I was surprised to find that there were no reviews of the Pentacon Six on this website. It seems to be a bit of a cult classic these days. Having said that, from reviews I’ve seen across the internet, it’s a little bit marmite, you either love it hate it.
It’s an SLR design, so for someone coming to medium format from 35mm it is a very easy jump. Very intuitive to use.
Recently I came to a bit of a cross roads with my Pentacon Six. I had the body and 2 lenses, a 50mm which was stuck at f/4 (not what you want in a wide angle lens) and a 180mm and nothing in between. I felt that I wasn’t getting the images I wanted from it and so started to research and weigh up my options.
- I could cut my losses, sell my Pentacon and spend some money on a new set up. I looked up loads of different medium format cameras from all price ranges (even though I knew some were wildly out of reach for me) and sought opinions on the different types and reasons for buying this or that camera.
- I could invest in improving my set up. Such as getting a working 50mm lens and either an 80mm (standard) or 120mm lens to give me some more options when shooting. I was also looking at extension tubes/bellows and a more sturdy tripod – my tripod is in no way up to the almost 4kg weight of the Pentacon Six and 180mm lens!
- There is a third option which I considered and that would be to buy a Kiev 88cm which takes all the P6 mount lenses that I already own for the Pentacon. A Kiev 88cm looks more like a hasselblad or a Zenza Bronica with the interchangeable backs.
From all the research I was doing I came to the conclusion that no camera was going to be perfect. There are limitations for each of them and you need to work out what limitations you can live with and which you can’t. For some the top shutter speed of 1/500sec may be off putting when looking at the leaf shutter cameras, for others the flash sync available with those makes them the only camera they can work with. And so, I started to really consider what and how I like to shoot, and what drawbacks the Pentacon Six has, to work out whether to stick with it or move on.
- The Pentacon Six is an absolute beast of a camera. It is so heavy and has a phenomenal mirror slap which makes shooting at speeds between 1sec and 1/30sec pretty impossible if you want a sharp image. There is also no mirror lock up function to get round this and it’s hard to find people that could custom fit this for you. For me the weight isn’t an issue, in fact I find it endearing, the loss of certain shutter speeds is annoying but certainly not a deal breaker for me.
- The Pentacon Six has a flash sync speed of about 1/20sec which is incredibly slow. Personally I can’t get on with flash, I never have been able to even with my digital camera, and so this doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Maybe one day I’ll try to learn but we’ll overcome that obstacle when we get to it.
- The Pentacon Six is fully manual with no metering system. You can purchase a TTL metering viewfinder, I now have one of these (see below) but haven’t used it and I’ve heard it’s really complicated to get to grips with. Personally I’m happy to manually expose my images as, when using the 120 format, I’m working very slowly anyway.
The final clincher for me was reading on another review that the Pentacon Six will only produce good results if you are a good photographer. How could I not want to rise to that challenge? It speaks so much to the journey I’m on to improve my photography and move away from the incessant acquisition of cameras that I was doing just a few years ago.
It feels like fate that I then found someone nearby selling a large bundle of Pentacon Six gear for about half the price of buying each of the individual items separately. I also saved loads on postage by being able to pick it up (I mentioned the weight of this camera is phenomenal!). I was able to add a working 50mm lens, an 80mm lens, a spare body, 3 different viewfinders, extension tubes, double cable release, original filters and a manual to my collection and many of these in their original boxes and so well kept.
At the end of this I realise how much I love the Pentacon Six TL, shooting with it fills me with joy and I’m excited each time I get an opportunity to use it. It took me a moment of doubt, to see what else was out there, and to know that the grass isn’t always greener. It’s time to work on my technique and stop wondering whether a better camera would make me a better photographer.
Some examples from my collection. I’ve never realised how many pictures of flowers I take with the Pentacon Six TL, I’m working on some other subjects at the moment!