The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

The History of the Pentacon Six

What might have been


The following changes were clearly needed and would have come in due course if the camera had been developed in a normal way (as in other countries of the world!).

Technical improvements

  • A larger focussing screen covering the whole of the image area exposed to the film.
  • The use of the “Soviet” prism, which had two advantages over the Carl Zeiss prism:
    • it was much brighter
    • it permitted the whole of the focussing screen to be seen – and in fact, a wide area around it, so that the whole of a larger focussing screen would have been visible without any need to modify it.
  • A new shutter, using the technology that had been developed for the 35mm “L” series Prakticas in about 1971.
    • This needed to be four times as fast at the original shutter, which had been developed back in the 1950s.
    • This faster shutter would permit two things:
      • a higher top speed, possibly 1/4000, which would have impressed the whole of the world market.
      • Even if it had been decided to limit the top speed to an extremely impressive 1/2000, the other benefit would still exist:

      • An electronic flash sync speed of 1/100, fractionally faster than the 1/90 achieved by Hasselblad with its F series of cameras.
Overnight, the Pentacon Six would have become viable again on world markets, outside the “parallel universe” of the communist countries.  Suddenly, wedding photographers would have been interested, since they needed a flash sync speed that would permit fill-in flash in daylight.

Other improvements would have been easy – merely transferring technology from even the “LLC” camera developed in East Germany in 1969:

  • building the light meter into the camera body – there is masses of available space, compared with a 35mm camera!
    • metering would then work regardless which head were used – waist-level finder, magnifier head, or prism.
    • By definition, the prism would not need its own meter so it would be cheap to produce and smaller and lighter than the metering prism.
    • Coupling the shutter speeds to the meter would also be simple.
  • electronic transfer of lens aperture (which Pentacon itself had invented!).  This would allow full-aperture metering with “EDC” Pentacon Six lenses, which Zeiss Jena and Meyer-Optik/Pentacon would have produced using the technology that they already had, while the “older” lenses could be used with stop-down metering – or Zeiss or a “third party” specialist could offer to “convert” existing lenses, which in most cases would not be difficult – it was done with the 35mm M42 lenses.
  • correct connection of the delayed-action mechanism to the flash circuit, so that the flash fires when the delayed action control is used.
The metering could easily include off-the-film TTL metering and flash metering, with contact points for a dedicated flash as well as a standard flash PC socket for other brands of flash.  They could have used the system that was already in their “B” series 35mm cameras (the Olympus standard), or have adopted another common SCA system, for instance, that used in the later Hasselblad cameras.  This would have had numerous advantages: the ability to refer in their literature to compatibility with an aspect of the prestigious Hasselblad system, with all the implications of comparable quality, while offering a camera at a price point that compared extremely favourably with the over-priced Hasselblad.
  • There was plenty of space in the body for batteries to be located for the metering, or even for an electronic shutter, or a grip could have been built onto the right of the body to house them and simultaneously improve handling.
  • An accessory flash grip could easily have been designed.  This website suggests simple designs, the first of which I had made back in 1978.
  • A new “ever-ready case” with a soft front would appeal to the market, just as had the equivalent case that Pentacon introduced for their 35mm cameras.
Better co-operation with at least Soviet producers would have widened the range of lenses easily available on the world market, providing, for instance, at least a 45mm wide-angle lens to supplement the 50mm Flektogon, and of course the spectacular 30mm fish-eye lens.  By the 1970s, lens design technology had made a 40mm Medium Format lens a reality (for Hasselblad and even for the Norita), and Carl Zeiss Jena should easily have been able to design such a lens, or enter into a licensing agreement with Carl Zeiss (West Germany), designers of the 40mm Distagon that was supplied for Hasselblad, with Schneider-Kreuznach (who had designed such a lens, the 40mm Curtagon, and were looking for a camera manufacturer to adopt it), or with Norita.

The higher sync speed would have made less urgent a lens with a leaf or central shutter (for flash synchronisation at all speeds).  However, again co-operation with Norita could have resulted in the production at negligible cost of such a lens for the Pentacon Six – again widening its appeal in world markets.

With the Arsenal plain prism, even the existing Pentacon Six case closes!  And the image is brighter than with the Pentacon prism!  And you can see the whole of the focussing screen!  Coupled with the Rollei focussing screen, the viewfinder in such a camera (illustrated below!) is much brighter than anything that Hasselblad was offering with any body and metering prism back in the 1970s and 80s – when this camera and this prism were made!  It is even brighter than anything that Hasselblad was offering in the 1990s.

Of course, such a body would not have built-in metering, but that could so easily have been incorporated.  Put this beside a Pentax 6×7, Norita 66, Kiev 60 or indeed many other Medium Format SLRs, and many purchasers would have gone for this.  It is smaller, lighter, quieter and more comfortable in the hand than any of the others.

Other changes needed were minor, almost cosmetic, such as improving the shape of the advance lever.

Cosmetic and stylistic improvements

In the later years of the Hasselblad 500C/M, the manufacturers stimulated sales through a series of special “limited editions”.  Most of these marked anniversaries – of the market launch of the first Hasselblad, of the 500C, of the first use of Hasselblad on the moon, etc.  Cameras were also offered with the body covering in a range of colours.

Pentacon had its own anniversaries that could have been celebrated – including the use of the Pentacon Six in space, “25 (40, etc) Years of Pentacon Cameras”, etc.  They could also have easily responded to changes in market conditions by offering, for instance, an all-black body, or bodies with different coverings.

Once the technical side is solved (with the improvements described above), it is time to look at the experience that the camera offers and the style statement that it makes.  Some people may decry this, but these are essential components in successfully marketing and selling a camera system. 

Here are some examples of what they could have done.


[C414_14A.jpg]
This combination exists; the other colours suggested below are computer simulations, unless indicated otherwise.


The leather on the red cameras was supplied by Gevorg Vartanyan of Araxfoto in Kiev, Ukraine.  It is one of the range of finishes that he offers for his cameras.  He also arranged to have the chrome parts painted black.  And Tom Page of England put it all together.
These are the parts that needed painting black, laid out on the leather.


[C414_3A]
There turned out to be enough leather here for two or three cameras!

 

[C414_16A.jpg]

A lens that shows feet in red has been used.  The red and black of the lens combine well with the colouring of the rest of the camera.

The calendar shows a Kiev 60 upgraded by Arax - using the same leather that was applied to this Pentacon Six.

The soft touch of the leather is a pleasure to hold.  No wonder Hasselblad offered bodies in a range of finishes in the 1990s.  It’s all about bringing back the excitement of owning a camera.  We might even speak of the sensual pleasure of touching it.  This could have been done at such tiny cost, yet – with some of the essential technical improvements – the camera would have captured significant sectors of the world-wide market.


[Plainprism_1.jpg]
Here the metering prism has been replaced with an Arsenal plain prism, via the Baierfoto adapter.  It has the original black leather.
A simulation below shows the prism with red leather, too.


[SilverRed_1.jpg]
I wanted to use some spare pieces of that lovely red leather, so now this combination exists, too.  In fact, it is my main camera!

By the mid 1970s the market was calling for all-black cameras.  This is what the Pentacon Six might have looked like (again, with the Arsenal plain prism).


Heinrich Mandermann responded to this demand with his all-black Exakta 66.
But there never was an all-black Pentacon Six TL.  There should have been.
[allblack_2.jpg]


“What colour would you like, Sir/Madam?”

Blue

Calfskin

Green

Light Blue

Red

Pale Green

Bronze

Turquoise

Pink


Yellow
You may not like it, but some Kiev 60’s this colour have been sold!


 

To go to the Bibliography, click here.

To go on to the next section, click below.
35 Reasons why development stopped

To go to the beginning of the history section, click here.

To go to introduction to the cameras, click here.

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© TRA First published: June 2010
Latest revision: March 2014