Friday, April 30, 2010

Praktica Nova IB: Not even the Berlin Wall could stop them

I, like many other photographers, have a Flickr account. I really enjoy seeing all the great images people from around the globe post for viewing. I also belong to many Flickr camera collecting groups; people like myself showing off their goodies.

Seeing all the European collectors and what they chose to feature often exposes me to photo manufacturers who were uncommon in the US years ago. Praktica is one such manufacturer. There are many, many photos of various Praktica cameras on Flickr with captions extolling their rugged construction and reliable operation. So, when I happened to find an example of a Praktica camera at a local antique store, I decided to try one.

Now, mind you this is the experience of one camera model out of dozens the company offered through the years, and I don't know how well the previous owner cared for the instrument, but I gotta say, "what's the big deal here?"

The Hanimex Praktica Nova IB I purchased has one significant reason to exist: it makes even the sickliest of the other European or Japanese cameras in my collection look robust and well-designed. Wow, what a dog.

While it has a shutter speed dial, the speed indicated has no relation to the one you get. Wind and shoot two times in a row and you get two different speeds. Rotate the dial in any direction and you never know what speed it will land on. Now, I know, this is a repair issue. But I have never seen this in any other camera I've owned or known about going back over 30-years.

Everything on this camera is cheap. It's so bad, it was worth buying just to keep finding short-cuts and compromises. The body finish is bad, the controls seem to be machined by high school students. The Selenium meter (hopelessly out of date for 1967, the year this camera was introduced) is hidden behind the front nameplate. So, we know that they knew it was a negative selling point from the get-go. As to the Oreston 50mm normal lens, I'll have to mount the lens on my Spotmatic II to see if that at least it was well made (having my doubts). With its machined focusing and f/stop ring grips, it looks more like a lens for a darkroom enlarger than a camera lens. Plus, you can file your nails on all that exposed metal. Ever heard of rubber grips guys?

So why do Europeans love these East German Prakticas so much? Must be the price when available. Europe has had periods with high VAT taxes on cameras. Perhaps the Prakticas were still a value even when saddled with the extra government charges. I mean, they do LOOK heavy-duty and rugged all right. But if this is an example of 1967 East German camera skills, they had a long way to go. I used to think that we didn't get Prakticas in the 'States because they were a product of a communist nation and we didn't want to trade with such folk for political reasons. (Not like now where we have fully embraced trading with communists as long as we can exploit their workers to fill our super-stores with cheap TVs and socks. I'm kidding and yes, I'm deviating from my point.)

It turns out the main reason is that even the worst Japanese maker, someone like, oh, say, Petri could have made a better shooter than what I've seen in these Prakticas. We may have been saved from countless repair bills and millions of ruined photos.

In fact, the Petriflex I own that died in my hands one day has better build quality than this operational Praktica. It's a toss-up for last place in my collection, a Petri paperweight or the "guess what shutter speed you have now!" Praktica. Well, at least the German tank has a M42 lens I can maybe use for snapshots. The Petri's lens, with its proprietary breech-lock bayonet mount, is now only good for burning ants on the sidewalk on a sunny day. Which still makes it more useful than the Praktica Nova IB.

18 comments:

  1. This Meyer domiplan is an interesting lens, very contrasted, very sharp in the center, vivid colors!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This brings back such funny memories! I worked at a wonderful, family-owned camera store in Baltimore summers and holidays 1968-71. We always had at least one Nova 1B on hand for people with a rock-bottom budget. We young salesguys (all were students) loved to make fun of the Nova 1B - you can see a photo of me doing just that here:

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=296731666526&set=a.19588341526.31361.625436526&type=3&theater

    The point of what I was doing in the photo was that we noticed that the Nova shutter went "sprooooinnnngggg!" instead of the typical Japanese "kaa-chunnnnk!"

    Back in the early 2000's, I discovered that later Prakticas, the MTL5's and MTL3's in particular, were quite nicely put together and came with pretty good Pentacon 50mm lenses - I ended up with NINE of them! They were from the mid-80's and at $25 or so apiece on eBay, were equivalent to a good 1967 Japanese TTL SLR.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Perhaps you have a bad example, but I have to disagree with your assessment of the Nova IB. I have one in mint condition that works perfectly and the selenium meter is still dead accurate. It was definitely a budget camera in its day, but I think it is solid, rather well-built and even attractive in a chunky way. And the Meyer Oreston 50/1.8 is a great lens. Even the humble Domiplan is capable of surprisingly good results.

    ReplyDelete
  4. think the original comments are unfair to our european friends.
    nothing at all wrong with east german cameras.
    writer is obviously anti anyone or thing that istn american
    god bless america eh.......

    ReplyDelete
  5. I own a "Praktica Nova IB" that is *not* marked "Hanimex". I think Hanimex simply remarked camera equipment.

    My Praktica Nova IB was used while we lived in Tunisia 70-74 and used under quite severe conditions mainly due to sand on beaches and in the desert. Still works...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Can't let this pass - ridiculing a whole brand and history on the basis of one broken antique isn't fair.

    Yes part of the appeal of Prakticas was their price - these were very affordable cameras in their day that gave generations of photographers their first break. Many people bought Prakticas and learnt "proper" photography that would otherwise simply not have been able to afford a comparable camera, probably not even a Petri. Especially bearing in mind that, as you note, Prakticas allowed you access to that wealth of decent M42 glass, rather than locking you into a proprietary mount with little support.

    It's fair to say the Nova wasn't their most reliable range - both earlier and later cameras had a better rep - but get a good one and they'll still take a great picture more than forty years later. Personally I think they're great looking cameras too.

    ReplyDelete
  7. My Father obtained this camera during WWII with Germany. He picked it out fresh from a factory when we invaded Germany. I treasure it, but have never used it. Someday I will.

    Gary

    ReplyDelete
  8. That's interesting that your father acquired this camera during WWII, given that Novas weren't made until the mid'60s...

    ReplyDelete
  9. I use the Praktica Nova and Nova B as well as the Super TL on a regular base. As a collector, these camera's are easy to find in top condition for 20 to 50 Euro, depending on the sub-type etc.

    My advise if you want to use a classic camera, buy a decent Nova type camera with a classic lens and learn to use B&W film. Don't buy a Nova B (with exposiure meter) unless it is to complete your collection. Almost no camera with a selenium meter will work fine after 50 years or more.

    A decent Nova or Nova B is reliable and can give an extra life cycle even after 50 years of use. It will only take a few rolls to learn to use this camera. Try to find the Zeiss Biotar 58mm, a Zeiss Tessar 50, the Meyer 50 mm is also OK, the Meyer 28 and 135 mm lenses can coplete the set.

    FYI, The Pentax or Petri line of camera's started the design with an improved copy of the Praktica, using better materials and selling at a higher price. But my Pentax type H isn't better than the Nova. It only feels a bit more heavy.


    ReplyDelete
  10. I have one that I bought on eBay a few years ago. Dead meter aside, I think it's a good camera, I've always gotten decent pictures. I have four lenses for it, a 28mm, 50mm, 135mm and an 85-210 zoom. The reason I like these cameras so much is the position of the shutter button. It's just designed for the human hand! I only wish I had a shoe for the flash.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yes I still have one, my mum had the super TL which was a lot cooler.
    It still works well and looks mint, the lens is sharp I agree and hard to focus as the ring is too close the camera. For those who couldnt afford pentax,canon, the praktica rocked

    ReplyDelete
  12. It's a pretty bizarre review.
    These days you can basically expect a Leica to need a shutter service, or at the very least a CLA. That a Praktica would need one is no surprise.

    A lot of these Prakticas (indeed a lot of ANY camera that's 40 years old) suffers from dried out lubricants which can make the shutter fire erratically. IIRC the shutter mechanism has a sort of bizarre timing mechanism which features a swinging weight - if it is sticky at all the shutter will go slow or the mirror will hang up.

    I've had several prakticas over the years, and while there is a lot to criticize, reliability is not something I've ever had a problem with. Dim viewfinders and el-cheapo materials? Sure. But not mechanical ruggedness.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Gosh, if author only had some respect for anything, he would have at least read up on Praktica brand and its HUGE contribution to development of SLR cameras. Instead he chose to ridicule and in the end wound up being ridiculed. I've had some hilariously in-operational Minoltas, Yashicas, even a Nikon, did I ever thought bad of the brand? Never, as with most equipment of this kind, when operator chooses he can do damage to anything made.

    The facts are, as others have stated, Praktica was a good brand giving owners great platform to expand on and came with full range of accessories and great lenses. For the price there was no match, neither there is one today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, yes, that was a horrible rant by the OP. I have an FX from about 1952 with a Tessar 50/3.5 (with aperture pre-select), which is super sharp. The FX itself is a very solid camera and fun to use.

      Found another one which I yet have to clean and test shoot - I bought this second model because it came with a disguised Biotar (10 blades lens), only marked "Jena 58/2". Now, today I found a PL Nova IB. I do have to admit, that while the light meter is still working and obviously quite accurately, I did not yet manage to fire the camera. But the Oreston that it came with is sharp and really an interesting piece of glass (again, I was more after the lens than after the cam).

      All that said, I am sort of getting a hang for those Prakticas and honestly, I would have to think what American camera I shot recently.. Hm. Ah, Kodak Brownie Nr 2 Model F. Though, mine was made in Canada.. Is there any good, affordable, reliable American made camera I should look out for?!?

      Delete
  14. Ahhh, Hanimex! Did you know that they are(or were)an Australian company? Being an Aussie myself I thought you might be interested in learning something about what was my countries only photographic company. This snippet of information comes from a Hanimex devotee who has a website called Oz Camera which also list's most of their products, one of which was the Hanimex Reflex Flash, which I believe was the worlds first 35mm slr with a built in electronic flash. I have to say though Hanimex were not renowned for quality products, hence their collaboration with East Germany's camera manufacturer Practika, but they were also involved with photographic equipment companies from West Germany, Japan and China. Here is some info from Oz Camera on Haminex:

    HANIMEX = HAN nes IM port EX port, Sydney Australia.
    Jack Hannes began importing European cameras to Australia at the end of World War II. His company held the agencies for many well known companies, including Hasselblad. It spread its influence to film, darkroom equipment, and projectors both still and cine.

    In the early 1950's, Hannes began influencing the design of many cameras, re-badging them as Hanimex. These often bore a close resemblance to the original, but were uniquely Hanimex. By the 1960's the the company was designing cameras and projectors in Australia, manufacturing in several countries and exporting to dozens of world markets.

    The chief designer at Hanimex from the 1960's, Jerry Arnott, was responsible for the Mini "trombone" 110 miniature camera and the compact 35mm SLR and flash cameras.

    ReplyDelete
  15. My Dad gave me his Nova 1b in the early 70's when I headed off on a round-the-continent (of North America) motorcycle trip. It took great, razor-sharp pictures - more due to good luck than any expertise on my part. That means it was a pretty damn good unit. Just dug it out of an old packing box today and found this website. Think I'll buy a roll of 35mmm and see if it still works!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Still have a nova b I bought in 1968 with a Zeiss pancolar f1.8 50mm lens still works including the meter, however it's sort of just lying in a box with some other old film cameras bought over the years as digital has overtaken film cameras

    ReplyDelete
  17. If I remember my history Pentacon was what was left after the Russians and the Americans dismantled the Zeiss factory after WW11. Zeiss knew a thing or two about building cameras.

    Hanimex imported and sold a lot of Prakticas aand Zenits in Europe, USA, Britain and Australia whilst the Americans were distracted fighting the cold war.

    It might be worth noting that the entry price for a Praktica was about half the cost of a cheap Japanese SLR. At the very least they were excellent value for money.

    If you can find a better, US made SLR - BUY IT.

    ReplyDelete