Pekka Buttler, 11/2022
The table below summarises the lens’ key specifications (measurements based on pictured samples of early and rationalised (‘ratio’) versions):
|Brand:||Pentacon||Lens name||Prakticar 1:1.8 f=50mm MC|
|Focal length(s)1||50 mm||Angle-of-view2||47 °|
|Maximum Aperture||f/1.8||In Production||1978-1990 |
(all versions together)
|Lens mounts||Praktica B||Subfamily (if applicable)||––|
|Length3||43,0 mm (early)|
32,6 mm (ratio)
|Diameter4||62,3 mm (early)|
62,3 mm (ratio)
|Filter ring diameter||49 mm||Weight||229 grams (early)|
179 grams (ratio)
|Lens element count||6||Lens group count||4|
|Aperture blades (S/R/C)5||6 S||Focus throw||330 °|
|Minimum focusing distance||33 cms (early)|
45 cms (ratio)
|Maximum magnification||1:4,4 (early)|
|Has manual aperture ring||YES||Has Manual focus ring||YES|
• Prakticar is the name given to all lenses designed for the Praktica B mount by Carl Zeiss Jena and Pentacon (and many other).
• Alike all Praktica B mount lenses, this lens has three electronic contacts that it uses to communicate selected aperture to the camera body and a physical aperture stop-down lever.
• The direct ancestor of this lens is the Pentacon auto/electric 50 mm f/1.8 [data sheet]
• More than a million of these lenses were manufactured, making it a cheap and easy-to-find lens.
• Interestingly, also Carl Zeiss Jena offered an identical-spec (50/1.8) lens for the Praktica B system. That lens was based on the CZJ Pancolar design (data sheets of some earlier Pancolars here). This lens is outwardly very similar, and can be identified based on two factors:
1) its name ring carries the phrase “Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar”
2) Its IR focus point is indicated by a red number 4 (The Pentacon has a red dot under the number four)
History of Pentacon
There is little doubt that Germany was once world leader in the designing of cameras, lenses, and pretty much anything else photography related. Moreover, within Germany (pre-WWII Germany, to be precise), there was a region along the middle of the river Elbe and its tributary the Saale that would have earned the moniker Silica Valley. Just like the modern Silicon Valley, this area was a powerhouse of innovation within the still nascent photo-optic industry, housing both a plethora of camera makers, lens makers, and other, supporting industries. Optics was a booming industry, and even wars did little to change the industry’s growth trajectory.
But after the Second World War and the ensuing uneasy peace between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, Silica Valley – residing in the modern German states of Thuringia and Saxony – ended up in the Soviet Zone of control, that – as tensions between erstwhile allies grew – developed into the ‘German Democratic Republic’ or East Germany – a Soviet satellite state directly juxtaposed to the ‘German Federal Republic’ or West Germany.
The Soviet-inspired East German system had no love lost for private enterprise (which was seen as tantamount to a rentier-class exploiting the proletariat), nor for companies competing for customers (which was seen as a woefully inefficient method for allocating scarce resources). Hence, most enterprises were quickly nationalised, and competing companies were continuously being forcibly merged with their erstwhile competitors. One result of this policy was the 1964 founding of VEB Pentacon Dresden (VEB = Volkseigener Betrieb ≈ Peoples’ own enterprise).
VEB Pentacon was founded through the merger of
• VEB Kinowerke Dresden (formerly VEB Zeiss Ikon),
• VEB Kamera-Werke Niedersedlitz (previously Kamera-Werkstätten Charles A. Noble),
• VEB Welta-Kamera-Werk Freital (incl. VEB Reflekta-Kamerawerk Tharandt),
• VEB Altissa-Camera-Werk Dresden,
• VEB Aspecta Dresden.
As a result, the central planners in East Berlin had merged the majority (Ihagee, makers of the Exakta were left alone, for now) of East German camera makers into one giant company. The resulting Pentacon (the name is a portmanteau of ‘Pentaprism’ and ‘Contax’) however focused solely on manufacturing cameras, and instead sourced their lenses from East German lens makers (mainly Carl Zeiss Jena and Meyer-Optik).
But with the success – both domestic and international – of Pentacon cameras, especially the Praktica line of SLRs, Berlin seems to have considered tighter co-ordination to have been the the next order of business. Hence, in 1968 VEB Feinoptishes Werk Görlitz (which had managed to keep branding their lenses ‘Meyer-Optik’ even though such singling out of one person (Hugo Meyer) was against the Soviet creed) and Ihagee were merged into Pentacon, making the resulting Pentacon a fully vertically integrated colossus (or, in soviet parlance, a combine.).
During the next two years, lenses previously having been branded Meyer-Optik Görlitz, started leaving their factory carrying the brand ‘Pentacon’ 6. Meyer-Optik had made some shrewd operational and design decisions, and in the post-war environment, characterised strongly by the proliferation of various SLR’s and other cameras (read: strong demand for lenses), MOG was having a field-day. Especially in the 1960s – just prior to the merger – Meyer-Optik was very prolific in coming up with new, cutting edge designs, so when Pentacon ‘took over’ Meyer’s lens catalogue, Pentacon was able to offer a broad range of cameras as well as lenses characterised by a very good bang/buck ratio.
While the merger worked wonders for Pentacon, the same can not be said for Pentacon lens designing. After having made immense progress in the 60s, Meyer/Pentacon lens design stagnated throughout the 70s and 80s. That is not to say that the lens lineup stayed unchanged, but that changes were either focused on minor recomputations of existing designs, economically driven simplification of lens mechanics, increased use of plastics, gradual adoption of better coatings and adoption of the Praktica B mount. It is sad to say that in the 20+ years after the Pentacon-Meyer merger, only one new lenses was introduced and only two lenses were given a major design tweak.
While I don’t want to give the impression that Pentacon lenses are generally sub-par (they were not, especially not when considering price), I am immensely saddened by the lost potential, especially considering the strides Japanese manufacturers were taking during that time. From Meyer having been at the forefront of innovation in the mid 1960s, Pentacon in the mid 1980s was increasingly the choice of only budget-conscious or ideologically inclined consumers.
While Pentacon had stared out with high hopes for its Praktica B (B for Bayonet) line of cameras, even a state-owned enterprise was not immune to pressures toward rationalisation. This pressure was further exacerbated by that the early Pentacon Prakticar 50/1.8 had a build quality far in excess of its role as cheap kit lens. Hence, around 1983 a rationalised version was launched to replace the earlier version.
As a quirk (and irony), after the 1985 sweeping reorganisation of the East German camera industry, VEB Pentacon ended up (mostly) a part of VEB Carl Zeiss Jena, resulting in that Pentacon lenses in some markets were sold carrying the name “Carl Zeiss Jena DDR P”. See image below.
The logic with this naming (which is unscrupulously exploited by many eBay sellers) was to shorten “Prakticar” to “P”.
As a rule of thumb:
“Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar” ==> Real Carl Zeiss Jena lens
“Carl Zeiss Jena (DDR) P” ==> Pentacon lens rebranded as Carl Zeiss Jena post 1985.
This lens cannot be used natively on any current SLR or dSLRs. To use it in its native environment, you will need a Praktica B mount film body. Luckily there are a lot of those available, and many of them are still in perfect working order.
Thanks to being a fully manual lens (manual aperture, manual focus), the lens can be adapted to all mirrorless cameras using a suitable adapter. Moreover, Praktica B lenses are so uncomplicated that a simple ‘dumb adapter’ will do the job perfectly (The electronic contacts communicate only from the lens to the camera and do not impinge on adapting). However, due to that the Praktica B mount never was so successful, one should not expect special adapters (helicoid adapters, tilt/shift adapters) to be easily available. Alternatively, one can choose to daisy-chain adapters (e.g. Praktica B->Canon EF; Canon EF –> mirrorless) which not only opens up possibilities for special adapters, but also allows using speed boosters for those photographers that use smaller than full-frame sensors.
Using Praktica B lenses on dSLRs can also be an easy option, depending on which dSLR.
• Canon EF has the shortest flange focal distance among full-frame dSLR’s and Canon’s wide range of dSLRs are able to mount Praktica B lenses perfectly using a suitable adapter ring.
• With other dSLR mounts (Minolta/Sony A; Pentax K; Nikon F) the relationship between flange focal differences becomes an issue, leading to that adapting will necessitate an adapter that uses corrective optics to allow reaching infinity focus.
1 Focal length is (unless stated otherwise) given in absolute terms, and not in Full-frame equivalent. For an understanding of whether the lens is wide/tele, see ‘Angle-of-view’.
2 Picture angle is given in degrees (based on manufacturers’ specs) and concerns the diagonal picture angle. Rule of thumb:
> 90 ° ==> Ultra-wide-angle
70–90 ° ==> Wide-angle
50–70 ° ==> Moderate wide-angle
40–50 ° ==> ‘Standard’ or ‘normal’ lens
20–40 ° ==> Short tele lens
10-20 ° ==> Tele lens
5-10 ° ==> Long tele lens
< 5 ° ==> Ultra-tele lens
3 Length is given from the mount flange to the front of lens at infinity.
4 Diameter excludes protrusions such as rabbit ears or stop-down levers.
5 S=straight; R=rounded; C=(almost)circular at all apertures.
6 Pentacon 29/2.8 = Meyer-Optik 29/2.8 Orestegon
• Pentacon 30/3.5 = Meyer-Optik 30/3.5 Lydith
• Pentacon 50/1.8 = Meyer-Optik 50/1.8 Oreston
• Pentacon 100/2.8 = Meyer-Optik 100/2.8 Orestor
• Pentacon 135/2.8 = Meyer-Optik 135/2.8 Orestor
• Pentacon 200/4 = Meyer-Optik 200/4 Orestegor
• Pentacon 300/4 = Meyer-Optik 300/4 Orestegor
• Pentacon 500/5.6 = Meyer-Optik 500/5.6 Orestegor
7 Some, likely very early 1st generation lenses would be called Pentacon Oreston, but this hybrid naming is very rare.