Saturday, May 7, 2011

From the other side of the curtain - Praktica BMS

Last month we spent a week with our families in Tarragona and Barcelona. As this time I did not want to be carrying too much weight around, I decided to leave most of my photo gear at home. I left the Flexie and took only the Hapo for medium format. As for 35mm, I left the Retinette at home as well and asked my dad if I could borrow his last film camera for the week, a Pentacon Praktica BMS single-lens reflex. After using it for a couple of days, I was not able to resist the temptation and promptly accepted my dad's offer of keeping it, as he is not shooting film any more.

praktica bms
(EOS 350D, EF 50mm f/1.8, 1s, f/6.3, ISO 100)

The Praktica BMS was made by Pentacon in Dresden, Germany (then the German Democratic Republic) in the late 80s. It is a very sturdy, spartan camera that gets the job done. The loud and resolute sound of the focal plane shutter does not leave place for misunderstandings: the Praktica is a robust performer, made for a lifetime, that is able to take a fair amount of abuse without loosing its grip.

I am using two lenses: a Pentacon Prakticar 50mm f/1.8 normal lens and a Prakticar 28mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens with close-up (macro) capability. Both are manual focus lenses. There are no bells and whistles here: the only aid to the photographer that the Praktica has is a built-in light meter(*), everything else is full manual. There is no automatic exposure program. The loveliest feature is a very ingenious lens and mirror system that displays the aperture currently set on the lens through the viewfinder. Purely optical, no need for complicated electronic communication between lens and camera body for that.

praktica bms - ttv
(EOS 350D, EF 50mm f/1.8, 3.2s, f/5.0, ISO 100)

What I love about using this camera is that the overall experience is very similar to using a digital SLR, which is where I come from, but the Praktica made me realize how little do you actually need in order to take a picture. Making a picture turns around the photographer, the camera and the subject. And with the Praktica, as with every full-manual operation camera, the photographer is the only one doing the thinking, and I like this feeling.

The Praktica BMS was produced between March 1989 and December 1990. I do not know when was it made, but I like to imagine that just in the moment my dad's camera was finished and packed, the workers at the VEB (**) Pentacon in Dresden stopped what they were doing and grouped around a radio that was giving a life news report that the borders to West Berlin were open and that the Wall was falling.

Pentacon Praktica BMS
My Praktica BMS flickr set

Maker Pentacon
Model Praktica BMS
Type Single-lens Reflex
Lens #1 Pentacon Prakticar 50mm f/1.8
Lens #2 Prakticar 28mm f/2.8 macro
Shutter 4s - 1/1000 + B
Film type 35mm (135)
Year Mar-1989 - Dec-1990
Country East Germany

(*) that, in fact, only works with the 28mm lens attached!
(**) Volkseigener Betrieb, meaning people-owned enterprise, as state-owned companies were called in the communist German Democratic Republic.


  1. This camera is all about fine German engineering. Mine is seen all europe with my grandfather who travelled a lot and took thousands of photos with it.

  2. Novotny Kid, thanks for your comment and sorry for the late reply :) It is truly a proud heir of decades of finest German engineering indeed.

  3. I have this camera and I love the photographs I shoot with it but I never realized what "B" means when we choose the shutter speed, can you explain?