The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

Should I buy a Pentacon Six or a Kiev 60?

Q: > I´m thinking of giving Medium format a shot!  Choice is Kiev 60 which I have read a bit about and the Pentacon Six TL.  Are they similar in mechanical quality?
> I guess you are a Pentacon man - but if you try to be objective.......can they be compared?
> Martin

A: Hello Martin

People discuss the relative merits of the Pentacon Six and the Kiev 60 a lot.  I prefer the Pentacon Six, mostly because I have found it much more reliable over a period of 31 years than the Kiev 60, which I got new in 1989 (over 19 years of much lighter use).

I will try to present all the arguments to you, so that you can decide.

The Kiev 60 is inspired by the Pentacon Six, but it is not strictly accurate to call it a Soviet Union “copy”; it has been very substantially re-designed.  So the Kiev 60 is a newer design than the Pentacon Six, and it is probably still being made – at least you can buy a “new” one, which may however been made as long ago as 1989!  (In the Soviet era they made items by the thousands, to meet production targets, regardless of whether they could sell them or not.)  The last Pentacon Six was probably made about 1990.

A few people say that the Kiev 60 is a better design.  I am not one of them!  It is much bigger and heavier than the Pentacon Six.  As the Pentacon Six is itself quite big (a normal size for Medium format), this might be a factor.  If you haven’t used medium format before, you have to get used to everything being bigger and heavier than 35mm, anyway.  For a comparison of the weights of these cameras,  see here.

Some people say that the Kiev 60 is more “rugged” –  i.e., it will withstand rough handling more.  But if you buy a medium format camera, you’re going to want to handle it with care anyway!

A “new” Kiev 60 needs to have several things done to it, before it is ready to use.  This includes lining the mirror box with non-reflective material (“flocking”), to avoid ghost images that degrade the image on your film!  (A kit to do this is available from www.baierfoto.de.)  This is not necessary with the Pentacon Six.  (Some suppliers now sell the Kiev 60 with this flocking already done.)

A Pentacon Six takes 120 film (12 exposures) or 220 film (24 exposures).  The Kiev 60 only takes 120 film.  This may or may not be important to you.  In practice, people take a lot less shots with medium format than with 35mm and I don’t think that this is a big point; I rarely use 220 film.

Some people have overlapping frames with the Pentacon Six, but this is mostly because of incorrect loading (follow the instructions on this website, here).  However, some cameras can apparently have a problem, and this can be fixed once and for all by a repair by someone who knows the camera well.  There are such repairers  in the USA, UK, Germany, and no doubt elsewhere.

The focussing screen on the Kiev 60 is much brighter than the standard Pentacon Six focussing screen, but I replaced that screen with the Pentacon fresnel screen over 25 years ago.  Dresden or Baierfoto will upgrade the Pentacon Six to a bright Rollei screen if you want.  Either of these screens increases the viewfinder brightness by the equivalent of two stops (four times the light), compared to the standard screen.

The TTL prism on the Kiev 60 is much brighter than the Pentacon Six TTL prism, but I find the Pentacon prism quite bright enough, when using the fresnel or Rollei focussing screen.  If you don’t agree, you can always use a Kiev prism on the Pentacon Six, via the adapter from Baierfoto, as explained here.

The Pentacon Six prism does not show the whole of the focussing screen.  I don’t find this a problem either, as I view it as a bonus to have a “safety margin” when composing with this camera.  Some of this extra image is lost when the image is printed or mounted in a slide mount anyway.  The Kiev 60 prism does show the whole of the Pentacon Six focussing screen (most people would say that this is better), so you may prefer to use this with a Pentacon Six – even though it doesn’t show the whole of the Kiev 60 focussing screen when used on the camera for which it was designed!

The Pentacon Six has a very gentle mirror movement and shutter, which helps you to use slow shutter speeds.  The Kiev 60 mirror creates some vibrations, which means that you need to be careful with slow speeds. 

The shutter on the Pentacon Six is much quieter than the shutter on the Kiev 60.  For this reason I would recommend the Pentacon Six over the Kiev 60 for wildlife, church services (weddings!), theatre photography, pictures of small children and much more.

Both cameras are available with a mirror pre-release facility (not as a standard feature but an upgrade), and I am told that the one for the Kiev 60 is better than the one for the Pentacon Six.

The Pentacon Six has a delayed action mechanism.  The Kiev 60 does not.

The Pentacon Six has 1 second as the longest shutter speed (plus B).  On the Kiev 60, the longest shutter speed is ½ sec (plus B).

The Kiev 60 has a lens aperture stop-down mechanism on the body.  The Pentacon Six does not (but all Carl Zeiss Jena and Pentacon lenses have their own stop-down lever).

The standard lens that is usually supplied with the Pentacon Six (the Biometar) is probably a bit better than the standard lens supplied with the Kiev 60 (the Volna), but any difference is virtually impossible to detect, other than the well-known design fault of the Volna, which results in light entering the camera throat through the lens stop-down lever if the lens is focussed at closer than 1 metre!

The Pentacon Six has an “ever-ready” case.  It is big, but I almost always use it.  No ever-ready case is available for the Kiev 60, although it is usually supplied in a much larger case which also holds a few accessories.

East German (i.e., Pentacon and Carl Zeiss) engineering is far superior to Russian/Ukrainian engineering (the Kiev 60 and the Arsenal lenses).  Having said that, the Arsenal lenses are mostly optically (but not necessarily mechanically) very good – see detailed reviews on this website.

The Kiev 60 is still being improved, for instance, with mirror pre-release.

Finally, you need to find these cameras and try them in your hands before taking a decision that you might need to stick with for 20+ years.

Ultimately, I trust my Pentacon Six more; it has never let me down.  That is why I prefer it.

I hope that this helps you to take your thinking forward and get started.

Best wishes

TRA
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© TRA February 2006, January 2009