Pentax, Pentax 67
Medium & Large Format

Pentax 6×7: My journey so far, or: A camera too far – By Rock

April 4, 2020

So I bought a Pentax 6×7 in May 2018. That was the year I felt it was time to be more serious with my photography and that meant a serious medium format set-up. Abandoning digital cameras, I returned to film five years ago and dabbled a little with 120 stuff through vintage viewfinders and TLRs. But nothing serious or expensive. Now was time for that upgrade.

Initially I considered the Pentacon Six as I had ‘cut my teeth’ with Praktica and assumed it was their enlarged version SLR. However, I soon got distracted away by tales of unreliability (I think I read too many reviews and others’ opinions) and onto the rangefinder series offered by Fuji. The large Fujicas looked rather cool, results posted everywhere looked sharp. Hence I coveted a GS645s and constantly checked them out on online auctions for months. I was sure I would get one at the right price.

A chance conversation with the owner of a 6×7, at the museum where I work, changed my mind. By the time she had bestowed all its virtues onto me, I was sold. I bought one soon after, taking a bit of a gamble as it had laid dormant for ten years. A new battery proved it worked, a test roll of Fuji Pro 400h (lovely film) proved it work great. This was June 2018. However, I didn’t use it again for several months with a random roll of Lomography 800 that was given to me, possibly expired.

One of the first photos taken by me on the 6×7 – 90mm lens and Fuji Pro 400h film, nice depth of field

A few months later in the local woods – same lens but with Lomography 800, I kinda guessed the exposure

The next two rolls to go through it would be b/w, namely Ilford Delta 400 (another fab film). This was March 2019. A trip to my fave testing grounds: the local graveyard and the local plant life nature reserve. By this time this time, I had added a 150mm f/2.8 to the set-up and a fridge full of Portra 400 and Delta 100/400. The idea was that I would do, say, more portraiture work for example, now that I had such great gear. This new lens would force me, nay inspire me, to make the 6×7 my go-to camera. Alas, this has not happened! Indeed, I tend to just grab one of my 35mm cameras if I get the opportunity to take photographs – just seems more convenient.

The 150mm lens is great for isolating this headstone among the graveyard monuments – excellent sharpness and texture

Another shot on Ilford Delta – despite the bulk and weight, the 6×7 can be considered a field camera

I did manage one more shoot in 2019, in October (and it was portraiture). The subject was my granddaughter. I had been meaning to take her photo for a while and got hold of another roll of Pro 400h for the occasion. Come the New Year in 2020 and the 6×7 is dormant again. In twenty months it has been used just five times. Hardly a workhorse of mine and probably a disservice to a great camera.

Portraiture via the 150mm – I can say that moving subjects are a lot harder to shoot with this set-up!

So why the lack of use? Two problems for me I think: convenience and predictability. I don’t really get many opportunities to actually do photography. More often than not I will have half hour in my lunchtime at work (London streets and buildings) or go for an ad hoc walk near my home (Kent fields and woods). I need to travel light, a camera ready to go.

The 6×7 is just too bulky, requires some prep and not at all ‘handy’. Don’t get me wrong, the Pentax is wonderful, the lenses are wonderful and will produce wonderful negatives. In some ways that’s the second problem. I take a lot of cityscapes and landscapes, and I don’t necessarily want super sharp, super defined images of the scenery – that’s kinda why I have rejected digital. Too pretty maybe? Not creative enough? I feel that I have been gradually developing a penchant for ‘imperfect’ photographs. I have always admired the work of Julia Magaret Cameron, technical flaws and all, and other early pioneers. Recent inspiration has come from the pinholes of Matt Lethbridge (www.nolenslanscapes.co.uk) and the home-made lenses of Erik Mathy (www.erikmathy.com).

Scene from Medway Bridge – an advantage of the big negs is than you can crop half way up to make panoramas

In conclusion, I acquired the 6×7 set-up believing I needed it to make serious images and anticipating a certain work flow when instead my photography was going in a different direction. Here are a few more with this Pentax…..

Thank for reading, comments appreciated. Some of my stuff at www.rocksreflex.com

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Rob MacKillop
    April 4, 2020 at 10:22 am

    That’s an interesting write up, Rock, the more so as I bought a 6×7 recently, about four or five weeks ago, and I absolutely love it! I had thought of offering a write-up for this site, but thought it would be rejected as not being a 35mm camera. However, it is very like a 35mm camera, just embiggened! You load film just as with a 35mmc, and the image through the viewfinder is the right way round, unlike many MF cameras. It’s a 35mmc on steroids. The lenses are superb, especially the 105mm. Mine has the exposure meter dial, which is proving to be very accurate.

    But, of course, it will not provide images like those of Julia Margaret Cameron. Wrong camera.

    • Reply
      Rock
      April 4, 2020 at 11:21 am

      Lenses are definitely superb. You should still consider writing a post about your 6×7. I would love to read one with a different point of view, a sort of counter argument.

    • Reply
      Roger B.
      April 4, 2020 at 2:28 pm

      Rob: As an owner of a K1 and a former P6x7 shooter, I kept the P6x7 Takumar glass when I sold the body, and now use it with a PK adapter on the fullframe digital SLR body. The results are excellent: Sharp and with typical Takumar color saturation. Since I shoot the K1 “fully manual” with legacy SMC-M and SMC-A lenses, the lack of auto exposure is not an issue. This workflow is not for everyone, I realize … but works well for some of us.

      • Reply
        Timothy Gasper
        April 4, 2020 at 10:36 pm

        I’ve always loved this camera system, but it was too expensive for me at that time. Then when prices came down due to introduction of digital, I couldn’t find all the parts at the time I was looking for them or prices for this or that were higher than buying a complete one. So I got the Hasselblad 500CM, Fuji GX680 and Rollei 6006. Great cameras all, but I really wanted this 35mm-style camera, especially for the lenses. Unfortunately, if I want to get one now I will have to choose between the camera or death. I think I’ll stay alive for a while longer. Very nice article about an excellent camera. Thank you sir.

        • Reply
          Colin
          April 5, 2020 at 6:22 am

          If you have to choose between the camera or death, why not just choose the camera? You stay alive and you get a cool camera. Seems like a win/win.

    • Reply
      Brian
      April 4, 2020 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks for this post and sharing these photos. I’ve been shopping for Texas Leicas myself. I like that panorama of the yachts.

      • Reply
        Rock
        April 4, 2020 at 5:01 pm

        Thank you, Brian

  • Reply
    C Thompson
    April 4, 2020 at 10:29 am

    My problem with the pentax 67 was the mirror shake. The P67 has a massive mirror which vibrates the whole camera. Realistically I found that even at a 60th of second there was no guarantee of a sharp neg. Even a tripod didn’t always answer…Which basically meant shooting mirror up a lot of the time, which is definitely not conducive to spontaneous photography. It was too big of a handicap for a camera which was designed to be used like a giant 35mm slr… spontaneously! Such a shame because i loved everything else about the camera. I had high hopes for it doing fashion duties, but although blurry photos were something of a speciality of mine, it wasn’t the right kind of blurriness and i felt it wasn’t controllable.
    In the end i stuck with the wonderful mamiya rb and rz with their unique bellows focusing which got me all of the blur i could ever dream of.

    • Reply
      Rock
      April 4, 2020 at 11:18 am

      I don’t think I ever shot below 1/250 if a second for fear of vibration blur. Thus, I am not sure how much of it is a myth or actual reality. It is an amazing camera but just not for me.

  • Reply
    Georgia
    April 4, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    Great piece, Rock. Perfectly sums up the inner turmoil I’ve seen the Pentax put you through this past year! The images are stunning. I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of you with 6×7! I do also fear the Pentax’s almighty slap. Maybe a Mamiya 7 next 😉 – portable goddess, but perhaps too perfect.

    • Reply
      Rock
      April 4, 2020 at 4:57 pm

      Hi Georgia. Alas, the roll of Portra you have just processed for me is the last one for me with this camera. It has gone to pastures new, a new owner now. I think the Mamiya is too expensive, never mind it being too perfect!!! Probably treat myself to an old folding camera

  • Reply
    Louis Sousa
    April 4, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    This camera is not for the feint of heart. I wrote an earlier review of it on 35MMC. For carry, while there is no easy way, I affix the strap so it hangs vertically rather than horizontally and carry the camera over my shoulder rather than around the neck. I use an UPStrap that has a massive pad. It all adds up to an awkward but manageable amalgam. I have lugged the camera on a tripod for landscape images at dusk. This eliminates the bulk problem when the shutter is pressed, but exagerates it otherwise. The fast Takumar lenses excel wide open as shown in many of your images. You have two of them so I encourage you to capture subjects isolated against pleasing backgrounds. The bokeh in the woman’s portrait is quite nice. This was a hard shot to make with the harsh light on the woman’s hair. I personally don’t find the image quality is akin to the clinical sharpness of my digital cameras. For a similar and less taxing experience, consider a Pentax Spotmatic F. The image quality will be just as superb in a tiny package. A roughly similar lens kit would be the Takumar 50/1.4 and the 135/3.5 — the 135/2.8 is bulkier, and the 3.5 version is a beautiful lens. I have several posts of images from this camera on my blog if you would like to explore. Thank you for the good article. Louis.

    • Reply
      Rock
      April 4, 2020 at 4:50 pm

      Glad you enjoyed post, Louis. I will track down your earlier review and blog. The spotmatics and their takumar lenses have an excellent reputation. Is the 6×7 just a scaled up version of these 35mm cameras.Quite possibly. Maybe one day I will get a spotmatic, but I have too many SLRs at the moment!

      • Reply
        Louis Sousa
        April 4, 2020 at 7:13 pm

        Hi Rock, there is some similarity. The Spotmatic has stop down metering using a lever on the lenses. Right now I can’t recall if this became entirely TTL on the Spotmatic F (what I believe was the last version). The lenses are the same superior quality. Some of the lenses suffer from being “radioactive” with attendant yellowing, but this can be resolved by leaving the lens on a window atop a piece of tin foil for a few days. It is a great shooter’s camera and a nice kit can be purchased very inexpensively. Often, the meter is inoperable, so a CLA or purchase of one already CLA’d is recommended if a meter is important. I had my F CLA’d by a great shop in New England and it came back as good as new. To answer your question, in material ways weight aside, I would say yes, a Spotmatic is a small and light version of the 6X7, in 35mm format of course. I personally think the Pentax Takumar lenses are some of the best ever made. Their build quality is top notch. There is a rare 50/1.4 with 8 blades that is quite sought after and pricey. A good condition 50/1.4 and 135 F 3.5 will cost between $75 – 80 US. The Spotmatic will range between $50 and $150 or so. The Spotmatic of course uses different batteries. Someone may correct me, but while some or all models were designed to use mercury batteries they have circuiting that permits use of modern batteries also.

        • Reply
          Rock
          April 4, 2020 at 8:05 pm

          I have heard elsewhere that Pentax cameras of this age had a kind of bridge circuit so that the level of voltage is less than important i.e modern batteries will work. Because the lenses are m42 mount, these takumars will fit nicely on my current collection of SLRs (Praktica MTL3, Chinon memotron etc) so I guess all I need to do is track a decent one down. I have sold the 6×7 since I wrote this piece, so have some cash (although I was contemplating having another tatoo with the money when this lockdown is over, but that is another story!!!). Chinon lenses also have a good reputation in some quarters, especially the early ones that were made by Tomioka. I tend to use 50mm lenses, but have not got one as fast as f1.4 yet.

  • Reply
    Bob Visalia
    April 5, 2020 at 12:55 am

    I’ve always wanted one of the Pentax 6x7s–I’ve been a Pentax fan ever since I got my Pentax 35mm MX (and I’ve owned a number of 35mm cameras, including a Leica M3 and others such as Konicas, Yashicas, and Canons)–I consider my MX to be the SLR equivalent of my Leica M3: both are small, all mechanical (even though the MX has a battery-operated light meter which I don’t really need unless the lighting situation requires more than my educated guesses), and have terrific lenses. But I still yearn for a Pentax 6×7–maybe one of these days I’ll splurge and take the leap. Thanks for the article–and those 6×7 photos are so lovely.

  • Reply
    Steve
    April 5, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    I worked as a still photographer in a TV station for multiple years and enjoyed a 6×7 though as has been pointed out, that large mirror proved problematic. Eventually moved to a Canon 35mm F1 system for all of my TV production stills and on air slide work. The 6×7 soldiered on admirably though for all of my studio portraiture/technical facility/copy work. Lovely lenses and would love to acquire a few M42 Takumars again.

    • Reply
      Rock
      April 5, 2020 at 8:32 pm

      Canon F1 for production stills – amazing! It’s easy to forget the world before digital. There are plenty of takumars and super takumars around for reasonable prices, definitely get one. I will at some point soon

  • Reply
    Don
    April 7, 2020 at 6:55 am

    I have enjoyed reading the comments as much as the article! I will never use anything other than my digital point and shoot and as for film I’ll do the occasional eBay 35mm purchase to satisfy the film itch. I did intend buying and using film cameras made since my birth as sort of project, my homage to film. But after my first effort I gave the idea up. Film is to difficult for me. I am wheelchair based and my dexterity is bad. I have up my DSLR because it was to unwieldy so film camera’s are off my menu! But I can read the reviews and come on here and imagine what using film is like. Please keep up the articles and the comments folks you are making this old chap happy!

    • Reply
      Rock
      April 7, 2020 at 10:46 am

      Cheers Don. You’re right, the comments are just as important as the article.

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