I’ve always wanted a Pentacon Six. it’s one of those medium format cameras that even though are known to be unreliable, something about them has always grabbed me. I held off buying one for the longest time until I stumbled upon a Praktisix IIa on ebay for cheap. It had a few issues but I couldn’t pass it up. After a few short weeks I had taken delivery and already sent it off for a full CLA at Mainline Photographics in Sydney. While it was in for a tune up, I ordered a new waist level finder and replacement reflex mirror for it. It came with a metered prism as well. I then spent some time learning all I could about the fickle P6 and how to get the most out of it and it’s venerable Zeiss Biometar 80mm, f/2.8.
The first thing that struck me was just how tricky they are to load, there is a whole process around film loading that, if isn’t followed strictly will end up giving uneven frame spacing. After digging around the internet and reading manuals and forums I felt I had the idea right and even though the first load was a fail for me, second time I got it right. The technique described in the original manual is listed below. Although it’s good to watch a video to see it in action as there are a few tips missing from the original text.
One of the things that tripped me up at first was assuming that the frame counter resets to zero when you open the back as many cameras do, this is not the case. There is a small silver button flush with the camera back located below the wind lever where the thumb sits, use your nail to depress this and the counter jumps back to a green flag, ready to start frame counting, when you are finished the 12th shot, the frame counter displays a red flag indicating the film is finished. You can continue winding however as it’s just a reminder.
Film loading aside it feels and behaves just how you’d expect it to, the shutter dial is on the left top side and has speeds from B – 1/1000th sec with an extra click stop at 1/60th for flash sync. The shutter itself is a horizontally travelling fabric focal plane shutter. The winder has a long throw and needs to be fully wound until it stops at the bumper before gently returning it, I’ve read that letting it flick back can cause issues, although no where can I find exactly what the reason for this is or what said issues actually are. (for now I’m following the classic wisdom on the matter). It’s important to also discuss the shutter sound as this is often overlooked and has a very real impact on the feel of using a particular camera. The P6 shutter is a kind of soft thunk, It never really feels sure of itself despite what speed is set, although considering this is a medium format SLR it’s nice that it’s so quiet. It’s certainly no RB67.
The P6 features a breach lock lens mount in which a locking ring is turned to release or secure the attached lens. My particular copy came with the standard Carl Zeiss Jena 80mm f/2.8 Biometar. A lens with a cult following and for good reason, a quick flickr search yields some amazing results and I really look forward to seeing what sort of limits I can get out of this lens and I’ll soon add a Zeiss Flektogon 50mm to this kit for some wide angle action.
Despite feeling like an oversized SLR and having a little heft, it actually seems lighter than you’d expect, I’d have no problem carrying this around all day and with the included neck strap, it’s easy to sling over a shoulder, what more can I say about this. It fits in my collection in a place I’ve been long waiting to fill and given some early results it looks like it will also be part of my regular rotation.
Here are some examples:
UPDATE: I’ve had some inconsistent results and have sent it back to Mainline for them to check over! I also have a name ring for the Zeiss Biometar coming from Germany to complete this camera. I’ll add some more info here soon so keep your eye out.