advance lever and it counts up from zero. Opening the back to change films automatically resets the counter to -1.

The film advance lever has lost its black plastic tip – there is a rivet still in place that used to hold the tip in place – but it works fine as it is. The camera has studs on the front corners for attaching a neck strap. This is the form of the early Praktica Novas during the three year production run of the model. Later in the production run these were changed for eyelets.

Praktica F.X2

This is an early Praktica made by KW (Kamera Werkstätten) between 1958 and 1959 i.e. before the merging of East Germany’s camera makers into Pentacon. In many ways, this camera is much like what became the ‘standard’ SLR camera – such as Asahi’s Pentax and Nikon’s F. In other ways it shows its position in the move from rangefinder to SLR. It also, of course, reflects the available technology of the day.

P1040504In the 1940s and 50s, East and West Germany were both at the forefront of redesigning their existing cameras into SLR cameras. East German Zeiss Ikon produced the Contax S from the Contax rangefinder. West German Zeiss Ikon also started with the Contax rangefinder and produced the Contaflex SLR series. The West German attempt was well engineered and over complicated and was a design dead end (but not for Hasselblad, Bronica, Mamiya and their medium format SLR cameras which used a similar system). The East German attempt lead to modern SLR cameras and not that much has changed to produce our current digital SLRs.

P1040505There are four things that really date this Praktica F.X2 camera. The first is then use of a film advance knob rather than a lever. This was quite usual for the time and the design changes necessary for using clever happened slowly over the 1950s.

The second thing is the shutter speed selector. In common with many cameras with a focal plane shutter, there are two separate mechanisms for fast speeds and slow speeds. There is a single selector knob but this is used in conjunction with a fast/slow selector. Fast speeds are the black range and slow speeds are the red range.

The third item that dates this camera is the viewfinder. Most 35 mm SLR cameras had/have an eye-level pentaprism finder or an interchangeable finder such as on Exakta cameras. This camera has a fixed waist-level finder but did have an optional pentaprism to convert the viewfinder to eye-level – I do not have one of these.

The fourth is the mirror. This does not return automatically after the shutter fires and so the viewfinder in blanked out until the film is advanced. Apart from being surprising, this does not really matter as you cannot use the camera without advancing the film.

P1040506
top plate

This camera also has innovative features. The camera name, FX, is one of them as the camera provides flash synch for bulbs (F) and also for the newer electronic flash (X). Two PC connectors are provided for this.

The camera also offers automatic aperture closing which allows for composition and focus at the widest aperture and then closes the aperture to the set value without the user worrying about it (or forgetting it!). This is achieved by way of a moving bar just inside the throat of the lens mount – this bar moves forward and presses a pin on the rear of the lens which in turn closes the aperture.  In case this bar fouls the rear of a non-automatic lens, there is a rivet painted red just behind the bar that a can be slid to one side to disable the mechanism. I have never found this to be necessary.

P1040509
Close-up showing the red rivet

I shall give a very general description: The camera body measures 155 by 90 by 48 mm and weighs 630 g. Film advance is a knob rather than a lever. The top surface of the advance knob is a frame counter. This counts up from zero and needs to be set to zero manually when a new film is loaded. Frames are indicated by marks with frames 0, 10, 20 and 30 having numbers.

The shutter speed selector has two ranges of numbers – one is black and one is red. The red range is the slow speeds and are 1/2, 1/5 and 1/10 seconds. The black range is the fast speeds and are 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200 and 1/500 seconds. Also in the black range is B. There is also a lightning flash on the black scale for the flash synch speed. The manual suggests that this is 1/40 seconds and will be the fastest shutter speed at which the shutter is fully open (at faster speeds, exposure is by a moving slit).

Shutter speeds are set by lifting the outer ring of the speed selector and turning until the red dot aligns with the required speed. To select between fast and slow ranges, you turn the inner ring so that the red arrow points at either the other red arrow or the black arrow. Shutter speed can be selected either before or after advancing the film (unlike shutters used on the Leica mechanism). If you select a ‘red’ speed while the selector is pointing at the black range then the shutter still fires but who knows at what speed. Same applies if you select a ‘black’ speed while the selector is pointing at the red range.

P1040507
finder opened for use

The viewfinder initially looks very strange – there is no eye-piece! First, you must open the viewfinder by pressing a small stud on the rear of the top plate. The top of the viewfinder then springs up and forward and a small baffle at the rear springs up. At this point you can use the viewfinder (if it is blank, you need to wind-on the film).

The fact that the image is reversed left to right can make composing the image awkward until you are used to it. Focusing the lens is possible  at this point but critical focus is hard. To make it easier, there is a pull-out magnifier to enlarge the centre of the image. Using this entails holding the camera very close to your eye.

P1040526
view of waist-level finder

There is a second option of converting the waist-level finder to a ‘sport’ finder. To do this, pull magnifier into place, pull up the front of the viewfinder lid and pull up a small eye-piece at the rear of the finder (see photos for clarity). Looking through this, you line up the edges of the two frames. You are just looking through the frames – no glass or focus screen is involved. You need the lens to be focused on infinity and the aperture small enough so the depth of field obviates the need to focus precisely. The idea is that it makes it easy to track movement such as a sportsman  – the image reversal in the standard viewfinder makes this very difficult.

KW also offered a pentaprism insert for the viewfinder to convert it to the ‘standard’ viewfinder used by nearly every other camera maker.

On the front of the camera, beside the lens, are two PC connectors for a flash gun. The bottom one is for F synch (that is flash bulbs – the flash is fired just before the shutter is fully open) and the top one is for X synch (electronic flash – the flash is fired as soon as the shutter is fully open).

P1040512
PC connectors

On the other side of the lens, at the top, is the shutter release button. usually with front mounted shutter releases, they are angled for ease of use. This one pushes in at right angles to the front. The button is threaded for a standard cable release.

The catch for the back is a slide on the left hand end of the camera. Sliding this up causes the back to come away completely from the camera – there is no hinge. As this is a German camera, the flanges around the edge of the back are large enough to prevent light leaking in without using the silly foam seals that the Japanese insisted on.

The serial number is stamped inside near the catch in the well the film cassette sits in. Mine is 311540. The take-up spool is firmly fixed in place unlike cameras from Zeiss Ikon and Exakta at this time where the take-up spool was loose.

There is an undocumented feature. On later and more expensive SLR camera, it is possible to move the mirror separately from opening the shutter. This allows any vibration caused by the mirror hitting its stop to dissipate before the film is exposed. On this camera, you can press the shutter release gently and the mirror will flip up and then you can wait a second before pressing the release button further to trip the shutter. This works well with the camera on a tripod and using a cable release.

Other features: there is a tripod boss on the base, significantly left of centre. This is a 3/8 inch Whitworth thread and mine has a more usual 1/4 inch Whitworth slug fitted in it to allow most tripods to be used. This slug is easily removed with a screwdriver if the user wants to use a larger threaded tripod. There is a lug on each front corner for fitting a neck strap.

The name of this camera is F.X2. There were three versions: FX2, F.X2 and FX.2. The position of the dot is significant but I have no idea in which way . The praktica-collector.de site tells me that the position of the dot signifies a modification of the F synchronisation

I shall be fitting a test film this coming week to try out this camera. I have no reason to suspect the it will be other than excellent but time will tell. I would like to try it with an East German lens but I do not have one. Instead, I shall use a Soviet Helios 44M lens (which is a copy of a Carl Zeiss Jena  Biotar lens – designed in East Germany if not made there).

1-4-2018

I have tested this camera using Agfa Vista+ film. As this camera came with no lens, I have used my Soviet Helios 44M lens – this lens is a Jena design even if it was made in Russia, so it is the most appropriate lens I have. Film was developed and scanned by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln as always. Here are a selection of results.

I am quite pleased with the camera. There are no light leaks (it is German so I did not expect any) and the shutter is behaving at least adequately. This is a delightful camera to use and I suspect I will continue to use it. All photos were taken in Lincoln.

Praktica FX2-12
Praktica FX2-7
Praktica FX2-3
Praktica FX2-22
Praktica FX2-14
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