The Praktica BCA is a budget SLR from the former DDR. It’s a solidly mid-80s design visually and a solidly late 70s design mechanically. It is not a good camera. I have a lot of bad cameras so I know bad cameras and this is a bad camera. Like my other late-era Praktica, it’s cheaply built and feels flimsy. Stamped metal plates and lightweight plastic controls abound.
It’s a low-end camera in other ways too. It’s an aperture priority camera with only two manual speed settings. The rather unnecessarily large shutter-speed selector has only four choices and only three of those are actual shutter selections. You can choose Auto (which you probably will), B for your long exposure needs or 1/60s which is the flash sync speed and also the mechanical speed of the shutter if there is no battery. The fourth option is Check which lights up an LED in the viewfinder as a battery level indicator. On the other side of the prism is an ISO selector which lets you dial in any film speed from ISO 12 to 3200 and an exposure compensation setting that gives you up to two stops of adjustment in either direction in half-stop increments. There’s a self-timer on the front and a hotshoe on the top but no sync ports and no DoF preview.
Shooting with it doesn’t dispel the feeling of cheapness. The shutter button feels spongy and imprecise, there’s no clear feedback when you are at half press or when you are at the firing position. The rewind crank has no latch so it keeps folding out and flapping around. As it’s only made from lightweight polycarbon, I am sure it’ll get snapped off if it’s not packed snugly in a bag. The grip is some vinyl covering which feels like something from a 70s-era sportscar interior.
As you look through the viewfinder, you can see a shutter-speed scale on the right and your currently selected aperture at the bottom. This last indicator is fed to you via a small window and a mirror on the front of the camera (you can see it in the photos, just above the ‘K’ of the logo). You’re actually looking at the aperture ring on the lens here. When you push the shutter button down to where you think halfway should be (the button offers very poor feedback), an LED will light up next to the shutter-speed scale to indicate what range of shutter-speeds is going to be selected. You have a green light if it’s above 1/60s, an amber light for anything from 1s to 1/60s and a red light if the metered exposure is longer than a second. Despite having a vertical metal shutter, the fastest available speed is still only 1/1000, which is pretty rubbish for a camera of this vintage. In auto mode the slowest available speed is 1s. You need to use B for anything longer than that.
One area where this camera does get a gold star is with focusing. The standard focus screen gives you a triple split window, a micro-crystal ring and ground glass all in the same view. So it’s actually really, really easy to achieve accurate focus. The triple split in particular is great if you normally find it hard to see when something is focused in a small viewfinder. The lens has an automatic diaphragm so you are able to focus wide open regardless of the selected aperture too.
Unlike most Praktica designs, the shutter button is on the top plate rather than on the front of the camera. I suppose that this is to make it easier and cheaper to produce, also to reduce the size, but it does mean that the top plate feels pretty crowded with the large speed selector and ridiculously chunky advance lever. This last is again lightweight plastic and doesn’t fill me with confidence. It also has a detent position, where you need to swing it out past a click-stop before you can wind on. This is annoying as all hell.
Physically the camera is quite small for an SLR. Apart from the extra thickness from the lens mount, it’s about the same size as a rangefinder. Speaking of lens mounts, this comes with a proprietary bayonet mount unlike earlier Praktica bodies which were designed for M42 lenses. There are quite a few lenses available in the Praktica bayonet library, but I’m not feeling super motivated to collect them. The lens that came with the camera is nothing special. It’s a 50mm ƒ/1.8 which is based on an earlier Meyer-Optik Görlitz Oreston design. This is a solid but unremarkable lens, it’s hard to get fast 50mm lenses wrong and this one is definitely middle of the pack. I’d pick it over an Industar but it’s not Super Takumar or Leitz Elmar glass.
I plan to mostly use this camera as a loaner for people who want to try film photography but are intimidated by manual controls. The aperture priority gives you some level of creative direction over the image without having to worry too much about getting a usable photo at the end. For that it should be fine. For someone who already knows what they are doing, it’s going to be a bit disappointing.