The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

Where did these specialist cameras and lenses come from?

"Joint ventures"

The aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the communist centrally-driven economies of East Europe was for some people a very exciting time, with opportunities and possibilities that most of them had never seen before, or – in most cases – even dreamt of.  The buzz phrase was “joint ventures”.  The idea was that by combining the technical skills and the manufacturing base of the until-recently communist countries with the entrepreneurial skills of westerners, who were assumed all to be experienced in meeting the needs of demand-driven capitalist countries, the real potential of the workers and thinkers of the communist countries could at last be realised.  At the same time, money could be made.


Perceptions and Myths
It is true that in the ensuing chaos and high-level corruption in various former-communist countries, extremely small numbers of well-placed people, many of them from the former communist élite, made vast fortunes.  However, for the overwhelming majority of ordinary workers, the outcome was bleak.  As their countries opened their borders to imports from the non-communist world, local industries were not able to adapt fast enough.  What was more, in most countries people did not want to buy items “Made in Russia” or made in any other former communist country.  Just as “Made in West Germany” was believed to be synonymous with “high quality”, so “Made in [the name of any former communist country]” was believed to mean “low quality.”  Decades of shoddy workmanship and generally a total lack of quality control had flooded the market in the Ost Bloc with products that were often virtually rubbish, even when new.  In modern parlance, we might say that “the brand” was “toxic.”

The fact of the matter was that not everything made in West Germany, or elsewhere in the western world, was of high quality, and not everything made in the communist countries was of low quality, but in marketing, perceptions often matter more than fact, and not only did consumers in the western world on the whole not want to buy items manufactured in the former communist countries; their own populations did not want to buy them, either.  They believed, often mistakenly, that items manufactured in capitalist countries must be better, which of course was unlikely to be so in 100% of cases.

The result was that factories in all sectors and in all former-communist countries soon closed down.  They just could not find a market for their products – whether shoes, motorbikes, cameras, camera lenses or many other products.

The digital revolution
As they began to adjust in the second half of the 1990s to the demands of world markets, the traditional photographic industry world-wide was hit by another revolution, from which it has still not recovered: the advent of digital photography.  Initially, the results from digital cameras were vastly inferior to what film could produce, at least, with Medium Format cameras, but it didn’t matter: digital technology was what people wanted, and that is what they bought.

New players
Given this scenario, throughout the 1990s, small, new companies appeared in former communist countries, offering exciting new products, but then most of those companies disappeared again just as fast.  It is still not clear to people who were not insiders, there at the time, who was making what or which advertised products actually were manufactured and sold.

Enter Wiese Fototechnik
It appears that it was this market that Richard Wiese and his apparently small company from Hamburg, northern Germany, entered.  He may have manufactured some items, but it would appear that his main aim was to provide quality control and minor improvements to items coming to him from the east.  Worse, his suppliers might be there one day and gone the next.  Many of them were probably ex-employees of formerly major state companies such as Arsenal in Kiev, who used surplus unsold stock and in small workshops designed and manufactured largely-cosmetic improvements, such as more stylish lens mounts.

These small concerns and their western partners also sought to open up new marketing opportunities by exploiting the well-known high optical quality of the lens elements and the larger-than-necessary image circle produced by many of them, in order to design and manufacture shift and tilt lenses for medium format cameras and for some smaller formats, principally what is now known as “full frame” 35mm cameras (i.e., those with the format 24mm×36mm).  This is one area where they appear to have succeeded, although in such a specialist area of imaging, sales were never going to be huge.

Some great products were produced, but usually in extremely small quantities.  A few years later, they are very hard to find and usually command high prices when they do appear.

Arsenal (Kiev) Medium Format Cameras: The Book

In 2005 Richard Wiese and Gerd Nalaimischkis published "Das Kiev Mittelformathandbuch" ("The Kiev Medium Format Handbook"), which had been written by Lothar A Braas.  In an appendix written by Wiese and Nalaimischkis, this book states (p. 132, German original, then my translation into English):
Die Firmen WIESE FOTOTECHNIK, Hamburg, und HARTBLEI in Kiew arbeiten seit 1997 sehr eng zusammen.  Richard Wiese und Sergei Naumenko haben in den fast zehn Jahren Spezial-Objektive und viele Verbesserungen für Kiev-Kameras entwickelt und produziert.  Basis aller Entwicklungen sind die Bedürfnisse der Profis und engagierten KIEV-Fotografen.
Seit Jahren sind HARTBLEI und WIESE Spezialisten auf dem Gebiet der Mittelformat-Objektive (SHIFT und SHIFT-TILT-Objektive 45 und 65mm ...).

The companies WIESE FOTOTECHNIK, Hamburg, and HARTBLEI in Kiev have worked closely together since 1997.  For nearly ten years Richard Wiese and Sergei Naumenko have developed and produced special lenses and many improvements for Kiev cameras.  The basis of all developments is the needs of professional photographers and committed KIEV photographers.
HARTBLEI and WIESE have for years been specialists in the area of Medium Format Lenses (45mm and 65mm SHIFT and SHIFT-TILT lenses ...).

The authors go on to state:
Alle von ARSENAL gelieferte Kameras werden von HARTBLEI und WIESE zerlegt, durchgecheckt, gegebenfalls Teile ausgetauscht und neu mit sehr geringen Toleranzen aufwendig in Handarbeit aufgebaut.

All cameras delivered from ARSENAL are stripped down by HARTBLEI and WIESE, checked through, where necessary, parts are replaced, and then within very strict tolerances the cameras are rebuilt laboriously by hand.

You can see a further report on how helpful Richard Wiese was on a particular occasion here.

At the time of writing in January 2016, this book is still shown on the Wiese website, here:

To return to the review of Wiese 45mm shift lenses, click here.

To go onto the next section (Converters for the Pentacon Six) click here.

To return to lens data, click here.


© TRA January 2016 Revised February 2016