The Pentacon Six- a cautionary tale

shoot-291I got interested in the Pentacon Six because of a hike.

I wanted to get something that would shoot medium format for a particular hike. I didn’t want to carry a huge flipping Kiev 88 CM. The hike was up a mountain, down another one, eight miles down a back country ravine via stream bed, and then a semi-technical climb up another mountain to take photos of an abandoned building. The Kiev is a little heavy to carry on that, considering it weighs around 10 pounds with backs and all, and the rest of my camping gear was around 23 pounds. I didn’t want to take a camera with me that added almost 50% to the weight I was carrying, so I started to research the alternatives. I happened on to the Pentacon Six. It was lighter than the 88, and had good glass options, so I went shopping.

I bought myself a bunch of heartbreak.

There were many opinions on-line about the camera. Many of them were negative. There were concerns about the film transport and spacing. But the glass lured me in. I pulled the trigger on an auction on eBay.

I forgot a fundamental truth. On eBay, no one can hear you scream.

The first camera showed up trashed. The seller and I worked it out and I was just out the return postage. Strike one. I found one that was supposedly in pristine shape, and got that one. While it was not DOA, the shutter cloth was in a bad way. Someone had violated a basic rule for cameras with cloth shutters. Always cap a lens when not shooting. Always. The shutter had been burned though by light coming through the lens. To make matters worse, it was beyond repair. The user never responded, and I got to pay cash for an unusable camera. Strike two.

Next up was a perfect looking camera freshly CLA’d by one of the recommended names on the Pentacon Six user boards. Jackpot, I thought. It came put of the box looking new and smelling of oil. Home run, I thought. I loaded it with film, walked outside, and advanced the lever for the first shot. I fired the shutter and got a satisfying click that sounded like the right speed. I smiled. Finally things were going right. I advanced it for the second shot.

Crunch.

It was stuck. No amount of fiddling got it to move. I took off the lens and found the mirror locked half way up. The mechanism was fully, fatally jammed.

Like I said, no one can hear you scream.

shoot-292After some fiddling around, the seller and I reached an accommodation neither one of us was happy with but was fair. Strike three. Game over.

So, I wish this hadn’t been a cautionary tale. I would have liked to had an interchangeable lens medium format that is lighter weight for hiking. As close as I will ever come is if I buy a Kiev 60. I think it says something about the Pentacon Six that a Russian clone is more reliable.

8 Comments

  1. From what I’ve read, Pentacon Sixes can be a bit finicky, but I believe that in the 2nd case at least the Bay would have refunded your money, they almost always err on the side buyer. While I would like one of those cameras myself, it might be worthwhile to get it from a reputable dealer with a several-month-warranty attached, so thanks for the heads-up 🙂

    • Andrew

      February 12, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      This was a few years back, and I don’t think that policy was in place at the time. I filed a complaint with paypal, but it didn’t do much good. I think the warranty is a good idea. I talk to repair guys of a now and then to see if one would replace the curtains for me, but most of them don’t even want to try.The only quote I got for the repair was $275.

  2. I can’t say I’m entirely confident in it, but I did exactly what you hint at and replaced my Pentacon Six with a new Kiev 60. Don’t use it a ton, but the film spacing is right on and it’s worked fine for the three or four years I’ve had it.

    Then again, the spring mechanism inside the shutter “pod” on my Kiev 88CM broke, and the repair man has had it for months. My friend at Emulsive Film donated his dead Kiev 88 body for parts, but the repair guy doesn’t seem to want to work on it…

    • Andrew

      August 29, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      I’ve never tried for a Kiev repair and want to find someone as well. No need yet, but it would be nice to know.

  3. Thanks for your experience with the Pentacon. It was something I contemplated for a few weeks. Ultimately, I was able to figure out that, if you are willing to settle for a 500C, an older 50mm C lens, and old style film back, you can put together a Hasselblad medium format camera for not too much more than you risk with purchase of a Pentacon….Assuming- as you always should- you may have to purchase low cost Ebay gear twice. The 500C is old and cumbersome, so you do get a bit of the East-Bloc feel of inconvenience; but you also get reliability.

  4. Hate so say it but I think it speaks more to the dangers of buying cameras from unknown buyers online. I have a Pentacon Six that I bought locally and it is the most reliable medium format camera I have and I have owned the Kieve 6C the predecessor of the Kiev 60 and to say the build tolerances of that camera were loose is being generous. With my Kiev if you did not really haul on the film advance lever it would advance the film but the shutter would not cock so you ended up with blank frames thanks to the double exposure prevention mechanism. I have even shot my Pentacon in -40 degree winters and it fires every time like clockwork. And the glass for it is better then anything else by leaps and bounds. I know it has been awhile but I would encourage you to try your hand at finding a good working model. Once you do it will serve you well. Keep in mind these were professional cameras and so many probably had thousands of frames put through them over several decades and then were stuck in a closet. Do that to any mechanical device and not have it completely serviced or even overhauled and you are asking for problems.

    • Andrew

      June 19, 2017 at 6:45 pm

      I think you’re right about buying from unknown parties. That was the heart of the problem. I toy with trying again of a now and then. I’ll probably try again next year, I’ve a resolution to not buy a new body this year. I may even get one of the West German Exacta 66 models, I haven’t decided yet.

  5. charlie horse

    July 9, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    I’ve got a Medalist … they took them into battle. Your Kiev 88 at ten pounds may be the only living vcamera that outweighs this thing. No replaceable lenses but otherwise …

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