Buying cameras online, I prefer dealing with charity sellers. Other than supporting the cause, the product comes in cheaper as charities see the item as an object that becomes useful only once converted into cash. Ordinary sellers estimate an item by its (perceived) value and mark it accordingly. This is why so many items are being listed over and again till the end of days or till a buyer will bite. Same at ‘antique’ stores where I once saw a Nettar in a local “antique” store, where the owner insisted on $200. A year later it was still there and I had it for $40.
Some years ago I saw on eBay a Praktiflex by a charity shop, didn’t study the images, and bought it on the cheap. Once arrived I set it aside for better days. A year or two later I got a camera lot, including another Praktiflex that bunked with the early one.
Recently I got to deal with them. Lo and behold, both were catatonic. Further, one had the rewinding knob missing, replaced by a nut. It could have passed, save for the fact that the nut has been a 10/24 NC rather than M5, which didn’t fit well together. To revive the two bought two donors on the hoof on eBay and was ready to go. Needless to say that one of the newcomers had the same button missing and a torn curtain.
Thanks to Rick Oleson, the Grand Cardinal of camera repair, I managed to dismantle the cover. See his recommended spanner to remove the speed selector knob. A note about the spanner, I first made one by neatly filing a 1mm brass sheet. It opened one camera but had bent on the other. I made a second spanner using a 1″ putty knife, using a Dremel cutting blade. It takes experience and a steady hand, and needless to say proper eye protection.
By now I have two working cameras and little appreciation for the East German quality control. The punched parts were badly made, using well-worn dies. The machined parts are hardly interchangeable. The worse was a pin that transfer movement from the top of the camera to the bottom part. It had been drilled for a cross pin, and in one of the cameras, it was so off-center, already broken. Further, the holes in the covers of two identical cameras were not identically positioned, it required some gentle filing to fit.
Early compact SLR cameras had waist-level viewers, where most used medium format. After the war, a new breed was introduced, compact bodies using 35mm. Ihagee made the Exakta line, followed by KW with the Praktica FX and its derivatives. Made in the Democratic Republic of Germany, better known as East Germany, neither democratic nor republic, the Praktica line set the foundation for KW camera empire. The FX name does not imply special effects as it is meant today but refers to the sync modes. All had waist-level viewers, unlike the Alpa, made over a similar period that had a straight viewer as well. A version having a prism (and a straight) viewer came in the mid-’50’s as the Praktina line. the FX were unassuming cameras, typical to the post-war materials and means available. The body is made of cast aluminum, top of punched metal and the bottom similar to top, but thinnest possible. As mentioned above machining isn’t exemplary, inferior to the Japanese of that time. At the time the DDR allowed the state enterprises to partner with private interests, so other than state-imposed incentives there was some genuine good old capitalist motivation. Private ownership was the driving force behind the fine industry resurrection, to pick up the ruins after the war and the soviet plundering. Starving for real currency, the DDR sold these and other cameras to any western distributor under any which name.
The first of the line, Praktica / Praktiflex FX, has little settings to show. Winding and rewinding knobs, release knob and speed selector are on the top. Speed selector rests on an outer ring to set for slow speeds, marked in red. Meager speed options, B-500 and 2, 5 & 10 full seconds. The designer did not allow for much room for the speed markings so some of the digits are hidden under the selector. Also, the tiny dot marking the dial location is hardly visible. The viewer cover opens with a press on a button at the back. There are three options: top view on a bright glass surface, unfold a magnifying glass attached to the cover, and a fast viewer via a square slot, without focusing. It takes some fingernail practice to enable the later two. True to the DDR industry standards, although the catches to release the viewer options should be the same on two cameras of different production times, they are not.
At the front, the trigger is perpendicular to the body, nearby the lens mount. Unlike the later cameras of the same breed where it is slanted. Three sync sockets. Lens mounted via 42mm thread, I read that 40mm was made as well but all my crop has the 42mm. The mirror is non-return and is pulled down immediately upon winding.
The Praktica FX 2 has an addition of an arrow by the wind and rewind knobs, KW logo, and ‘Germany’ stamped on the top. Other than these upgrades, the viewer cover has changed to an Alpa-like bullnose without a sport slot, sync ports reduced to two, neatly set in a round frame, a sync speed marked on the selector dial, and the bottom bushing is 3/8″. I fail to see any other change. The sport viewer here is larger but takes fancy finger work akin to nose-picking to pull it out.
The same applies to the FX 3. I see no immediate visible between it and the FX 2. There is a detailed variation table as well as more Praktica FX information on www.tontrennung.de
An agile horizontal cloth shutter nicely works on three of the four bodies I have, age and all. The back cover is attached by a bend that hooks under the side trim and is released by a latch. If not set correctly when closed it gets stuck. When the camera rests on its back the viewer cover is released. The Contaflex series use tiny risers on the back and bottom to avoid such assurances. Further, at the time the cameras were made, there was an acute glue shortage. Else I cannot explain why the skin on all bodies voluntarily peels off leaving smooth metal beneath, no residue. Lastly, if there are serial numbers on these cameras, they are well hidden.
|Model||Praktiflex FX||Praktica FX2||Praktica FX3|
|AKA||FX 55, Columbia 35; Reflex FX; Astra 35 FX; Rival Reflex||FX2 Porst||FX3 Porst|
|Weight||530 gr, Body only||530 gr, Body only||530 gr, Body only|
|Class average weight||570 gr, Body only||570 gr, Body only||570 gr, Body only|
|shutter||Focal plane cloth horizontal||Focal plane cloth horizontal||Focal plane cloth horizontal|
|Other||Non auto-return mirror||Non auto-return mirror||None auto-return mirror.|
Current Praktica FX / Praktiflex prices: