Pentacon Six
Medium & Large Format

Pentacon Six Mini-Review – The grass isn’t always greener – By Holly Gilman

August 27, 2020

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.

Pentacon Six Accessories

Some of the accessories I picked up locally

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.

Pentacon Six top down

That classic top down view!

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!

Example of P6

Kodak Ektar 100 – 180mm lens

Example of P6

Kodak Ektar 100 – 180mm lens

Example of P6

Kodak Ektar 100 – 180mm lens

Example of P6

Kodak Ektar 100 – 180mm lens

You can see more of my work and follow my learning journey on my website or instagram.

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Rock
    August 27, 2020 at 10:19 am

    I always felt that I wanted a Pentacon6 but talked myself out of it by reading too many views from other people. Ended up with the monster heavy Pentax6x7 (which does have mirror up). Fab camera and lenses but not for me, so re-sold it. I have reinvested the money in 35mm lenses and home developing gear, but kinda have this feeling that if I had stuck with my original desire for the P6 I would have kept it and used it. Never mind, no regrets!!! Keep enjoying it and thanks for the flower photos. Cheers, Rock

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 27, 2020 at 2:59 pm

      The Pentax 6×7 was certainly on my wish list for a while but my rational mind tells me that it is a very similar camera to the P6 (obviously neg size difference and as you say MLU) so I keep telling myself that I don’t need to spend that sort of money… Haha

  • Reply
    brian nicholls
    August 27, 2020 at 11:21 am

    A very informative review Holly. Where you say you are …”wondering whether a better camera would make you a better photographer”… what, I wonder constitutes better so, don’t you really mean a DIFFERENT camera?
    Your flower images speak volumes for your composition and the Pentacon brand.

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm

      Very good point! I suppose I’m saying a more expensive camera. Thank you for your kind words!

  • Reply
    Andrew
    August 27, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    I had a worse experience with the P6 (3 broken bodies) but fell in love with the lenses, so I exercised the Kiev 88CM option, but its a little heavy for hiking with, I’ve been hiking with a Medalist on and off in the mean time, another quirky camera. I still toy with getting another P6 and trying again every now and then.

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 27, 2020 at 3:17 pm

      Other than being heavy I’d be really interested in hearing more about your opinion and experiences of the Kiev 88cm!

      • Reply
        Andrew
        August 27, 2020 at 5:20 pm

        I heard all of the horror stories before I bought it, but it’s as reliable as a brick. Even if it is far heaver than one. You do have to observe the Eastern Bloc rules about changing shutter speeds.The shutter is loud. Very loud. I’ve startled pigeons with it. I’ve got one film back with a light leak I haven’t worked on fixing yet, but that’s been the only technical issue I’ve had with it. I did hunt down a Polaroid proofing back for it, but I don’t use it anymore with the prices of the remaining pull-apart film.

        Mine has some of the Hartblei mods, but not all of them, so I don’t know who exactly did the mods. I don’t have the speed winder crank or MLU, but everything else is there. If I shot macros, the MLU would be a necessity, the big noisy shutter slaps pretty hard! Using the 80mm Biometar, I’ve taken some of my best portraits. I like the beast.

        • Reply
          Holly Gilman
          August 27, 2020 at 8:25 pm

          Very interested to hear more about the polaroid back – I’ve not heard of that! I love the 80mm lens, it’s new to me but fast become my favourite. I’ve actually just developed a roll of film with a couple of macro shots on (using extension tubes), shutter speed was 1 sec and I am blown away by how sharp they are despite me not have mirror lockup! My latest post on instagram shows those images if you’re interested.
          https://www.instagram.com/learningfilm/

  • Reply
    Guillermo MESA
    August 27, 2020 at 8:30 pm

    I am a somewhat annuated ,68,photo enthusiast in “Trump land”. I thought film photography was morto. When I took it up again a couple years ago, I was delighted to discover that the young have
    taken to film photography!(my hope for this world is the youth of the world!)
    I was delighted to find my favorite supplier, Ilford, was still alive, albeit under the umbrella of another family, Harman.
    I thank all you “non-superannuated” young children for your part in helping to keep film alive.
    Pax Tibi!
    William Mesa

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 28, 2020 at 7:56 am

      It’s a funny one isn’t it? We live in a world where things become obsolete and I think that’s what we believed was happening to film. However it is an art form and just like painting, digital hasn’t killed the paint brush it’s just an alternative for those who need a different creative outlet. Film photography is my creative outlet and I love it!

  • Reply
    Floyd K. Takeuchi
    August 28, 2020 at 4:25 am

    It’s refreshing to read a gear review by someone who says, “I’m doing this my way!” Lovely photos — it sure looks like you made the right choice (for you!).

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 28, 2020 at 7:56 am

      Thank you! I really appreciate your words of encouragement!

  • Reply
    Neal
    August 28, 2020 at 6:27 am

    Great writeup, I have always wanted a P6 as well. eventually I came across an earlier Praktisix IIa, which is essentially the same thing.
    I picked it up cheap but it needed some work, I replaced the mirror and as the CDS prism wasn’t working I bought a WLF for it. After having a CLA it seemed to be working well so I shot a few rolls of film only to realise the shutter speeds were still out, so It’s back to the repair shop to get adjusted again.

    I wrote a quick review of my experience so far on my website https://www.thorleyphotographics.com/?page_id=663

    Thanks for sharing!

    Neal.

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 28, 2020 at 7:57 am

      Thanks, I’m going to check out your thoughts!

  • Reply
    Yohan
    August 28, 2020 at 6:51 am

    I’ve had two Pentacon Six bodies. Film counter broke on both of them. I still have the 2nd body. Still think it’s one of the best ways to get into medium format. Quite compact, relatively speaking. 🙂

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 28, 2020 at 7:59 am

      Oddly enough the film counter has been broken on both of mine too. However after a few rolls (I think I’m on roll 9 on the first one) the film counter has come back to life on my first body!

  • Reply
    Timothy Gasper
    August 28, 2020 at 10:14 am

    It fills me with hope when I read how many people still shoot with film. I kind of suspected that the younger generation would pick up on film as, like me when I was younger, they want to experiment and be ‘different’. Most all of my professional work was done in Russia and some other European countries. My wife is from Russia, so every year when we go there for at least 5 months, I always look at my favorite camera stores. They have cameras I’ve never seen nor heard of before. I compared the Kiev 88 CM with my Hasselblad 500 CM and the images are almost the same. The 80mm on the Kiev is a very good and sharp lens. I miss Russia more now. It’s like my home I knew in my heart. I am so glad I finally got to go there my first time in 1998. It’s such a shame that politics is the way it is these days. The people are wonderful though. Anyway, thank you for the write-up and keep shooting all that film.
    Tim G
    f8 Photo/Cine

  • Reply
    Timothy Gasper
    August 29, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Thank you. The comment about younger people using film to be different wasn’t directed towards you as I don’t know how old you are or what you look like. Yes, Russia is very interesting and beautiful. I love St. Petersburg. One of my favorite cities. The people are wonderful for the most. You always have morons in any country. The food is just great too. Can’t wait to get back after all this virus stuff is over. Please go there if you get a chance. If you need a ‘guide’ just let us know. My wife is from Ekaterinburg where I did a photo story on the last Tsar and his family. Thanks again.

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 29, 2020 at 7:00 pm

      That’s fascinating, I’ll have to look into that!

  • Reply
    Where you can find more of my writing… EEEK – School of Holly
    September 3, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    […] A mini review of the Pentacon Six. […]

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