Praktica MTL5B film camera review – the reliable brick

You might have heard about Praktica, a brand from the East German state-owned company Pentacon that created some popular lenses as well. The MTL5B film camera was produced in the mid-to-late 1980s and exported into Western countries under the name Revue ML. I couldn’t find many reviews on the internet so here we go. Seeing is believing, so check out the video if you want to see more!

I got this camera over a year ago from eBay in near mint condition for less than 10€ including shipping. Nothing is cheaper than technology of yesteryear.

If you are looking for a slim, sleek & light design, you have come to the wrong neighborhood. The rectangular case is made of aluminum with a black vinyl wrapping and it gives quite a sturdy impression.  Knobs and lever feels like they were never used before, it might have been new old stock. Take a closer look at the case in the following images or my Flickr album.

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Praktica MTL5B with a Japanese Asahi SMC Takumar 14./50 M42

There were quite a lot of Praktica models on the market. The MTL5B is a basic mechanical  35mm SLR with an ubiquitous M42 mount and an inbuilt light meter. The most common kit lens was the Pentacon 1.8/50mm that I don’t own. Basic functionality is perfectly fine with a single stroke lever and a unique front mounted shutter release button. Looks strange but works fine – what more do you need?

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With a period correct Zeiss Jena Tessar 2.8/50 M42

The ‘B’ designates the inbuilt, well functioning TTL light meter that runs on modern LR44 alkaline batteries unlike the earlier models that require mercury batteries. A needle in the viewfinder tells you if your picture will be over- or underexposed and it did work reliably for me. All mechanical parts including shutter will function without a battery. Film speed for the light meter can be set from 12 ASA (12 DIN) to 1600 ASA (33 DIN) by pulling and rotating the shutter dial. I believe ASA is identical to ISO here, but I didn’t test any film beyond ISO 400.

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Open backside with exposed shutter blades

The focal plane shutter has steel-blades with a speed from from 1s to 1/1000s and a bulb mode for longer exposure. We do have a weakness here: the hefty clonk of the shutter and mirror induces shock that will create some motion blur unless you set the shutter at 1/500s or 1/000s. Bright sunlight, a fast lens or high-ISO film help to keep shutter speeds fast enough. A sturdy tripod might mitigate that problem entirely

Focusing through the viewfinder is assisted by a Microprism with a diagonal pattern. I tried to capture the action in my video above. The small lever under the shutter release button winds a noisy self-timer with up to 10-second delay. We do have a small picture counter as well that will be reset to zero when opening the case back by pulling the rewind dial.

Focus and exposure are aided by a small lever inside the mount that will push a corresponding button on some M42 lenses. This will step down the spring aperture the moment you press the shutter release button or activate the light meter. This allows you to focus with an open aperture to increase visible light and reduce the depth of field for more precise focusing. It is a pretty ingenious mechanical system that can not be replicated with adapters on modern cameras. Some lenses have a corresponding A/M switch that has to be set to A ‘automatic’ to activate that feature.

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Asahi SMC Takumar 1.4/50mm & Kodak Portra 160 film

Of course I’ve shoot some rolls of film with my new-old Praktica. You can check out my Flickr album Pro 400H, Ektar 100 or Portra 160.  I got some light leaks once, but I believe these were unrelated to the camera. Take a closer look at the following images. Development was done by a professional developer.

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Asahi SMC Takumar 1.4/50mm & Kodak Portra 160 film
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Analog bokeh with the Helios-44M-4 & Ektar 100 film at F2
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Fuji Pro 400H & Asahi S-M-C Takumar 3.5/28mm

There is a huge number of old film cameras out there and this one was produced at nearly 600K units according to some internet sources. You might find one online for less than the cost of buying and developing a single film. I don’t own a collection of old SLR film camera so I can’t give you a detailed comparison, but this aluminum brick worked just fine for me.

Thanks for reading! You can check out more of this blog or my YouTube channel.

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