The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

The History of the Pentacon Six

A half-hearted Attempt at Revival

Heinrich Mandermann
with the Exakta 66
Pictures from fotoMagazin,
August 1990
Heinrich Mandermann, who ran the firm that for decades imported East German photographic equipment into West Germany, and who had purchased the Schneider-Kreuznach optical manufacturers, introduced some improvements to the Pentacon Six in the mid 1980s with his version, which he named the Exakta 66, but he failed to address the two core issues:
  • the shutter design
  • the size of the focussing screen.
He tried to make potential buyers think that they were buying a new camera design, when in fact they were buying a 30-year old design, coupled with superb, but ultra-expensive, Schneider Kreuznach lenses.  Not enough people were taken in, and so ultimately the Exakta 66 was not a commercial success.  Minor improvements were made in the 1990s, but without a bold re-design of the key points named here, the camera was doomed to fail, and eventually production ceased in the year 2000.

Interview with fotoMAGAZIN

In August 1990, the West German “fotoMAGAZIN” published an interview with Heinrich Mandermann, whom it dubbed “the German camera king”.  As well as discussing the future of Rollei, Praktica and other brands with which Mandermann was involved (or owned), they asked him about the Exakta 66, framing the question in the following way:
“Is the Exakta 66  the only child that you are still worried about?”

Mandermann’s reply was interesting:  “The Exakta is a sort of hobby of mine.  I must admit that initially it was a flop, but it is paying its way since I rationalized the production here to one man.”

By “here” Mandermann must have meant in West Germany (as it still was at that point in time).  The body came of course from East Germany and other components came from other suppliers, apparently in West Germany, so the one man was essentially involved in final assembly (rather like the one lady who assembled Hasselblad’s SWC/M cameras for many years – see here).

fM’s next question was: “How many cameras can the One-Man-Team produce per year?”

Mandermann:  “We sell 600 to 700 cameras a year.  After the discontinuation of the Pentacon Six the Exakta [66] now has somewhat of a unique position in the market, which should take care of the additional push in demand.”

[Translation by me]

Medium Format camera sales have never been on the same scale as 35mm sales, so annual sales of 600 to 700 do not sound that bad.  However, with Mandermann viewing this camera as his “hobby”, it is perhaps not surprising that there was not a single advertisement for the camera in fotoMagazin in the whole of 1990.

It is also not surprising that, according to reports, some of the people at Schneider Kreuznach resented their prestige lenses being associated with a camera body that they considered was not being taken seriously by the company’s owner nor by professional photographers, who were the main market for their products – although there was a new advertising campaign for the “Exakta” range of photographic products (most of which were imported from manufacturers in the Far East) in 1991.  A high-quality four-page full-colour advertisement appeared in fotoMAGAZIN (and elsewhere) in November 1991.  The Exakta 66 featured prominently in photos on two of the pages, and in the text on one of them.

It is a credit to the original design that, 54 year years after the Praktisix was first sold, examples of the Exakta 66 and even of the Praktisix are still reliably producing outstanding photographs.

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37 Notes on camera serial numbers

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© TRA June 2010, Revised November 2011