The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

The History of the Pentacon Six

Similar cameras from other manufacturers, based on the Pentacon Six

The principal camera that was directly based on the Pentacon Six – to the extent of using the same chassis! – was the Exakta 66 that was made between 1984 and 2000.  However, there had previously been cameras called “Exakta 66”, so we shall deal with them briefly first, to avoid any confusion, even though they are not based on the same design.

Older “Exakta 66” cameras

Note that the Exakta 66 of 1984-2000 is in no way related to three other cameras with the name “Exakta 66” that were available earlier in the 20th century.  We will therefore here give a brief summary of the earlier cameras that bore the name “Exakta 66”.

Exakta 6×6: 1939

Strictly-speaking, this camera was never called “Exakta 66”;  it was an Exakta camera for the 6×6 format and so is sometimes referred to as the “Exakta 6×6” (pronounced “six by six” in English, or “sechs mal sechs” in German), although this name did not appear on the camera, which simply bore the name “Exakta”.  In German it is sometimes called the “Exakta 6×6 quer”.  (In this context, “quer” is best translated “horizontal”.)

This camera had a trapezoid shape like the other Exakta SLR cameras that had come onto the market between 1936 and 1939. (Hummel p. 77)  Approximately 1,500 cameras were produced between August and November 1939  These cameras proved unreliable, and many were returned to retailers between 1939 and 1945 for repairs under warranty, according to Hummel (p. 134).

As was typical with Exakta cameras in the 1930s, the Exakta 6×6 has a wide range of speeds.  Speeds from 1/25 to 1/1000 plus B and Time are set on the left-hand knob, and a range of slow speeds extending all the way to 12 seconds is available via the right-hand knob.

The 1939 Exakta 6×6 had a lever wind!  – but oddly-placed (to our way of thinking) at the bottom of the camera, and for use with the left hand.
Exakta 6×6: 1951

According to Hummel, this was only slightly changed from the 1939 model, the main difference being that the waist level finder could be removed, as a prism was planned.  Assembly began with remaining parts from the 1939 model plus some newly-manufactured parts.  However, the film transport problems of the 1939 model had not been overcome, and the camera never entered serial production.  Hummel reports that only about 350 cameras were built in 1951.
(Hummel p. 134)

Illustration to the right from Hummel, page 134.  It is also reproduced (probably from the same source) in “EXAKTA Collection” by Aguila and Rouah.
They point out the addition of two “vacublitz” sockets for flash, and the re-location of the film advance lever to the other side of the camera (compared with the 1939 model).

1953-1954 Exakta 66

This camera was first shown at the Leipzig Spring Fair in 1953.

It was of a totally different design from the previous Exakta 66 cameras, having a vertical shape and a removable film magazine.  In German it is sometimes called the “Exakta 6×6 hoch”.  (In this context, “hoch” is best rendered in English by the word “vertical”, even though that is not the normal translation of the word.)

After production delays, little more than 100 cameras were produced in 1953.  (See Hummel p 116, p.136)

The design does perhaps strike the modern eye as unusual, but in fact the shape seems to have been consciously inspired by that of the popular Twin Lens Reflexes of the day, especially the Rolleiflex, but with the advantages of being a Single Lens Reflex: no parallax problems (mis-match between the image in the viewfinder and the image recorded on film), availability of inter-changeable lenses, as well as bellows and tubes for close-up work, etc.

In use, it sits extremely comfortably in the hand (like the Rolleiflex!), and it is capable of delivering images of superb quality.


Here, again, are the two shutter speed dials – but also an unusual winding key in the shape of a wing-nut, rather inspired by some movie cameras, I think.  A half-turn suffices to advance the film, cock the shutter and re-position the mirrors.

More unusual design features.  The camera is modular, with removable lens, back, finder and focussing screen – although it is not possible to remove the back part-way through a film!
In theory, a prism could have been fitted to the camera, although one was never produced for it.

Another surprise feature!  The mirror is in two parts and the bottom section folds down when the shutter is fired.  This allowed for a full-sized mirror that did not cause vignetting in the viewfinder even with long lenses – and made sure that the extra-large mirror didn’t hit the back of the lens!
This feature was copied by some Japanese manufacturers.  What a pity that it was not incorporated into the Praktisix/Pentacon Six.
A serial production of 10,000 cameras was planned for 1954, but in fact only about 2,250 left the factory, according to Hummel (p.136).  Some users loved the camera and produced excellent pictures with it, sometimes with some of the telephoto lenses that were available for it.  However, problems with the camera and in the factory led to the project being abandoned  in 1955. (Hummel, p. 137)

Right: A picture of Sam Sherman taken in 1974 with the 1954 Exakta 66 SLR, which gave him good service.
Here you can see the Meyer-Optik f/3.5 180mm Primotar lens mounted on the camera.


Accessories for the Exakta 66 “vertical”?  Novoflex SIXBIG bellows, and ...

In March 2023 Martin Grahl of Novoflex has sent me high quality images of Novoflex bellows for the Exakta 66 “vertical”, and I am delighted to be able to reproduce them here with his permission.

He tells me that these show
“a seldom-seen Novoflex SIXBIG bellows for the Exakta 66 vertical.  It is the second version of [the] bellows, with hollow rods to accept the BIGSON bellows lens hood”.  (See the second picture, below.)

Martin tells me that
due to the very low production numbers of the Exakta 6x6 Vertical, the bellows model is seldom seen.  He tells me that the SIXBIG bellows seem to have been catalogued between 1954 and 1961.
My thanks to Fotografenmeister Andreas Marx of Novoflex for these further new superb photographs!

Pictures of the first version of the bellows, with solid rods, can be seen below.

Martin also tells me:

“At the German federal archive I found the following image:

It shows the prototype of an Ihagee bellows for the Exakta 66 Vertical displayed at the Leipzig fair in 1953.  Probably based on the Ihagee Vielzweckgerät, it apparently never came to the market.”

It is interesting to note that in this image we can also see a 90º viewfinder mounted on the camera.  I believe that the viewfinder in the image was never marketed.

Clicking on each of the images opens a larger copy of it.

Exakta 66 vertical with Novoflex SIXBIG bellows unit

Novoflex SIXBIG bellows unit on Exakta 66 vertical, with the BIGSON bellows lens hood mounted

Exakta 66 vertical with Novoflex SIXBIG bellows unit, side/rear view

Novoflex SIXBIG bellows, version I

As Martin Grahl explains above, the second version of the SIXBIG bellows had hollow rods in order to accept the BIGSON bellows lens hood, while the first version, which can be seen in these two photographs, had solid rods.

Clicking on each of the images opens a larger copy of it, although not in very high resolution with these two pictures.

Rear view of the same unit

SIXBIG First version, with solid rods, shown with an Exakta 66 vertical of 1953-54

To go to the Bibliography, click here.

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26 The Exakta 66 (1980s on)

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© TRA June 2010  Latest revision: March 2023