The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

The History of the Pentacon Six

The Pentacon Six TLs & Praktisix/Pentacon Six export models

Pentacon Six TLs

Dates: apparently 1983/84 on

This version of the Pentacon Six TL incorporated modifications of standard Pentacon Six TL cameras.

I assume that the mask (right) supplied with the Pentacon Six TLs facilitated the contact printing of the negatives onto paper.
Perhaps three photographs were taken of each person: full-face, left profile and right profile.
This mask was presumably designed to be placed on the developed negatives when making contact prints,
to mask out the spaces between the frames, the film rebates (top and bottom edges) and the unexposed portions of the original full 6×6 frame.

(This is not the mask that was added to the film gate when the camera was modified.
For that, see the image below left.)


The modification was produced for the Czechoslovak (as they were at that time) police as an ID photo camera.  It was probably modified in Czechoslovakia and as such is not a variation produced by the Pentacon factory.

It produced sixteen (I believe!) vertical images with nominal dimensions of “4 × 6” cm.  Measuring the dimensions of the mask in the film gate in January 2019, I saw that the actual dimensions were approximately 4 × 4.5 cm.  More careful measurement of the film gate in another Pentacon Six TLs now indicates that the actual width of the gate is approximately 38mm.

I am grateful to Krzysztof from Warsaw, who in June 2019 gave me further information on the probable dimensions of the film gate:

I checked Polish law on identification documents in the eighties: 35x45 mm ID photos (for ID cards and passports) were required in Poland, so it is very likely, that the same dimensions were required in Czechoslovakia too.

Thank you,
Krzysztof, for this interesting information and for helping me to improve this page!

The “extra” approximately 3mm of width probably allowed for minor inaccuracies when placing the film under the above frame for the production of contact prints, 
and to ensure that the unexposed rebates between the frames were fully masked.

The camera’s standard “film-advance lever” was decoupled from film advance and only served to cock the shutter, lower the mirror and open the lens aperture to maximum.  The film was advanced by a knob that replaced the right-hand film spool knob (viewed from behind), and the correct spacing was determined by using a red window in the back of the camera.  The lever wind does not block after the 12th (and 24th) frame, as on standard Pentacon Six cameras, but after 18 frames.  However, this number includes the initial winding and firing before the first frame, so perhaps the actual usable number of frames is fifteen.  The lever wind block is released by a new, smaller, unblocking lever in the same position as the original lever (for the purpose of winding the film fully onto the take-up spool before opening the back).

Note the differences that have been incorporated in this modified version of the Pentacion Six TL:
  • Reduced-size film gate
  • New frame counter (red section visible in the above image)
  • Film is advanced by turning the arrowed knob (black on this camera) under the right-hand (take-up) film chamber
  • Film spacing is determined by viewing the numbers on the backing paper through a red window added to the camera back (with a hole in the pressure plate)
A consequence of this is that it is not possible to use 220 film with the Pentacon Six TLs.

The focussing screen is masked at each side, and the horizontal lines presumably show the vertical extent of the image that will be recorded on the film.

I surmise that the vertical broken line in the middle is a compositional aid for the police photographer.  No doubt for full-face images the subject’s nose must align with this line, whereas for left and right profiles perhaps the photographer was instructed to align this line with another facial detail, perhaps the rear edge of the eye.

The subject was probably seated on a stool or chair on a base that would rotate around the mid point of the seat, to speed up the process of taking three photographs without having to re-position the camera for each one.  (Such a procedure was used in U.K. prisons at the time, when a Gandolfi camera was used.)

The next two pictures give us better views of of the film-advance knob and of the camera throat and the focussing screen.



On this particular Pentacon Six TLs, the film-advance knob is not black but chrome.

Krzysztof has written again: “It might also be interesting that a red window added to P6 TLs to determine film spacing seems to be positioned centrally (am I right?).  If so, it would show numbers for 6x6 frames, which are 64 mm spaced.  This would make only 12 exposures and a nonsensical waste of film;  moreover the 3-frames mask supplied with TLs would be useless because it has much narrower frame spacing.”

I replied, “You are right that the red window is indeed positioned centrally.  This seems to me to have been an error at the design stage.  If narrower spacing was to be used, the window should have been near the top of the pressure plate.”  See the picture that shows the pressure plate, above, and the back of the camera, to the right here.

Krzysztof continues, “I think that a following explanation is much probable: since TLs were produced for the Police, non-standard 120 film was used, perhaps also produced for the Police. It might have markings for non-standard frame spacing printed on the backing paper.”

My reply: “The only solution for getting the new spacing would indeed have been to have different spacing printed on the backing paper, as you state.  As both East Germany and some other eastern European countries produced black and white film, this could probably have been arranged – and something that was required by the state security services would have been done!”

See the picture of 120 film backing paper, below.  It has not been practical to include the whole of the length of the backing paper, but this picture shows how the spacing is normally indicated on 120 film backing paper.  Of course, since at least the mid 1950s, most Medium Format film cameras have not needed to see these numbers, and have not had a red window, which could have “fogged” colour film!


Part of the backing paper for a 120 film.  The top two rows of numerals are for nominal 6×45 format.  Those in the middle are for 6×6, and those at the bottom are for 6×9.  The red window at the back of the Pentacon Six TLs could possibly have obtained suitable frame spacing by using the top two rows of numbers and dots, but perhaps the Czechoslovak police wanted more accurate spacing for their records.

Export models

The various Praktisix models and the Pentacon Six (+TL) were exported to many countries around the world.  Most of the exported cameras were the standard model of the day, but some of them had a special feature.

The special export versions of these cameras of which I am currently aware were:

Dual flash sockets cameras

A Praktisix/Pentacon Six collector reports:

“I consider most of the dual flash socket models to be export models to the US.  Almost all of these are found in the US, including a very rare late Praktisix (Model I).  The Pentacon Sixes with the “low TL” on the face plate are the most prominent of these.”

The other principal model of the Pentacon Six with the dual flash socket was the Hanimex Praktica 66, which is described in detail here.

I am grateful to the same expert for some of the further information on this page.

Pentacon Six TL Italia
Date(s): ? – 1987 – ?

A very smart Pentacon Six TL Italia.
I am surprised that this one was supplied with a plain prism – but then, professionals at the time often preferred to work with a hand-held meter.
The lens left the production line on 15th May 1987.  I note that it has an “export ring”, labelled “aus JENA” instead of “Carl Zeiss Jena” and “Bm” instead of “Biometar”.  However, the East German régime was increasingly confident, politically, boasting that the “country” was “internationally recognised”.
Accordingly, the lens is labelled “DDR”.


This was a version of the Pentacon Six TL that was marketed in Italy.  It appears to be an unmodified Pentacon Six TL that had presumably undergone an additional quality control by the distributors, who applied to the front of the camera (lower right, with the camera facing you) a smart blue Pentacon logo with the words “ITALIA PENTACON ITALIA”.  The camera illustrated, which was presumably manufactured in 1987, also has the shiny shutter release button without the concentric circles that had been seen on this button since the Praktisix was first introduced in 1956/57.

This version of the camera seems to be extremely rare, and I have only ever seen the one illustrated here and one other example.  According to other reports, the “ITALIA PENTACON ITALIA” logo was only applied to Praktica, that is 35mm, cameras.  However, this was clearly not the case.  At the same time, a guarantee sticker was put in the left-hand spool chamber.  This sticker enables one to see the date of sale of the camera.  As the above camera does not belong to me, I can’t easily check if the guarantee sticker is in it.

Versions with Italian logos

Over time, all three sticker variations had been used on Pentacon Six TL cameras:

  • Cattaneo (old)
  • Cattaneo (new)
  • Pentacon Italia.

Swiss Versions

  • Praktisix IIa with decal SP F Switzerland
  • Pentacon Six with decal SP F Switzerland.

Both Cattaneos and the SP Fs are extremely rare (one of each known).  The Italias are scarce.  The "low TL" and the Hanimex are almost common.  None of the export cameras are modified from the specifications of the original cameras.

For more information on Praktisix and Pentacon cameras in Italy, see here.

To go to the Bibliography, click here.

To go on to the next section, click below.
25 Similar cameras from other manufacturers, based on the Pentacon Six

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: August 2010, Minor clarification added: August 2023