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SL System

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SL System (where SL stands for Schnell Lade in German or Speed Loading in English) was an eastern block derivative of the Agfa Karat system. The SL System was created for amateurs hoping to take pictures quickly and easily, without entering into the technical aspects of operating a camera.

The system was built around a new SL cassette, patterned after the Agfa original. Films in the Karat cassette were made by ORWO company in the DDR until 1960s. In early 1960 the cassette was apparently called Penti cassette (probably due to legal reasons). Before 1970 the cassette was modernized and renamed into SL. The SL cassette was made of plastic (the Karat one of metal), did not have a spool and was loaded with some 56-60 cm[1] of a standard 35mm perforated film, which was enough for 12 pictures of the 24x36 mm size, 18 pictures 24x24 mm or 24 pictures 18x24 mm. This quantity was considered sufficient for daily use of an average amateur, allowing frequent film changing, hence quick developing of taken pictures and possibility of switching between different film types more often. The SL system used two cassettes - the film was transported from original factory cassette into a second, empty one, in which it was taken out from the camera, with no need for rewinding. Due to spool-less cassettes, SL system cameras were easier to load than usual 35mm cameras of that time as there was no need to fix the film at the take-up spool; one just needed to put beginning of the film into the receiving cassette slot. Some SL cameras however, as the Certo SL 110, used one cassette only and the film needed to be rewound.

SL system films were made by the ORWO company in Wolfen, GDR. The production range included e.g. NP 15 and NP 20 black and white panchromatic films (the numbers refer to film speed in DIN units), NP 27 black and white superpanchromatic film, UT 18 and UT 20 color slides for daylight, UK 17 color slide for tungsten light, as well as NC 19 color negative. SL cameras could also be loaded with the original Karat cassettes, as well as new West German Agfa Rapid cassettes.[2]

Cameras offered in the SL system were designed as maximally easy and intuitive to use viewfinder compact cameras. The most simple and the cheapest cameras - as the Certo SL 100 - were intended for beginners and children, thus did not have practically any control of exposure parameters. More advanced models, e.g. Certo SL 110, Beirette SL 200 as well as the Soviet Smena SL, offered more or less control over the camera, while suggestive symbols placed on their shutter speed, aperture and distance scales helped in estimating settings appropriate for given shooting conditions - e.g. drawings of sun, light clouds or heavy clouds for exposure and a portrait, a group of people or a building for distance etc. The most advanced SL models offered semiautomatic (Penti II, Beirette electric SL 400) or fully automatic (Pentacon electra) exposure control.

Prices of SL cameras in the DDR in early 1970 varied from 20 to 200 Marks, depending of model and so anyone could buy a camera appropriate for one's financial possibilities or photographic skills. The SL-System did not become very popular though and died slowly somewhere in the 1980s, giving field to modern automated compact cameras.

Cameras of the SL System:


  1. 60 cm according to Büttner, while approximately 56 cm according to Wurst.
  2. Some web sites state the Rapid cassette is not compatible with the SL cameras, but actually it can be used without any problems.

Sources Edit

  • Büttner G.: SL-System; VEB Fotokinoverlag, Leipzig, 1975.
  • Wurst W.: Die Penti Schule; Fotokinoverlag, Leipzig, 1964.
  • Wurst W.: Fotobuch für Alle; VEB Fotokinoverlag, Leipzig, 1979.

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