The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

The History of the Pentacon Six

The Praktisix

Dates: 1956 (prototypes only); 1957-1964

Note the KW logo on the camera’s top plate and on the front of the “waist-level” finder.
Underneath the logo on the top plate is the word “Germany” – not “GDR”, “DDR” or “German Democratic Republic”,
terms which were only introduced widely in about 1963 after the building of the Berlin Wall.
(See clearer picture of this here.)
This example of the camera is fitted with 80mm Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens, which was an optional upgrade.
Note the lack of any cover on the frame number window within the film advance lever.

KW’s advertising described the new PRAKTISIX medium format camera as “Ein Meisterstück Deutscher Präzisionsarbeit” (“A masterpiece of German precision manufacturing”).  Perhaps there was in this slogan a deliberate echo of the name of the previous Medium Format SLR that had been in its final months assembled by KW: the Meister-Korelle.

The Praktisix was a medium format single lens reflex camera delivering 12 2¼ square (6 × 6 cm) negatives on 120 rollfilm, with a horizontal-travel rubberised cloth focal plane shutter speeded from 1 second to 1/1000, plus B, with X flash synchronisation.  The camera had a flat base (no protruding spool knobs) and the lower spool holder at each side could be bent down on a spring-loaded arm once the back was open, to facilitate film loading.  Jehmlich states (p. 78) that the Praktisix was in 1957 the first Medium Format SLR in the world with automatic aperture control (“ASB” – Automatische Springblende).

Totally unlike the vertical box shape of well-established Rollei twin-lens medium-format camera and the short-lived 1950s “Exakta 66” (see below), like the Korelle models and the 35mm Praktina, the Praktisix transported the film horizontally and was more reminiscent of 35mm single-lens reflex cameras.  The “British Journal of Photography” review of 10 December 1965 said, “... most users would find the Praktisix the quickest in action of all 6 × 6 SLR’s, handling in this respect very similarly to a 35 mm camera.”


When this camera was launched in 1956, the publicity described it as “fully automatic”, which at that time appeared to mean:
1) When the film was advanced, the same action:

  • lowered the mirror to the taking position
  • cocked the shutter
  • advanced the frame number by one
  • opened the lens to maximum aperture;
2) When the shutter was fired, the lens automatically stopped down to the chosen aperture

It was of course supplied with a waist-level finder and standard lens only, but the manufacturer’s literature described its features as including:

  • interchangeable finder attachments
  • interchangeable lenses
  • bayonet mount
  • fast wind lever
  • fully automatic spring diaphragm with the whole aperture mechanism inside the camera
  • focal plane shutter with speeds to 1/1000 sec
  • easy shutter speed adjustment (all speeds were simply set on one shutter speed dial)
  • removable viewfinder
  • interchangeable focussing screens
  • built-in delayed action
  • flash synchronisation
  • angled shutter release
  • wide range of accessories
  • removable back
The back was described as hinged but removable.  Presumably there was some thought of providing alternative backs or film holders, although this never became reality.

There was a film speed memo dial in ASA and DIN on the back.  This had to be set from inside the camera before loading film.

Inside the Praktisix.
Note the following features:
  • the strange “fluted” shape of the guide rails above and below the film gate, matched by slotted lines on the pressure plate.  It is assumed that the purpose of this was to stretch out the film as it advanced, and improve film flatness.  However, it presumably proved unnecessary, as this detail was abandoned in subsequent versions of the camera.
  • To the left of the pressure plate is the dial that could be adjusted before loading the film, to show the film speed on the back of the camera.
  • The film counter did not return to zero when the back was opened.  To achieve this, the arrowed button had to be pressed.

The first publicity did not show any lenses, but stated that interchangeable lenses in focal lengths from 60 to 300mm were planned, using the “proven Praktina screw bayonet”.  In fact, no 60mm lens was ever offered.  The widest that was soon thereafter available was the slightly less wide 65mm Flektogon, introduced in September 1956.

The standard lens was initially an 80mm f/3.5 Meyer-Optik Primotar E or an 80mm Zeiss Tessar.  The Primotar had an automatic diaphragm (actuated by a lever in the camera throat pressing on the diaphragm pin), but it also had the pre-set ring that enabled the user to open to full aperture for focussing and then stop down quickly to the pre-set aperture without having to look at the lens, before firing.  In practice, this can be justified as providing a depth-of-field check, as neither the camera body nor the lens has a depth-of-field lever.  The lens focussed to a close 0.8 m and stopped down to f/16

The four-element f/2.8 80mm Tessar from Carl Zeiss, Jena was produced in the Praktisix mount from at least September 1956 (Thiele, p 240).  This had the automatic diaphragm pin and the tiny stop-down lever that will be familiar to all owners of the subsequent 80mm Biometar.  It focussed down to fractionally under 1 meter and stopped down to f/22.

By 1958 there was a prism viewfinder and the manufacturer’s literature now stated that lenses from 65mm to 300mm were planned.

From March 1959 the five-element f/2.8 80mm Biometar from Carl Zeiss Jena became available in the Praktisix mount.  This subsequently became the standard lens supplied with the camera and its successors.

The first 50mm Flektogons began to be produced in very small numbers in 1960.

The Praktisix with the 80mm Meyer Primotar E
This Praktisix has one of the first prisms that were available for the camera,
as can be seen from the KW logo, the dark diamond background of which is just about distinguishable on its front surface.
Development of the camera

A later version of the Praktisix.
Note the following changes that are visible in this photograph:
  • the KW logo has disappeared from the top plate of the camera.  In its place is the post that stops the advance lever.  This change was apparently introduced in 1958.
  • the Pentacon logo on the “waist-level” finder
  • the Biometar 80mm lens

By 1959 the extension tubes and the bellows were being advertised, as well as the special pressure plate for photographic  glass plates, preferably 6.5 × 9 cm (for single exposures).

By 1962, if not earlier, the magnifying finder was available and by 1962 the lens range was from 50mm to 1000mm, although the longest lens with automatic diaphragm was the 180mm Zeiss Sonnar.  The only 300mm lens at the time was the manual (pre-set) Meyer Telemegor with a maximum aperture of f/4.5.  There was at the time no 500mm lens.

Factory literature from 1963 shows four accessories for the prism:

  • the focussing telescope or magnifier (“Einstellfernrohr”)
  • the right-angle finder
  • the eye cup with correction lens holder (to compensate for user eyesight requirements)
  • the accessory (flash) shoe
 – although as these items had been available in the 1950s for the Praktina, they were probably also available before 1963 for the Praktisix.

In 1959 VEB Kamerawerke Niedersedlitz, East Germany, became part of the VEB Kamera- und Kinowerke Dresden, which in turn became part of Kombinat VEB Pentacon in 1968.  This led to the gradual disappearance of the KW logo from the camera and its accessories.

You can see a very special (probably unique) Praktisix here.

Other features

The shutter speed dial could be rotated freely, with no détentes (click stops) for the shutter speeds.

The camera had a 3/8” tripod bush on the base of the camera.

The Praktisix continued in production until 1964, and was inevitably still being sold new by some shops in 1965.

Praktisix Cases

The first case supplied for the Praktisix looked remarkably like the case for KW’s top 35mm SLR, the Praktina (here on the right.)

After the introduction of the prism, a larger case was designed, still produced in brown leather in accordance with the style of the day.  This is essentially the same as the subsequent standard Pentacon Six case, lacking only the holes in the base of the case for the spool release knobs, which were introduced on a subsequent model.

The very first prisms had the KW logo.  This one has the Pentacon symbol, the Ernemann Tower, as does the front of the case.


The new “ever-ready” case for the camera with the prism.
(This camera has the Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens on it.)
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17 The Praktisix II

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© TRA August 2010, Revised October 2015