The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

The Faulty Part with the Pentacon Six

The Pentacon Six sold for less than many 35mm cameras, and much less than other Medium Format cameras.   Profit margins on sales of the Pentacon Six were therefore lower, and many retailers did not want to sell it.  Often they tried to justify this decision by saying that it was unreliable.  This argument helped them to persuade buyers looking for a Pentacon Six to buy a different brand of camera, one that was stocked by their shop!

Kissing and the Pentacon Six

To back up this claim of unreliability, there were stories of Pentacon Six cameras where the frame spacing was irregular, and where there were sometimes overlapping frames.  These stories continue to the present day, and it is clear that some users have had and now still do have problems with over-lapping frames, or at least what some users call “kissing frames”: frames where the edges of the images on the film touch each other, not leaving enough space to cut the film into strips while still leaving an edge to be gripped by the film holder in the enlarger or scanner.  In consequence, various modifications of the Pentacon Six have been proposed, to “cure” this “problem”.

There have been two principal routes to effect this cure:

1)  Add a red window to the camera back
This is the “old-fashioned” way to deal with spacing with 120 film.  A hole is cut in the camera back and the pressure plate, so that the numbers printed on the film backing paper can be seen through a red window that is inserted into the back.  This will work perfectly, but introduces its own problems:
a)  The system was fine on other cameras in the 1930s-1950s, when film speeds were low.  There is now the danger, especially with high-speed film, that some fogging of the film could happen (i.e., some of the red light might reach the film).
b)  This will prevent you ever using 220 film, which has no backing paper on most of its length.
c)  Operation with this system is much slower than just using the lever wind.

2)  Add a film advance control mechanism
This is the speciality of, and I do not doubt that it will work faultlessly.  So – as far as I can see – the only disadvantage is the cost of installing it.
I have never installed this, because I have never found it necessary with any of the many Pentacon Sixes and Exakta 66s that I have owned.  It may be right for you, and that is for you to decide.  Baierfoto also offer other upgrades and improvements, and you are certainly advised to visit their website if you have a Pentacon Six or Exakta 66.  See it here.

Why have you not had a problem?

The question must of course be asked, “Why have you, TRA, not had film spacing problems?”

Remember, I do not make these cameras.  I do not repair or service them.  I very rarely sell one of them (though my wife wishes that I would sell a few of the many that I have!).
To be fair, I must say that I did once have a film spacing problem with a Pentacon Six bought on eBay – but the spacing was too wide, and I only got 10 frames on my test film.  I sent the camera to Pentacon Service in Dresden, and they fixed the problem at the same time that they installed the mirror pre-release (MLU).  So the Pentacon Six – like any other item of mechanical equipment designed and made by human beings – can develop a fault.  And that fault can be fixed.  I have also had Hasselblad cameras in good condition totally jam up in spite of careful use.  It is possible for a part to fail, and this may happen – but it is extremely rare – a lot rarer than the number of problems that are honestly reported and clearly have been experienced.

So what is going on?

The faulty part with the Pentacon Six

I think that the answer was provided by an e-mail that I received from a Pentacon Six user recently.  He wrote this:

I have known your site for at least 3 years, since I bought a Kiev88CM.  Now I have a Kiev60 and a Pentacon Six as well!  These are all for letting me use my set of beautiful lenses from Flektogon 50mm to Sonnar 180mm.

Kiev88CM has a serious shutter problem; I cannot use it.  Kiev 60 has slight frame overlapping; otherwise fine.

Pentacon Six had terrible frame overlapping!

After reading your related pages and doing the suggested test, I can safely label "myself" as the faulty part!
What a relief!

Tomorrow, I will be loading a fresh film to my lovely PSix.

Many thanks for your most informative site on Pentacon Six.


Last year the specialist repairer of Pentacon Sixes (and many other fine brands of cameras), Tom Page, kindly let me browse some of his repairs records from the past thirty years or more.  I noticed that when he received a Pentacon Six with “spacing” or “frame overlapping” problems, he first checked everything and carried out a full test with film in the camera.  On his record card he often then wrote “N.F.F.”.
I asked him, “What does ‘N.F.F.’ mean?”
He replied, “No Fault Found.”
Of course, if he did find a fault, he fixed it, but usually there was “No Fault Found”.

So what is going on?

The key to accurate frame spacing with the Pentacon Six (+TL) and the Exakta 66 is the spindle that feels the film and is turned by the film as it advances.  This is the equivalent of the sprocket wheels on 35mm cameras.  Unfortunately (?), 120 and 220 format films do not have sprocket holes.  Yet the Pentacon Six and Exakta 66 can give perfectly spaced frames.  For this, the film must be loaded very tightly.  Just follow my loading instructions and it is highly probable that you will have no problems.  If you do have a spacing problem, it would appear that you have a camera fault that with these cameras is extremely rare.  Once you have had the failed or damaged part repaired, the camera should work faultlessly for decades.  At least, mine have.

Bear in mind that the original loading instructions with the cameras in the 1960s were not very clear about how to load the camera, though in later years this was corrected.  This is why I recommend that you follow my instructions, which are a modification of the instructions published by Ron Spillman in the early 1970s.

Another warning

Another problem that surprised me with Tom’s records was the times I saw the phrase “Camera has been tampered with.”  When I asked him about this, he said that he believed that the tampering had often been done by “camera repairers” who were not familiar with the camera.  In fact, a significant proportion of the cameras that he repaired had been sent on to him by other repairers!  You see why I recommend that you send your camera to Tom Page if you are in the UK, or indeed in some other parts of the world, or to Pentacon Service in Dresden (who are the only people who offer their MLU upgrade).  There are, of course, also some other repairers in various parts of the world who are familiar with the Pentacon Six and Exakta 66, and will do a good service job on them.  Some of them are listed here.

But, as a starting point, if you believe that you have spacing problems, first follow my loading instructions, here.  You may discover the faulty part, and it may not be in the camera!

To go to the Frequently-Asked Questions, click here.

To go to introduction to the cameras, click here.

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© TRA January 2011