One of the earliest and most influential 35mm SLRs of all time.


Praktiflex camera with waist level finder

Only two 35mm single lens reflex cameras predate the Praktiflex. The first was the rare and unusual looking Sport camera from Russia, which wasn’t made in any number and was commercially unsuccessful. Second out of the blocks was the legendary Ihagee “Kine” Exakta, a complex and beautifully engineered camera that pointed the way in 35mm SLR design. The Praktiflex arrived in 1939, greatly simplifying how an SLR could work and solving one of the challenges to usability at the same time.

Why is the Praktiflex a Landmark Camera?

1: The world’s first SLR with a return mirror.
2: The world’s third ever 35mm SLR.
3: KW’s first SLR and the start of a long success story.

The User Experience

The Look

The Praktiflex is a hugely important design in SLR camera history. It set the basic arrangement of controls of a conventional 35mm SLR that are still used today.

Praktiflex camera from above.

This camera, one of 33,900 made, came to me via the auction site in a pretty sorry state; very dirty and with a botched attempt at leatherette replacement that was peeling very badly. It resembled a black sheep that was moulting its fleece. Fortunately it came wrapped in its original leather case, which may account for its excellent working condition and reasonable cosmetic state once the muck was removed.

Praktiflex camera from the rear.

As well as the peeling leatherette, which I have replaced, the paint had been touched up here and there, and the inside of the removal film back had been spray painted matt black, coating over the small round KW badge.

The Feel

Compared to my Ihagee Kine Exakta, the Praktiflex feels light and hollow. Its build is not in the same league as the Exakta. However, it was much more affordable and certainly easier to use. Replacing the leatherette has improved the grip and I have always appreciated the lozenge shaped bodies of the early KW SLRs. They fit my hand well.

Underneath the Praktiflex camera showing serial number 14192.

Dating my Praktiflex

Without the original leatherette, a bit of a paint spray job in the interior, and the highly unusual black speed dial (in have only seen one other with a similar but not identical black speed dial), it has been tricky to work out the year of manufacture. Back then, manufacturers did not announce new model numbers with minor changes. A Praktiflex was a Praktiflex, whether from 1939 or 1946. Model numbers have been applied retrospectively by camera historians and collectors in order to acknowledge these nuances in design. With a serial number of 14192, it is likely to be a 1st generation 4th change, 11th model made in 1946.

Praktiflex camera from above detailing the shutter speed dial and film advance knob.

In Use

Using this camera with the waist level finder is a challenge. Maybe age is playing a part (myself and the camera!) but the 40mm screw mount Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens delivers a dim image to the waist level finder. Perhaps the mirror has faded over time? Achieving focus, even when using the flip out magnifier in the collapsible hood, is tricky with the small reversed image. It’s a slow and methodical game of framing.

Praktiflex camera from above with magnifier in use.

When making an exposure, pressing the shutter directly raises the mirror. When the mirror is fully raised it triggers the shutter. Similarly, releasing finger pressure on the shutter releases the mirror back down again. This direct control over raising the mirror requires a bit of practice and discipline. You cannot afford a jittery, hesitant release. You will mess up the exposure. Better to squeeze the release down rather like squeezing the trigger of a firearm; calm and steady.

Praktiflex camera from above with original lens cap.

KW realised the limitations of this limited but laudable version of an instant return mirror, and replaced it in the Praktiflex II with a mirror that only returned when the film was advanced and the shutter tensioned in the same movement. The shutter release was also moved to the face of the camera rather than the top and there it stayed for many years and many Praktica cameras to come.

Praktiflex camera from the front.

Camera specification

CameraPraktiflex
MakerKamera-Werkst├Ątten
CountryGermany
Year1939
Lens mountM40
DimensionsW 15.5 x H 8.5 x D 4.2 cm 
Body weight675 grams
ShutterB, 1/25, 1/50, 1/75, 1/100, 1/200, 1/300, 1/500
TypeRubberised cloth horizontal
FeaturesInstant return mirror
Viewfinder magnifier
Screw mount
ViewfinderWaist level with condenser type ground-glass focusing screen 
Basic camera specifications

FURTHER READING:

Dresdner Kameras
Praktica Collector
Early Photography