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Film Camera Review, Praktica MTL 5B 35mm MF SLR Film Camera

Film Camera Review: Praktica MTL 5B
An excellent fully manual exposure M42 lens mount learner camera with stop-down metering.

The manual-focus Praktica MTL 5B 35mm SLR film camera, an upgrade to the Praktica MTL 5, is a typically robust and well-built SLR film camera produced from 1986 to 1989 by the Pentacon factory in East Germany. Pentacon, a well-established company operating well into the '70s, was responsible for producing a wide variety of cameras, including the well-known Praktica line of SLRs and Pentacon 6 medium-format cameras.

Developed along the same line as other iterations of the MTL line, the MTL 5B features TTL (Through the Lens) exposure metering, activated by a switch next to the front-mounted shutter release. Just like other 35mm SLRs that were produced by Pentacon, the MTL 5B comes with a standard M42 lens mount system, as used and manufactured without proprietary elements by a multitude of other manufacturers.

Praktica MTL 5B, Industar 61 LZ 50/2.8

Operationally, the MTL 5B is fitted with a vertical travel metal curtain focal plane shutter with a shutter speed range from 1 to 1/1000 second, and B, with X-flash, syncs up to 1/125 second. The camera accepts film with speeds from ISO 12 to ISO 1600 and comes fitted with a 10-second delay self-timer. Metering is stop-down, with a center-the-needle display on the right edge of the viewfinder.

The kit lens that came with the camera is normally a Pentacon 50mm F1.8, with an M42 or Pentax screw-mount thread. The lens comes with a switch that can be used to set its use to auto or manual. The auto option allows full aperture composition, while the manual setting is used for metering stopped-down. The lens is multicoated and is threaded for 49mm diameter filters.

Design and Built

As built by the Kombinat VEB Pentacon Dresden factory, the MTL 5B is an iteration of the Praktica MTL-series 35mm SLR film cameras which includes, but not exclusively, the Praktica MTL 3 (1978 to 1984), Praktica MTL 5 (1984 to 1986), Praktica MTL 5B (1985 to 1989), and Praktica MTL 50 (1985 to 1989), the last Praktica camera built with the M42 lens mount.

Praktica MTL 5B, Shutter button

These cameras were built with very robust metal focal-plane curtain shutter systems, not easily punctured cloth shutters often do. As mentioned, it is likely the cameras are likely to be still working today (this review unit is), almost 40 years after their production.

A feature unique to the series is the ergonomic use of the front-mounted shutter release button, which is constructed angeled out of the camera body. The setup lets the index finger fall naturally on the button, adding comfort to the way you hold the camera up.

Over the Praktica MTL 5, there is little to discern the external differences between the two, the only apparent omission seen on the MTL 5B is a missing PC flash sync socket. Otherwise, the MTL 5B, with its stop-down metering system, is an excellent SLR film camera you can learn photography. Choices of vintage M42 screw-mount manual primes to support the endeavor are abundant and available at very fair prices.

Basic Camera Features

The simple and easy-to-use MTL 5B has a very distinctive rectangular form supported by a distinguishing horizontal feature on the front of the top plate and a very pleasing and rather attractive pair of rib lines on both the upper and lower part of the leatherette cover.

Praktica MTL 5B, Front

A simple front, with an oversized extruded lens housing mount that extends up to the pentaprism hump, again with a horizontal line feature under the top Praktica nameplate.

To the left of the housing is a vertical array of the self-timer switch and lever located on the lower half of the front panel, and the shutter release button is built within a spout slanting outward and upward. Almost vertically above it is the push-back light-meter switch fitted to the vertical of the lens mount housing.

Praktica MTL 5B, Top

On the top plane, to the left is the film rewind lever, which is also the pull-up film back latch release. On the pentaprism, the hot-shoe, and to the right of the top plane, the cluster of the shutter speed dial with a pull-up and turn film ISO speed dial, film forward crank, and frame counter window.

Praktica MTL 5B, Back

On the back of the top plane, the viewfinder eyepiece, and the non-interchangeable hinged film back with the same double ribbed line feature on both the upper and lower part of the leatherette cover.

Praktica MTL 5B, Bottom

On the bottom plane, the film rewind release button, battery chamber cover, and a tripod socket which, not often seen on other SLR cameras, is located on the lower part of the lens mount housing itself.

Praktica MTL 5B, Film box

The film box is the standard configuration as seen commonly for an SLR film camera with the film canister chamber on the left, followed by the shutter window, forward sprocket gear, and a pair of spring-loaded wire bracket film take-up spool on the other end.

Film Loading and Rewind

Film loading on the MTL 5B should be the standard procedure you will follow as per most other manual film load SLR cameras. For those who are unfamiliar with the wire bracket take-up spool, the film tab end is inserted into the bracket on the inner side of the film spool, and the film is wound emulsion side up.

The standard two blank shots apply to bring the unexposed part of the film to Frame 1. Film rewind is also common with the press of the film rewind release button and turning the film rewind crank in the clockwise direction until the whole spool is completely rewound.

Viewfinder Readout

Praktica MTL 5B, Viewfinder readout

The MTL 5B is fitted with a triple wedge viewfinder screen with ground glass, microprism, and diagonal split rangefinder rings. The center-the-needle metering display is located on the right of the viewfinder screen.

With the stop-down metering on the ML 5B, setting up for correct exposure reading is best done with the lens at its full aperture opening.

Once framing, and focus are done, press the exposure meter switch on with your shutter-release finger, and use the thumb and index finger of your other hand to manipulate the lens aperture opening. You are ready to release the shutter once the exposure meter needle is centered within the concave of the viewfinder screen display.

Exposure Compensation

The MTL 5B is not fitted with exposure compensation capability. You can still do this, however, by setting the film ISO setting a speed higher for a -1EV value, or a speed lower for a +1EV value. Use this technique for shooting highlighted or backlighted subjects.


The MTL 5B is powered by a single 1.5-volt LR- or SR44 button cell for its exposure system. All other operations are mechanical and you can use the camera, without metering, if the battery is depleted.

Camera Body Weight

The camera's body weight is approximately 570 grams (on the kitchen scale) with a battery installed.

The Learner Camera

The Praktica MTL 5B, with its stop-down metering system, is one of the preferred cameras to learn the basics of photography. When the lens is stopped down you can see immediately the visual distance where the subjects in the framed image are sharp, and where the image starts to blur out in front and at the back of the main subject.

This DoF (Depth of Field) effect can be made deeper (longer) by adjusting the lens to a smaller aperture opening or made shorter (less deep) by going for a wider opening. Setting the shutter speed on the camera one step less (say from 1/125 second down to 1/60 second) will also give you the chance to get deeper DoF as you have to use a smaller aperture opening on the lens.

Praktica MTL 5B, Viewfinder readout

Likewise, setting the camera to higher shutter speeds (say from 1/125 second up to 1/250 second) will give you the chance to get shallower field depth as you have to use a wider lens aperture opening to maintain the same exposure reading for the image.

In Use

The Praktica MTL 5B is a pleasant and easy camera to use. With its robust and well-built body, simple controls, and almost utilitarian functions, it is not a camera you need to fuss or worry about too much. It is a camera you can take along anywhere you go, functions as expected, and with a range of easily available M42 screw mount lenses, it will not cost you an arm or a leg.

For all the beginner-friendly features coupled with robust construction, recommended!

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