PHOTO PROJECT: The $50 Film Camera

Introduction

The $50 Film Camera Project inspired me to finally write something about my first steps into film photography using an ancient analogue SLR. After years of taking simple snapshots with a a digital point-and-shoot, I wanted something more but did not want to spend hundreds on a digital SLR without a bit of basic photography knowledge and skills. That’s when I recalled that my Dad was always lugging around a Praktica B100 on holidays when I was a kid. It turned out he still had this camera in pristine condition but hadn’t used it in about 10 years. After borrowing it a couple of times I was quickly sold and figuring these cameras would be readily available here in the Netherlands I started doing some homework.

Pentacon Dresden

Praktica SLRs were made between 1949 and 1989 in Dresden in the former German Democratic Republic under the Pentacon brand. In a way the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 brought an end to Germany’s best known camera manufacturer, Pentacon Dresden. There’s a nice site by a German collector named Mike where you can find lots more history and details on all Pentacon Praktica cameras. I’m going to focus on their Praktica B system, where the B stands for the Bayonet mount. This was a major departure from their earlier screw mount systems.

Praktica B system

The Parktica B system was manufactured between 1979 and 1990 and featured 17 models. There were basically three lines:

  • automatic + manual shutter control
  • only automatic shutter control
  • only manual shutter control

My Dad’s B100 is an “only automatic” model and I bought the B200 which features automatic and manual shutter control which makes it more versatile. Purists would go for a BMS, a fully manual model. To summarize the B200’s features (more detail at Mike’s):

  • automatic speed range: 40s – 1/1000s
  • manual speed range: 1s – 1/1000s
  • center weighted TTL
  • Film speeds: 12 – 3200 ASA

I bought my camera plus a bunch of lenses, filters, flashes, bag, case etcetera from, what I think was, a semi pro who went digital. Here are a few stock pics of my equipment (courtesy praktica-b.org):

Since then I also bought a second body plus two more lenses I found at a Queens’ day sale. That way I can have different film speeds or even a roll of B/W film loaded.

My humble opinion

Besides all the features this camera is packing, I very much like the feel of it. The solid metallic clang of the shutter and the weight of the camera make it feel very sturdy. This is also why a lot of these are still around. Of course it’s also got its drawbacks, especially when combined with my lack of photography skills, but I’m working on that. I’ve shot numerous rolls of film in the last year with varying results, and I still love that moment at the photo lab when there’s an unexpected little gem in the prints. This is of course also the major drawback compared to digital photography, film can be expensive, so you’ve got to try to make every shot count. But still, for me, it’s very rewarding when the results are good. All of the scanned results (straight from the photo lab, no post processing by me) can be found at this Flickr Collection.

The $50 Film Camera Project

For the $50 film camera project I used one B200 body with a Pentacon Prakticar 1.8/50 lens and a roll of 400 ASA film. I tried my hand at a little concert photography during a performance by Hit Me TV at the Festival a/d Werf last May. The results clearly show that I still struggle with manual focus, lighting and shutter speeds but luckily I did get a few shots right. These were taken late in the afternoon at a semi open air venue with lots of different lighting. I was not using a flash as I did not want to annoy the band 🙂

Conclusion

I hope this page inspires someone somewhere to pick up a Pentacon Prakticar camera to get into film photography, it’s certainly brought me a lot of enjoyment on a relatively low budget. Although the equipment is dead cheap (I’ve spent less than 100 euros in total and one body plus the 50mm is worth approximately 15-20 euros), rolls of film, developing, printing etcetera can drive up the cost. In the future I see myself buying a second hand digital SLR but I don’t think I will ever part with my Praktica’s. I even think I will someday try something different like a TLR like a Yashica.

Links

Update

The $50 dollar camera project resulted in 80 entries! The first two winners are announced, the third one will be voted for by the readers. I’m entry #34, vote for me!

3 thoughts on “PHOTO PROJECT: The $50 Film Camera”

Comments are closed.