Pentacon electra

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The Pentacon electra is an innovative camera introduced 1967 by Pentacon. As one of the first cameras on the market it featured an electronically controlled shutter combined with a CdS meter eye for automatic exposure in aperture priority mode. The camera was designed for using SL System 35mm film capsules instead of the common type 135 film cartridges. It got a modern viewfinder camera design and a lightweight body mainly consisting of plastics.


  • Lens: Meyer-Optik Görlitz Domiplan 45 mm f/2.8 (3 elements, coated). Closest distance is 1 m (3 feet). Focussing is only guesswork supported by symbols for landscape, groups and portrait.
  • Aperture can be set to 2.8, 4.8, 8 and 13.5 (or any value in between steplessly). The symbol for the actual aperture setting shows up thru a small window on top of the lens barrel, the lever for setting aperture is located on the opposite side of the barrel. The symbols are explained on the camera bottom. The aperture is built from 12 blades!
  • Shutter: Electromagnetic 'Priomat' leaf shutter behind the lens. Stepless speeds from shortest 1/125s down to 1/2s, or even longer (several seconds have been seen). Shutter speed cannot be set manually. The only control is a small switch above the release button with three settings: 1) Automatic mode, 2) flash sync shutter speeds 1/125 (switch in mid position), 3) and 1/30 seconds (sync for flash bulbs). Without a battery, the camera functions at 1/125s in mode 2) or B in automatic mode 1).
  • Exposure meter: with CdS photo resistor controlling the shutter speed in automatic mode. There is an extra aperture before the photo resistor, which is simulating the set aperture for the electronics. Film speed can be switched from ASA 100 to ASA 50 only, which is realised by using resistors.
  • Viewfinder: simple telescopic type, no further frame or parallax indicators.
  • Film handling: SL System cartridges, thumb wheel in the back for film advance, frame counter (counts down from 12).
  • Flash: Connection through hot shoe only.
  • Other features: tripod socket 1/4 on the bottom, cable release socket.

Pentacon Electra 2

The Pentacon electra 2 is basically the same camera, and has a warning lamp for automatic shutter speeds below 1/30 as additional feature.


Beside the Praktica PL electronic, the Pentacon electra was the result of some basic research into applied electronics conducted by a group of obviously talented engineers of VEB Pentacon in Dresden[1]. Electronics was a hot topic in the early 1960ies. In camera technology CdS metering replaced the old Selenium cells. The first implementation was Gossen’s famous Lunasix in 1961. Already in 1962 the first cameras followed with built-in but still external CdS meters (Minolta SR-7, Nikon F Photomic, Yashica Lynx 5000). From 1963 most manufacturers focused on TTL metering (Topcon RE Super, Pentax Spotmatic, etc.). However, Yashica pioneered in implementing aperture priority auto exposure with an electronically controlled shutter (1965: Yashica Electro half, 1966: Yashica Electro 35).

At the same time, in early 1964 the team in Dresden filed a general patent[2] about how implement an electronically controlled shutter and also automatic exposure with the same circuit using light intensity information provided by a CdS photo resistor.
It took them a few years to eventually use the invention in a real camera design, actually in two: The SLR Praktica PL electronic got an electronically controlled focal plane shutter, but no light meter (probably SLR’s required TTL metering by the time, but the developed circuit was not capable to deal with the black-out caused by the moving mirror). Instead the auto exposure feature was implemented in a relatively simple but modern viewfinder camera, which is the Electra. Looking back, this was probably the last time in history that East-German socialistic engineering was at the edge of contemporary technology. After this, mostly ideological and political constraints forced them to focus on cost cuttings and complexity reduction rather then investing into new ideas.

The Electra was launched on the market probably in 1967 [3], for years it was sold at a standard price of 195 Mark, plus 14 Mark for the carrying case. Most of the internet sources claim, that the camera was introduced already in 1960. This is definitely wrong, as the name Pentacon was only used by the entire company starting in 1964. Also, the above described technology was not yet available in 1960.

Image Gallery

Pentacon Electra details
images by Christoph Batz (Image rights)

References and Links

  1. From forerunning to catching up - Electronics in the Dresden Camera Industries (1935 - 1987), Marco Kröger, MMXVI. German version on
  2. Patent DD44166 (DDR, in German), or equivalent GB1,061,346 (UK, in English)
  3. McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). page 775