The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

The History of the Pentacon Six

Notes on Camera Serial Numbers


Why be interested in Serial Numbers?

Owners of Pentacon Six cameras often want to know in which year their camera was produced.  The serial number should give detailed information on this.  With Carl Zeiss Jena we generally know the exact date that a lens left the production line.  Unfortunately, no such information has as yet been discovered for Pentacon cameras, as far as I am aware.  The date of manufacture of the lens on the camera is at best an approximate guide to date, and often of no use at all, for two reasons:

  • By definition, lenses were made before they were put on the cameras, and this may have been many months before, perhaps even one or two years before.

  • (Biometar lenses were frequently produced in batches of 5,000, and in a number of years less than 5,000 cameras were made.)
  • With an interchangeable lens camera, one can never be sure that the lens on a camera now is the lens that was on the camera when it was new.  In fact, there are often cases when it clearly cannot be the original lens, as for instance when a Tessar is found on a Pentacon Six TL.
Where are they?

In different places, depending on the model.  The following pictures illustrate the locations and styles that I have seen.
 


Praktisix
[Prak_ser_no.jpg]

Praktisix II: number filled with white paint
[Prak2_ser_no.jpg]

Praktisix IIA with serial number in white
[Prak2A_ser_no.jpg]

This is a Pentacon Six to which the letters “TL” have been added on the faceplate by the manufacturer.  Serial number still in white.
[pent6+tl_ser_no.jpg]

A late production Pentacon Six TL
Note that the serial number is not filled with white paint, and so is harder to see.
[pent6tl_ser_no.jpg]

Exakta 66
Again, there is no white paint to highlight the number.
[e66_ser_no.jpg]

Note that, for reasons of security, serial numbers that are visible in photographs on this website have generally been changed by me on the computer.  Collectors should therefore not base calculations on the numbers appearing here or elsewhere on this website.  They are for illustrative purposes only.

Production Numbers

In his book “Spiegelreflexkameras aus Dresden”, Richard Hummel gives the production numbers of Medium Format SLR cameras (and indeed for other cameras), according to the official State Yearbook of the GDR.  The data is on pages 157-160.  Gerhard Jehmlich quotes some of the same figures (p. 228), but only for the years 1964-1989.  We are interested in the years 1957 to 1990.  Here is the data from Hummel, to which I have added an additional column with the cumulative total.  All of these cameras are the Praktisix, Praktisix II, Praktisix IIA, Pentacon Six, Pentacon Six m, Hanimex Praktica 66, Pentacon Six TLs, Pentacon Six TL-M and Pentacon Six TL.  Included in these numbers are also the bodies that were supplied to West Germany for conversion into the Exakta 66 Mk I – Mk III.
 
 

Year
Production Number
Cumulative Total
 
Year
Production Number
Cumulative Total
1957
2,150
2,150
 
1974
9,500
106,989
1958
3,882
6,032
 
1975
11,198
118,187
1959
4,163
10,195
 
1976
12,500
130,687
1960
104
10,299
 
1977
12,500
143,187
1961
1,399
11,698
 
1978
12,700
155,887
1962
3,445
15,143
 
1979
12,774
168,661
1963
4,750
19,893
 
1980
11,600
180,261
1964
4,407
24,300
 
1981
6,705
186,966
1965
3,530
27,830
 
1982
6,554
193,520
1966
4,461
32,291
 
1983
7,018
200,538
1967
3,500
35,791
 
1984
7,000
207,538
1968
9,100
44,891
 
1985
6,000
213,538
1969
10,000
54,891
 
1986
5,780
219,318
1970
11,558
66,449
 
1987
4,590
223,908
1971
12,547
78,996
 
1988
3,740
227,648
1972
9,993
88,989
 
1989
4,479
232,127
1973
8,500
97,489
 
1990
3,100
235,227

Other medium format SLRs

According to Hummel (p 158), 350 6 × 6 SLRs were produced in 1951.  On page 134 he states that these were a pilot production of a modified version of the 1939 Exakta 66.  On page 120 he states that about 2,500 Meister Korelles were produced “between 1947 and 1952”, but these are not indicated in any of the figures that he gives for medium format SLR production between those dates in his table 216 on page 158.

His figures also indicate that 118 6 × 6 SLRs were produced in 1953, and 2,250 in 1954.  These must be the short-lived vertical Exakta 66 of the 1950s.

Are these Production Numbers reliable?

The opinions of collectors on this are divided.  Hummel himself writes (p. 157), “Trotz aller Sorgfalt sind im rechtlichen Sinn alle Zahlangaben der Produktionsdauer und der Produktionsstückzahlen als Angaben ohne Gewähr zu betrachten.”
My translation:  “In spite of all the care that has been taken, in a legal sense the accuracy of all the figures of statistical information and production periods is to be viewed as not guaranteed.”  The table can therefore only be viewed as an approximate guide.

According to the same source, no 6 × 6 SLRs were produced in 1955 and 1956, with Medium Format SLR production re-commencing in 1957.  This was the Praktisix, and thereafter the only Medium Format SLRs produced in the GDR were the Praktisix (in its various versions), the Pentacon Six and the Pentacon Six TL.  (Prototypes of the Praktisix were produced in 1956, but these were not for sale to the public, and therefore not listed in the figures.)

Hummel states on page 153 that in November 1988 the 200,000th camera of the Pentacon Six type left the factory.  Serial number evidence indicates that this is in fact probably accurate, with the highest serial number at the end of production two years later probably being in the 206 (or 207?) thousands.
 

In support of the statistics

Some of those who research into the history of Pentacon cameras consider that these figures are likely to be reliable.  One collector summarised their conclusions as follows:

“We generally came to the conclusion the production numbers were not faked. The numbers simply vary too much and also went up as well as down from year to year. And, the discrepancy between production numbers and serial numbers is very low, about 3000 (actually less). With a total of around 206,000 [Pentacon Six] cameras produced, this is a discrepancy of only 1.5%. Finally, I have not seen all serial numbers. Possibly, the discrepancy is even lower.” (private correspondence to me)

  Skepticism concerning the statistics

Others are much more skeptical.  Another extremely well-informed collector wrote to me: “Die Stückzahlen bei Hummel sehe ich (und auch viele andere Sammler) immer sehr skeptisch, sie sind kaum als Referenz zu verwenden, a) weil Hummel die Jahrbücher der DDR herangezogen hat und die waren fast immer "geschönt" und b) weil er so viele Kameras in seinem Buch erwähnt hat, die es definitiv nicht gegeben hat, beispielsweise PENTINA 1.”
My translation:  “I (and also many other collectors) view the production numbers in Hummel’s book very skeptically.  They can scarcely be used as a point of reference, a) because Hummel got them out of the GDR Yearbooks, and they were almost always ‘enhanced’, and b) because he referred to so many cameras in his book that definitely did not exist, for example the PENTINA 1.”

My opinion

My own opinion is that it must be borne in mind that these figures are from the official GDR State Statistical Yearbook, so two factors can have led to inaccuracy:

1) In the centrally-planned economy of the communist régime, all factories were given target production numbers, and failure to meet those numbers could lead to serious consequences up to and including imprisonment for staff deemed to have failed (or “sabotaged production”, in the politically-charged terminology of the dictatorship).  It would therefore not be surprising if some mis-reporting took place in the submission of figures to the organs of the State.
2) The East German State waged an incessant propaganda war against the rest of the world, based largely on exaggeration, lies and falsified statistics, so at this point, too, figures are likely to have been deliberately inflated.
However, we have three sources for Praktisix / Pentacon Six / Exakta 66 (etc) serial numbers:
  • Hummel’s figures
  • records of numbers built up by collectors, mostly in Germany and the UK
  • a very large database of serial numbers from the principal UK repairer of these cameras.
On the basis of this information we shall endeavour to make a start at analysing the data.

Rejects

As with any complex manufacturing process at the end of which there is quality control, some cameras will have been rejected.  (Incidentally, this did not appear to happen in the Soviet Union, with very many faulty cameras finding their way into shops and even being sold!)  The same collector says:

“The Praktisix/Pentacon six is a very complex camera with several hundred individual components. Though I guess there were several unit tests along the way, some faults could only be tested in the final product. If a camera was found faulty in the final production test and it was scrapped, the serial number was very probably not reused and the part of the camera with the serial number was not recovered either. A yield loss of maybe 2% in the final test would probably be fully acceptable with this camera. i.e. the serial numbers may be slightly higher than the production numbers.”

Serial Numbers and Dating

It must be emphasised that the numbers in the above table are production numbers, not serial numbers.  The highest serial number for a Pentacon Six TL is somewhere between 206 thousand+ and 207 thousand+  We will try to achieve more accurate serial numbers and dates below.

Two factors affect the relationship between serial numbers and dates of manufacture:

  • Manufacturers do not generally start their first production run of a product with serial number 0001;
  • When the changeover was made from the Praktisix IIA to the Pentacon Six, Pentacon re-started the counter, though again, not at 0001.
The same expert quoted from above has written the following:
“KW/Pentacon followed different schemes for different products revising these with the years. For instance, the Praktinas started with serial 20001, with the prototypes in a separate three digit system. The Praktisix serial numbers started with 10001, with the prototype bodies serial numbers embedded in the production serials. Prototype Praktisix bodies had one serial number - the regular production number, while prototypes of the II and IIA had prototype numbers in addition to the regular production numbers. Prototype II and IIA bodies both have serials late in the Praktisix (I) range - around 1964. The serial numbers were continued with Praktisix II and IIA, but with the introduction of the Pentacon six, the serial numbers were set back to a lower number.[TRA: probably 501].

Armed with this information, we can attempt to correlate serial numbers to years, but this is dependent on calculations based on information available at the time of writing.  At a future date, new information may appear that will result in the need to revise these calculations.

Note that because Pentacon Six serial numbers started at a low number and extended beyond 200,000, there are Praktisixes with the same serial number as Pentacon Sixes, but as these are essentially two different cameras, this does not cause problems.  (There are too many technical differences for a Praktisix to be converted to a Pentacon Six.)

Assumption 1

I assume that on average over the years 2% more cameras were made (and therefore received a serial number) than appeared in the Production Numbers summary given in the GDR Yearbook as quoted by Hummel.

Praktisix Models


Year
Production Number passing inspection
Production Number + 2% for rejects
Serial No start
Serial No end
Cumulative Total passing inspection
 
Camera name
Earliest known Ser No (1)
Latest known Ser No (1)
1957
2,150
2,193
 10001
12193
2,150
 
Praktisix 
10041
33256
1958
3,882
3,960
12194
16153
6,032
       
1959
4,163
4,246
16154
20399
10,195
       
1960
104
106
20400
20505
10,299
       
1961
1,399
1,427
20506
21932
11,698
       
1962
3,445
3,514
21933
25446
15,143
       
1963
4,750
4,845
25447
30291
19,893
       
1964
4,407
4,495
30292
34786
24,300
 
Praktisix II 
33603
40486
1965
3,530
3,601
34787
38387
27,830
       
1966
4,461
4,550
38388
42937
32,291
 
Praktisix IIA
39214 (2)
42698

Notes

(1) The earliest and latest known serial numbers are based on data gathered by collectors (mostly in Germany and the UK) and on a large database of the repair and service records of the principal UK repairer of these cameras.  While the work done has been thorough, inevitably the data available is incomplete.

(2)  The transition from the Praktisix II to the Praktisix IIA seems to have been gradual.  Perhaps there was a time in the factory when both models were being completed.  Thus it is not a great surprise that there is an “overlap” of serial numbers, with some Praktisix II cameras with a slightly higher serial number than the lowest-numbered Praktisix IIA cameras.

Assumption 2

Our collector writes, “When the Pentacon six was started, they didn’t wait for New Year to begin production! So there is a gap between Praktisix IIA and Pentacon six production numbers.”

I will here assume that 235 of the medium format SLRs produced at the end of 1966 were Pentacon Sixes.  This would change the final line of the above table, reducing the numbers of Praktisix IIA cameras by 235, as shown in the following table:
 

Year
Production Number passing inspection
Production Number + 2% for rejects
Serial No start
Serial No end
Cumulative Total passing insepction
 
Camera name
Earliest known Ser No
Latest known Ser No
1966
4,226
4,311
38388
42698
32,061
 
Praktisix IIA
 39214
42698

Assumption 3

There are reports of a Pentacon Six being offered with a serial number in the five hundreds.  I will therefore also assume that the starting serial number for the Pentacon Six was 501.  These assumptions yield the following table:

Pentacon Six & Pentacon Six TL, and cameras derived from them


Year
Production Number passing inspection
Production Number + 2% for rejects
Serial No start
Serial No end
Cumulative Total passing inspection
 
Camera name
Earliest known Ser No
Latest known Ser No
1966
235
240
501
740
32,291
 
Pentacon Six
 1118
23859 (1)
1967
3,500
3,570
741
4310
35,791
       
1968
9,100
9,282
4311
13592
44,891
 
Includes some of the Pentacon Six cameras relabelled Six TL (2)
12793
19028
1969
10,000
10,200
13593
23792
54,891
 
Pentacon Six TL
12794 (3)
206478
1970
11,558
11,789
23793
35581
66,449
 
 Hanimex Praktica 66
20566
22980
1971
12,547
12,798
35582
48379
78,996
       
1972
9,993
10,193
 48380
58572
88,989
       
1973
8,500
8,670
58573
67242
97,489
       
1974
9,500
9,690
67243
76932
106,989
       
1975
11,198
11,422
 76933
88354
118,187
       
1976
12,500
12,750
88355
101104
130,687
       
1977
12,500
12,750
101105
113854
143,187
       
1978
12,700
12,954
113855
126808
155,887
       
1979
12,774
13,029
126809
139837
168,661
       
1980
11,600
11,832
139838
151669
180,261
       
1981
6,705
6,839
151670
158508
186,966
       
1982
6,554
6,685
158509
165193
193,520
       
1983
7,018
7,158
165194
172351
200,538
       
1984
7,000
7,140
172352
179491
207,538
       
1985
6,000
6,120
179492
185611
213,538
       
1986
5,780
5,896
185612
191507
219,318
       
1987
4,590
4,682
191508
196189
223,908
       
1988
3,740
3,815
196190
200004
227,648
       
1989
4,479
4,569
200005
204573
232,127
       
1990
3,100
3,162
204574
207735
235,227
       

Notes

(1) In November 1983 a Pentacon Six with the serial number 32649 was received for repair.  The production number evidence given above would lead one to suppose that this body was produced in 1970, at which time all bodies should have been receiving a Pentacon Six TL face plate. One must assume that this body (and perhaps others from the same batch) had left-over Pentacon Six (non TL) face-plates applied to them.  In the GDR, where the first post-war Contax S cameras had left the factory without the delayed-action lever because of a lack of parts (see details here), and where throughout its history there were shortages of virtually everything, one should not be surprised if older stocks of parts that came to light were not simply thrown away, but used even when perhaps they should not have been.

(2) Some cameras manufactured in 1969 also had “Pentacon Six” faceplates to which “TL” had subsequently been added on the line below during the manufacturing process.

(3) It is difficult to determine with certainty the earliest genuine Pentacon Six TL serial number, as there is documentary evidence that a number of Pentacon Sixes have been upgraded by replacing the original front plate with a TL front plate.  It is almost certain that official distributors, such as CZ Scientific Instruments in the UK, would not have done this, but many independent repairers had spare parts from the factory and some are known to have upgraded Pentacon Six cameras to the Pentacon Six TL specification.  Thus, a body with serial no 4066, which was almost certainly produced in 1967, was received for repair in November 1985 with a Pentacon Six TL face plate.  It is not possible to see how this could have been fitted to the camera during the manufacturing process. 

One must ask whether the same applies to body 7303, which was received for repair in January 1985 with a Pentacon Six TL face plate.  This camera was apparently manufactured in the middle of the 1968 production run.  Perhaps the body was not completed in the correct sequence, and thus a Pentacon Six TL face plate was applied to it.

Body number 12794 is referred to in the table above.  After that body, the next numbers in our database of Pentacon Sixes repaired in the UK are all in the eighteen thousand nine hundreds: 18948, 18961, 18974, 18993, then into the nineteen thousands.

One must also bear in mind that batches of cameras were sent to different countries, which may account for the “clustering” of numbers (groups of numbers that are near each other) in any given market, and for “gaps” in the sequences of numbers recorded in any given market.



The above table reflects the currently available data.  It results in the Pentacon Six with the serial number 200,000 being produced in 1988, as reported by Hummel.  If we include the various models of the Praktisix, total production numbers that left the factory are higher.  If production started with serial number 501, the 200,000th Pentacon Six camera would not have been produced until early 1989, even though the camera with serial number 200,000 would have been produced towards the end of the production run in 1988.  Reject numbers will inevitably not have been an exact 2% every year, even if this was the average, so that would introduce a slight variation.  There is also evidence that a Pentacon Six TL with the serial number 200,8xx was available for sale new in a camera shop in East Germany in May 1989, which indicates that the above table is reasonably accurate.
 
WARNING

With such reconstructions from incomplete data, it is impossible to guarantee absolute accuracy.  However, the above table should enable you to date your camera within a margin of accuracy of + one year.
 

Other cameras using a Pentacon six chassis
 

Camera name
Earliest known Ser No
Latest known Ser No
Hanimex Praktica 66
20566
22980
Pentacon Six TLs
168272
175314
Exakta 66
177298
182858
Exakta 66 Mk II
176907
188521
Exakta 66 Mk III
180478
184566

It appears that the cameras that were labelled “Hanimex Praktica 66” were taken from the 1969 production run of the Pentacon Six TL.

On the basis of the information currently available, the Pentacon Six TLs was modified from Pentacon Six TL cameras manufactured in 1983 and 1984.

The Exakta 66 bodies were taken from regular Pentacon Six TL body production at different dates, but not completed in (the then) West Germany in first in, first out order.  So, for instance, Mk III bodies for which data is known have lower serial numbers than one Mk II body for which we have the serial number.  The situation may also be complicated by the fact that some Mk I or Mk II bodies have been subsequently upgraded to Mk III specification (and labelling), without, of course, any change of serial number.  On the basis of the above tables, most bodies for the Exakta 66 were purchased from Pentacon’s 1985 production and some from the 1986 production, which ties in well with other information on Exakta 66 availability.  Bodies were then finished as Exakta 66 cameras, although stock was not used in serial number order.
 

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© TRA August 2010, revised August 2016