There is no German camera brand as undervalued as the East German Praktica. Now, strictly speaking, it is not a brand, but a long-running model name of KW (Kamera-Werkstaetten) and later Pentacon. Once started as Praktiflex in 1939 and ended as Praktica BX20S in 2001. More than 40 models and versions have never brought the brand what it actually deserves: recognition for high quality at affordable prices.
East-German was a kind of black sheep in the family, the underdog that could not stand up against its big Western brother. After the war West Germany was considered the Valhalla of design and production of modern and top notch cameras and East Germany as the second-rate producer of ‘billige’ (cheap) cameras. No one believed that such a cheap camera from the socialists’ economic regime in the East could produce anything good. It has remained a prejudice that somehow has stuck to the brand. Unjustly, because the praktica turned out to be a high-quality and innovative camera. And in some countries like Great Britain the ‘cheap’ Praktica became even the most popular one.
I have to admit, the Praktika’s from the 80’s were very straightforward, even a little unimaginative designs that were even sold under the names of major department stores (Who wanted a Revue?). Prior to that, there is the history of KW and Pentacon who, with the Praktica, aimed at an affordable, all round quality SLR. In the fifties and sixties, the popularity of the Practicas went up, but at the same time there was fierce competition. A Praktica offered nothing real new, but the known cheaper. The FX2 from 1956 is such an example: max shutter time 1/500s (and only a few accompanying in-between times), a basic focal plane shutter, which is cocked by advancing the film, the mirror is not instant return, 1/60s sync speed for electronic flash. And no (automatic) aperture linkage for the lenses. But what a great, bright and sharp (waist-level) viewfinder with a loupe to sharply focus. It makes the camera magical.
There is no lever to advance, only a knob that has to be turned. The shutter times can be chosen by lifting and turning the little knob. There are knobs for reminding the user of the filmtype and ASA. A nice function was the double exposure possibility, by pressing the rewind-release button and turning the advance knob. Also flash bulbs could be used through the double pc-sync ports. A bit odd is that the shutter is controlled by a dial: red selects slow shutter speeds, black selects the fast mechanism.
But as so often, the quality of a camera is directly linked to the quality of its lenses. The M42 as the meanwhile widespread mount had the advantage of greatly stimulating the production of a very wide range of quality lenses. This is why the M42 mount is known as the Praktica threaded mount M42 lens mount. Also Pentax used it, Contax as well. In a sense, the Praktica is at the root of this popular mount. The M42 range features fantastic lenses from Carl Zeiss Jena, all fitting of course the Praktica. Unfortunately, when the Praktica B system (PB mount) was launched it was accompanied by a range of dedicated lenses named Prakticar.
The Praktica FX2 is a camera to love. Those who forget the unjustified prejudices will appreciate its robustness and playful design. The shutter is among the most reliable, the finish inside is guaranteed down to the smallest part. The finder is the sharpest I’ve ever seen. Even without a loupe, focusing is possible. It’s all style when you look at the camera. Together with a good M42 lens, you can have great fun with it.