KW introduces the first fully automatic lens diaphragm action.


Praktica FX 2 with pentaprism inserted in viewfinder hood
Praktica FX 2 with pentaprism inserted in viewfinder hood

It has taken me a long time to get around to trying out the Praktica FX 2. I acquired it before most of the other cameras in my collection, but there has always seemed to be another camera attracting my attention. One of reasons for this is that the idea of using a waist level finder in a 35mm camera didn’t appeal to me very much; but I solved that problem.

Why is the Praktica FX 2 a Landmark Camera?

1: World’s first SLR with fully automatic diaphragm action built into the camera body.

The User Experience

The Look

The Praktica FX 2 looks very similar to every Praktica SLR that preceded it. It has the attractively tapered sides, the shutter release button on the front of the camera body, the square lens housing, and the collapsible waist level finder. Also, you can’t go wrong with satin chrome and leatherette.

Interestingly, there’s a notable historical quirk of this particular camera is the crudely stamped message on the removable film door reading “Germany USSR Occupied”. This is a US customs stamp and signifies the camera was an export destined for America. Quite why this was necessary I don’t know; perhaps a Cold War quirk of some kind. Some American importers did tamper with Praktica nameplates too, an act demonstrating the illegitimacy of the East German state. Perhaps the stamp was propaganda for stateside consumption too?

Praktica FX 2
Praktica FX 2

This stamping and defacing is in contrast to the attractive embossing of the leatherette in the centre of the film door. The interwoven letters ‘I’ and ‘Q’ are centred in a diamond shape denoting the camera as a top grade export model.

Praktica FX 2 with pentaprism inserted in viewfinder hood
Praktica FX 2 with pentaprism inserted in viewfinder hood

The Feel

As noted in my Praktica Mat review, I like handling the earlier Prakticas. They just feels good in the hand. The thickness of the body, the slightly coarse leatherette, the tapered ends and the placing of the shutter release all play their part. The body perhaps feels a bit hollow, and that is reflected in the sound of the shutter.

In Use

A tale of two finders

Using this camera with the waist level finder first of all was a valuable lesson on why the pentaprism SLR was such an important landmark. I have used medium format cameras with waist level finders and they are perfectly usable. The reversed image is much larger and the camera is invariably set on a tripod. It’s a slow and methodical game of framing and waiting for the right moment.

Using this camera with the waist level finder first of all was a valuable lesson on why the pentaprism SLR was such an important landmark.

I found the much smaller finder of the FX2 harder to focus. The magnified sight certainly helps, but roll and yaw was the problem when framing the camera in the hand. With a reverse image, the brain has to learn to find the frame and make precise movements in a counter intuitive way. Consequently, I took one photograph with the waist level finder before deciding to deploy the pentaprism!

Praktica FX 2 with open viewfinder hood and slide up rear sight in place
Praktica FX 2 with open viewfinder hood and slide up rear sight in place

The well-made pentaprism slots into the waist level finder with a satisfying click, although there is a knack to fitting it with a diagonal downwards motion into the finder. Bringing the FX 2 up to your eye transforms the camera into a far more usable photographic tool.

Praktica FX 2 with open viewfinder hood and slide up rear sight in place
Praktica FX 2 with open viewfinder hood and slide up rear sight in place

Framing is transformed with the eye level viewfinder displaying the image the correct way around, although the view is a touch dimmer and smaller than later SLRs. There are also no framing devices, such as a fresnel screen or split-image range finder and ground-glass ring, but it’s easier to focus; no brain confusion.

Praktica FX 2 components
Praktica FX 2 components

Set it, forget it

So we come to the feature for which the Praktica FX 2 has a place in history. The camera body has a horizontal bar placed at the front, just inside the lens mount at the bottom. When depressing the shutter, this bar moves forward onto the lens, pushing in the actuating pin of an automatic diaphragm lens, stopping it down to the set aperture just before the shutter is released. Goodbye manual stopping down of the lens after metering and prior to shutter release. Hello carefree full aperture focusing

The following table illustrates how this mechanism simplified the process of making an exposure and helped photographers who favoured thinking of the aperture first


Stop down before exposureAutomatic diaphragm
Frame and focus the scene with full apertureSet the aperture, frame and focus
Meter the scene with hand held light meterMeter the scene with hand held light meter
Set shutter speedSet shutter speed
Stop down the aperturePress the shutter
Press the shutter
Return the lens to full aperture for the next exposure
Making an exposure, pre and post automatic diaphragm

My 50mm Tessar is a preset lens, so I don’t have the advantage the automatic diaphragm brings when using this lens, but I do have plenty of other M42 lenses with automatic diaphragm control. Also, the FX 2 still has two sets of shutter speeds. You have to switch from a set of slow speeds to a set of fast speeds (and the reverse) using the selector dial sitting atop the shutter speed dial.

Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8
Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8

Photographs taken with the Praktica FX 2

I loaded a roll of Ilford Delta 100 into the camera and took it out to a pier in the town where I live. Just to make things slightly more convoluted, I used the preset Tessar with the lens aperture mainly at more open settings for a more dreamy look.


FURTHER READING:

Praktica Collector
Camera Wiki
Instruction manual at Mike Butkus’ site
Jones, Barry M. (2017). From KW to Pentacon. The Story of Kamera Werst├Ątten, Praktica and Pentacon Cameras. Second Edition. Self Published.