World first cutting edge metering in a mediocre body.
The Praktica LLC debuted in December 1969 alongside the Praktica L, and they were the first models in the long lasting L series. This is the Praktica series that for many has come to define the brand; the rectangular and somewhat hollow feeling body that lacked a quality feel but to which could be attached some world class lenses.
Why is the Praktica LLC a Landmark Camera?
1: World’s first SLR with full aperture TTL metering using electric diaphragm control lenses.
2: First Praktica (alongside the L) to use a vertical travelling metal Copal shutter.
The User Experience
I will say this as politely as possible. The Praktica L series cameras are no lookers. These ugly ducklings aren’t going to turn into swans any time soon. Boxier and using more plastic and die-cast alloys than the Nova series they replaced, they were a couple of rungs down the ladder of aesthetic appeal. The early LLC, of which mine is an example, have Pentacon and the Ernemann tower logo stamped into the front of the prism housing. Later models would omit this, and would also receive a larger shutter release button; two further aesthetic downgrades to a camera already lacking finesse in the looks department.
The LLC does feel as good in the hand as its forebears. The leatherette is hard and rough. You could sand and smooth wood with it. The film advance lever is a as plain as possible and in operation feels flimsy and unreliable. It can be jiggled up and down a bit which is disconcerting.
The shutter also sounds louder and ‘clackier’ than the shutter of older Prakticas. This is likely at least part due to another new feature introduced with the L series; a square steel Copal shutter with a vertical action. This new shutter was apparently an improvement on the former rubberised curtain shutter of old, although I am not convinced. The shutters on my Praktica Mat, Praktica IV, Praktica FX2, and even my Praktiflex, still work well, but the Copal contraption on this model sticks intermittently. Of course, it could just be a matter of care and maintenance.
Attaching a half decent lens on the LLC improves the feel. A bit of weight in the hand makes a difference. The lens attached to this camera is a later multi coated Pentacon Electric 50mm f/1.8 which feels better made than the first generation of this electric lens, itself an adaptation of the earlier Meyer-Optik Oreston.
Oh dear! I haven’t had much positive to say about the LLC have I? Well, in use the camera reaches a degree of redemption. First of all, the innovative full aperture metering works well and must have been a novel convenience for upgrading Praktica users, as long as they had an electric lens. If not, they would have to settle for good old stop down metering. Good for Pentacon though to provide that option and allow the use of the full and magnificent range of M42 lenses from many manufacturers.
Stop down metering is selected using a convenient dial type switch located around the film rewind lever. You should move the dial to the white circle outline icon. You will obviously need a lens capable of stopping down the aperture manually and not a lens with automatic aperture only.
To use the ground breaking full aperture metering turn the dial to the solid white circle icon and ensure you have an electric lens attached. These are easily recognisable by the three gold contact pins on the rear of the lens around the outside of the mount. These transfer the aperture value to the camera body by matching up with three corresponding silver strips on the camera lens mount.
Then simply look through the viewfinder and with a classic match needle system on the right hand side of the screen, choose an aperture and shutter speed value combination that lands the pointer in the circle. The viewfinder is a touch on the dim side, but is still a very usable finder with a Fresnel screen and typically large Praktica microprism in the centre surrounded by ground glass. Also in the viewfinder, on the left hand side, Pentacon carried over the cocked shutter indicator from previous models. If you can see the indicator, you need to advance the film, thus cocking the shutter too. The shutter release itself is lockable, and placed in the classic Praktica position on the front of the camera body at a very convenient diagonal.
A battery solution
Today, that 4.5 volt PX21 battery is impossible to find. There is a satisfactory workaround though.
Of course, the fancy new electric aperture control needed a battery to power the magic. Today, that 4.5 volt PX21 battery is impossible to find. There is a satisfactory workaround though. An adapter is available that allows the use of three stacked LR44 cells. I have one and it does the job admirably well. If only the battery chamber were better designed! The battery chamber door is a flimsy piece of ill-fitting black plastic located on the underside of the body that completely detaches. My two previous LLCs had doors that no longer stayed attached for long. The current one is a great deal better.
It is as if the LLC has read my criticisms and decided to shut down and have a sulk. The film advance has now joined the sticky shutter and decided not just to not work occasionally, but not work at all. So much for third time lucky! I think this is end of the story for me and LLCs. I shan’t be buying a fourth copy, but I will persevere with this one for a while, and if I succeed in bringing it back to life, I may risk a roll of film in it.