The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

Using the Pentacon Six in Cold Temperatures
 

 
It wasn’t very warm when this picture was taken!
Title: Vorfrühling (Early Spring)
Pentacon Six picture by Erich Schutt in “Pentaconsix Praxis” by W G Heyde, 1st Edition 1974 & 2nd Edition 1975, p. 58

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In May 2020 I received the following question from a Pentacon Six user:

I just bought a Pentacon Six that had been recently serviced.
Everything has been fine and except that I took it out in 6 degrees celsius weather and the shutter got stuck at 1/125.
When buying the camera I was sure to test that speed first and saw no problems. The 1/125 speed was  also operational once the camera was brought back inside.
Should I expect that this happen every time I take my camera and out and the temperature is <10 degrees?



I didn’t feel able to give an authoritative answer to this question, so I wrote to an expert in servicing the Pentacon Six and in lubrication for it, Rolf-Dieter Baier of www.baierfoto.de.

This is the reply that I received from him:

Mr. A is asking: "Should I expect that this happen every time I take my camera out and the temperature is <10 degrees?"

My answer to this: "Yes. And the camera will always become operational again at a higher temperature".

Some more detail:

My experience regarding Low Temperature Operation of Pentacon Six says:
The described behaviour is often found even with recently serviced cameras, depending on the lubrication status which can be somewhere between:
  • old grease perfectly removed from all bearings, then lubricated by suitable (!) clock oil (best)
    Suitable oil means a type that
            * does not move (spread) away from the bearings (when properly applied...)
            * does not affect rubber if ever some of it gets on the rubber coated curtain straps.
and (at the other extreme):
  • just some oil added to the old grease (worst).
Many intermediate statuses are found, the most common procedure during a CLA seems to consist of removing old grease and then adding lubrication by grease again, like Pentacon did – which is not the proper way in my opinion, see above.  But, even with the perfect lubrication, the bad construction of the fast speeds mechanism leads to the problems described by Mr R. A. with any Pentacon Six and Exakta 66 – just depending on how low the temperature is.

Best status possible at low temperatures:

Speeds between 1/500 and 1/125 are about one EV slower than the setting at temperatures near 0 degrees Celsius. In frost: 1/125 can stay open even in the best Pentacon Six if not kept warm before exposing the camera to the cold e.g. in a car, near the body under clothing or something similar.

Often found status after a common service:

At temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius: Speeds between 1/500 and 1/250 are about 1 EV slower than set on the dial, 1/125 stays open, or even the same behaviour at temperatures below (approx) 10 degrees Celsius.

Note: 1/60 is pretty exact at any temperature with almost any Pentacon Six, even with old lubrication!

Kind regards and all the best,

Rolf-Dieter Baier
baierfoto

This really is the most authoritative answer.

However, this picture in W G Heyde’s “Praktisix Buch” shows that camera apparently being used at near-zero temperature.


“Schneetreiben, Matsch, Regen” (“Snow flurries, Mushy snow, Rain”) Dr W G Heyde “Praktisix Buch” 1964 p. 134
[Praktisix_in_snow.jpg]

It may of course be that Dr Heyde took the above photograph while sheltering in a doorway, as perhaps indicated by the black area at the top-right of the picture, or even through an exceptionally large window.  The darker right-hand edge of the image is not a shutter fault but merely a shadow that occurred when scanning, at the join between two pages of the book.

Wise Precautions

I would point out that exactly the same care must be taken with modern, digital cameras, as batteries are very badly affected by the cold, so these cameras should be transported in a warm vehicle and when one is out in the cold they should be kept under thick, outdoor clothing until the moment of taking the photograph, and put back inside the clothing immediately after use, so that they again receive warmth from the body.

Examples of use of the Pentacon Six in near-zero and sub-zero temperatures in Heyde’s books

In his books on the Praktisix and the Pentacon Six, Heyde includes various photographs taken with these cameras at near-zero and sub-zero temperatures.  Here are three more examples.


Photograph by Jürgen Nagel
“Winterglanz” (“Wintertime”) in “Pentaconsix Praxis” 3rd edition 1980, p. 47

[Pentaconsix_im_Winter.jpg]

Photograph by Georg Renner
“Beginnender Schneesturm im Riesengebirge/ČSSR” (“Beginning of a Snowstorm in the Giant Mountains in Czechoslovakia”) in “Pentaconsix Praxis” 1st edition 1974 and 2nd edition 1975 p. 65

[Pentaconsix_im_Schneesturm.jpg].jpg

According to Wikipedia (here, consulted on 18th May 2020), the Pamir Mountains are a mountain range in Central Asia, at the junction of the Himalayas with the Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, Hindu Kush and Hindu Raj ranges. They are among the world’s highest mountains and extend through four countries, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China.

Information on Dr Heyde’s books can be seen here.




Photograph by Georg Renner
“Am Moskwingletscher (Pamir)” (“At the Moskwin Glacier in the Pamir Mountains”) in “Pentaconsix Praxis” 1st edition 1974 and 2nd edition 1975 p. 70, 3rd edition 1980 p. 56

[Pentaconsix_in_ice.jpg]

And in my experience

This family photograph from more than forty years ago was taken with my first Pentacon Six (non-TL) with the 80mm Biometar at f/14 and a shutter speed of 1/125 second on Kodacolor II, exposure metering from the Pentacon Six TTL metering pentaprism.

Scanned on an Epson Perfection V750 PRO with VueScan at 6400 dpi, the resultant image is approximately 119 cm × 119 cm (very nearly four feet wide × four feet high) and it has a file size of 566 Megapixels  – more than ten times that of a modern Medium Format digital camera such as the Pentax 645Z or the Fujifilm GFX 50S!

That day I spent quite some time out in the snow (and the evidence on one of the hats seems to indicate that some snowballs were thrown!).  This was not the only photograph that I took that day – and of course it was not the only occasion when I have taken photographs in snowy or icy conditions with a Pentacon Six.

I always carry the camera in the base of its case, and in cold conditions like this I keep the cover on and closed when not actually taking photographs.  Wearing a large, thick winter coat, I am able to unzip the front, put the camera inside and zip the front up again.  The result is not a fashion statement, but I do keep the camera warm.

We have had an 11" × 15" print of this on a wall in our home for years (with slight cropping of the left and the right of the image).  In the original (which can’t be appreciated fully on the internet), the gradual gradation of the skin tones (and elsewhere in the image) exemplifies the quality of medium format film, and one could if one wished count individual eyelashes!

Conclusion

We must all be grateful to Rolf-Dieter Baier for his decades of support for the Pentacon Six and the Exakta 66.  No-one knows more than he does about the functioning of this camera, its lubrication and its correct handling.  By taking the precautions that are required to protect any delicate precision instrument when it is to be used in a hostile environment, we can reliably continue to obtain great photographs with these cameras!




 

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© TRA  May 2020