Camera of Week 16 – Praktica BX20
Today i won’t push “Random Camera” button, but will write about my first film camera. I won’t bore you with details how I got it and etc., but will say that i have shot enough rolls with it, and currently sold Nikon F100 was only second I had (of course there are also few not so serious cameras but I don’t use them often).
Praktica cameras were made by VEB Pentacon same company that made famous Pentacon 6 medium format camera. Pentacon is a “daughter” company of Zeiss Jena which in turn is part of Zeiss that was left in Soviet territory, other part became Carl Zeiss.
Now about camera. BX20 is manual focus 35mm film SLR camera, it was last camera that was serially produced from Pentacon factory. Little over 200K of these were made. Last two models BX20S and BX21were only made in small prototype quantities (about 30 each). Camera looks and works like mid 70’s cameras from Japan, that’s how far Soviet Union lagged behind Western world and this was probably best 35mm camera that came out from Warsaw block countries. BX20 is apeture priority camera, so it measures light with it’s Cadmium sulphide photo-resistor, one sets desired aperture value on lens and camera automaticly chooses shutter speed (Auto mode), or suggests correct one (Semi-automatic mode). In Semi auto-mode camera allows to choose from various manual shutter speeds – Bulb mode, 1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250,1/500, 1/1000, also 1/100 for flash sync. Auto mode works steplessly between 40 sec and 1/1000 s. Metering mode is center-weighted and there are 3 focusing assists for manual focusing – triple wedge, microprism ring and ground glass ring. From personal experience I mostly used triple wedge with small help from microprism. For metering camera requires one V28PX / 4SR44 battery. It last quite long but doesn’t warn you when it’s going to die. Also nice feature of this camera is pocket on back cover where piece of film package can be put to know what film is loaded, camera also features double exposure prevention which may be good or bad depending on taste. Shutter button is tread to allow usage of shutter release cable. As name suggests camera uses Praktica B Bayonet mount which was upgrade over traditional M42 mount that was used before. Biggest problem with these cameras, same as anything from Soviet block, is unreliability. They work fine until they break. When buying biggest concern is electrical contacts on lens, i have had at least two lenses that don’t transfer aperture value to camera so meter doesn’t work when this happens. Also stuck aperture blades are fairly common. Worst case scenario – lens works OK when hand checking, but when attached to camera it get stuck which results in overexposed pictures.
Camera is fairly cheap you shouldn’t pay more than 30-40 dollars for one. Even BX20S can be had for cheap. If you are buying it then don’t buy it from ebay.com, but look at ebay.co.uk or ebay.de UK site has lower prices but German has wider selection and probably some less frequent accessories and lenses, like winder and bellows. Small tip about buying lenses: don’t write “Praktica 50mm lens”, but write “Prakticar 50mm”. Prakticar is brand name of Praktica lenses, but as everyone writes Praktica and some sellers don’t know what “Prakticar” is these lenses can be had for 1-2$ + shipping. Just scout differences between M42 and B mount lenses, as B mount lenses have “fresher” look or you can ask seller how lens mount look. Some sellers just post side or front of lens not mounting ring. Bad thing about low price is that you don’t really care about these lenses and i have destroyed at least 3 50mm lenses, but sold one for more than i bought it for.
Additional info here:
Both sites are great for additional info about various Praktica lenses and cameras.