How to Use a Praktica MTL3 35mm Film Camera

Five Methods:PreparationLoading a filmShootingUnloading the filmUsing the self-timer

Image titled 00_Caidoz_with_MTL3_829.JPG

The Praktica MTL3 is a tough, reliable, and enormously popular mechanical camera from the late 1970s that sells for almost nothing and is a great choice for the photography student who requires a fully-manual camera for their studies, or for the photographer who loves having indestructible German engineering in their hands.

Method 1

  1. 1
    Fit a battery, if one is not already fitted. The cover for the battery is on the underside of the camera.
    • Put a coin into the slot in the battery cover and turn it anti-clockwise (a British 5-pence coin or an American quarter works fine here). If the camera has not been used for a while, it might require some effort to get undone; be careful to not let the coin slip and round the sides of the slot.
      A British 5-pence coin or American quarter is fine for removing the battery cover.
    • Remove the old battery, if one is present, and drop in a PX625 cell into the hole, with the + (positive) terminal facing towards you.
      Drop a PX625 cell into the hole. Note the + terminal facing upwards.
    • Re-fit the battery cover. You only need to tighten it just enough that it won't come loose by itself. Don't over-tighten it; you risk the coin slipping and rounding the edges of the slot, which might mean you're unable to remove it.
  2. 2
    Fit the lens.
    • Remove the body cap, if present, by screwing it anti-clockwise (looking from the front).
      An MTL3 with body cap removed.
    • Lay the camera on your lap, or on a flat surface, facing upwards, and align the thread of the lens with the thread in the lens mount. Grip the lens gently by the aperture ring or focus ring and start turning gently. Do not apply any downwards pressure; doing this can result in cross-threading the lens mount or the lens.
      Align the thread of the lens with the lens mount and start turning it gently
    • A few turns after the thread has bitten you can start spinning it faster. Continue turning the lens until it can turn no more, then apply a reasonable amount of force to ensure it has locked fully into place.
      Continue turning until the lens is in place; the numbers on the aperture ring will be facing the top of the camera.
    • If your lens has a switch with an "A" and "M" position, set this to the "A" position. This will allow you to focus and compose at the widest aperture and you'll only need to stop the lens down briefly to meter.
      The A/M switch on a Pentacon 50mm f/1.8, set to "A" as it should be.

Method 2
Loading a film

  1. Lift the rewind knob...
    Lift the rewind knob. This is on the top of the camera, towards the left if the back of the camera is facing towards you.
  2. ...and pull it a little further. The back of the camera will spring open.
    Pull it a little further and the back of the camera will spring open.
  3. Image titled 09_Film_canister_in_camera_877.JPG
    Drop a 35mm film canister into the chamber on the left hand side. The flat end of the canister will be pointing upwards.
  4. Image titled 09_Rewind_lever_pushed_down_328.JPG
    Push the rewind knob all the way down. You may find you have to rotate it a little in one direction for the fork attached to it to fully enter the film canister. This is normal.
  5. Pull the film out of the canister until the tip of it is at the index mark (2), ensuring that the perforations of the film are engaged with the sprocket marked (1) in the photo.
    Pull the film leader away from the canister till the tip is at the green index mark on the right hand side, next to the take-up spool. Ensure that the film properly engages the sprockets as marked in the picture.
  6. Close the back of the camera.
    Close the back of the camera.
  7. Press your shutter button, then wind on the film.
    Press the shutter button, then wind on your film. The shutter might not fire the first time if it's not armed already, of course, in which case just wind the camera on.
  8. The MTL3's frame counter reading 1.
    Repeat the above step until the frame counter reads 1, as pictured. Don't fire the shutter once the frame counter reads 1; this is the first frame on your roll.
  9. The film speed being set to ASA 100, for Kodak Ektar 100 film. Lift the silver ring around the shutter speed dial then turn it to your desired ASA setting.
    Set the film speed on the film speed dial. The film speed dial is in the same place as the shutter speed dial; it's the silver dial around the outside, which can move independently. To change the film speed, pull the silver ring around the shutter speed dial upwards. While holding it there, rotate the dial until you have set your desired film speed. Notice that the MTL3 has both DIN and ASA settings; modern films typically give their ratings in ASA (which is called ISO on digital cameras). (For example, Fuji Velvia 50 is ASA 50, not 50 ° DIN, the latter being equivalent to an ASA speed in the high five figures.

Method 3

  1. View through the viewfinder on the MTL3, with a fuzzy, defocused image.
    Look through the viewfinder. You will notice the following things:
    1. A triangle on the left hand side. This only appears in our photo above, or in your viewfinder, if you have not armed the shutter.
    2. A needle on the right hand side. This is a meter reading. Take note of the +, O and - markings on the scale; we'll be referring to them later.
    3. Three circles in the centre of the image, which are your focusing aids.
  2. Note how the split image in the center shows straight lines as broken when they are out of focus.
    Focus. Turn the focus ring of your lens until you have a sharp picture. You have three focusing aids that will help you.
    • The split-image in the centre. This will cause straight vertical lines to appear split in half if they are out of focus, and they will rejoin when they are in focus. Sometimes half of this image will be blacked out, for example with slow lenses (f/4 and slower).
    • The microprism ring outside of that will shimmer when the subject in that area is out of focus, and will be clear when it is in focus.
    • The ground glass of the circle around that will help you if the above focusing aids are not helpful in your shooting situation.
  3. 3
    Set the exposure. The MTL3 is a fully manual camera, but this is hardly any harder than doing the same thing on a digital SLR in manual mode.
    • Press and hold the metering key on the front of the camera. The viewfinder might darken as you do this. This is normal; the MTL3 needs to stop down the lens to measure how much light will come through the lens at the given aperture (this is called "stopped-down metering").
      Press and hold the metering key. This is the big black button near the shutter button, which turns on the camera's meter.
    • Look at the needle. If it is in the middle of the "O" mark, then you have a correct exposure. If not, then adjust either your shutter speed or the aperture ring on your lens until it is correct.

      A fuller explanation of the role of aperture and shutter speed is beyond the scope of this article, but you might want to take a look at How to understand camera exposure.
      The MTL's metering needle in action. Left-to-right: indicating under-exposure (towards the - mark), indicating over-exposure (needle towards the + mark), and indicating a roughly correct exposure (needle close to the O mark).
  4. Image titled 18_Press_shutter_button_451.JPG
    Shoot! Press the shutter button all the way down; you'll get a nice, reassuring click from the shutter.
  5. Image titled 19_Wind_on_film_59.JPG
    Wind on your film to the next frame and keep shooting until you hit the end of your roll of film.

Method 4
Unloading the film

  1. The rewind release button on the base of the MTL3. This will allow you to rewind your film.
    Press the rewind release button on the base of the camera.
  2. Image titled 21_Wind_on_lever_84.JPG
    Flip out the rewind crank on the rewind knob.
  3. Rewind the film in the direction indicated by the rewind crank.
    Rewind the film in the direction indicated on the rewind crank (looking from the top of the camera, you want to turn it clockwise). Keep winding until you feel the film disengage from the wind-on mechanism (it'll get much, much easier to turn), then turn it a couple more times.
  4. Image titled 23_Opening_the_back_216.JPG
    Open the back of the camera by lifting the rewind knob upwards, just as you did to load the film earlier.
  5. Image titled 24_Removing_film_710.JPG
    Remove the canister then close the back of the camera.
  6. Taken with a Praktica MTL3 and Pentacon 50mm f/1.8.[1]
    Take your film to be developed and show off the results to the world!

Method 5
Using the self-timer

It is generally not advisable to use the self-timer on an old mechanical camera like the Praktica MTL3. The mechanism, if it has not been used in a long time, can jam, requiring either a skilled camera technician or brute force (which often requires a more expensive trip to said camera technician) to un-jam it. However, if you really must:

  1. 1
    Make sure the shutter is armed by winding on the film.
  2. {{{2}}}
    Locate the self-timer lever. This is to the left of the lens mount, if you are looking at the front of the camera. Not all MTL3s are fitted with self-timers, so if yours is not, rejoice: you just saved yourself a trip to a skilled camera technician.
  3. {{{2}}}
    Pull the lever upwards (clockwise, looking from the front of the camera) to the top of its travel; it will lock in place.
  4. Press the silver button in the middle of the pivot of the self-timer lever.
    Press the silver button in the middle of the pivot of the self-timer lever. The timer will run for about 8 seconds and then the shutter will fire.


  • Remember that a battery is not required, as the MTL3 is an all-mechanical camera. If you're good at guessing exposures then you don't need to worry about it.
  • These instructions are for an MTL3, but many other bodies in the Praktica L series are almost identical. In particular, these instructions should apply to the MTL 5 with very little modification.[2]

Things You'll Need

  • A Praktica MTL3, which you can buy for almost nothing.
  • A lens. Any screw-mount M42 lens will work fine, though the Pentacon 50mm f/1.8 that you can often get included with the body is a great all-round lens.
  • A standard canister of 35mm film. Any film you're likely to find today will work fine.
  • PX625 battery. The Praktica MTL3 is designed for widely-banned 1.35v mercury cells, but numerous reports suggest that it has a voltage regulation circuit in the camera, so the 1.5v alkaline cells will work just fine. If you're paranoid, you can get a WeinCell MRB625 cheaply enough (although they cost somewhat more than 1.5v alkalines), which has very similar electrical characteristics.

Sources and Citations

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