The History of the Pentacon Six
Notes on Camera Serial Numbers
Why be interested in Serial Numbers?
Owners of Pentacon Six cameras often want to know in which year their camera was produced. The serial number should give detailed information on this. With Carl Zeiss Jena we generally know the exact date that a lens left the production line. Unfortunately, no such information has as yet been discovered for Pentacon cameras, as far as I am aware. The date of manufacture of the lens on the camera is at best an approximate guide to date, and often of no use at all, for two reasons:
(Biometar lenses were frequently produced in batches of 5,000, and in a number of years less than 5,000 cameras were made.)
places, depending on the model. The following
pictures illustrate the locations and styles that I
Note that, for reasons of security, serial numbers that are visible in photographs on this website have generally been changed by me on the computer. Collectors should therefore not base calculations on the numbers appearing here or elsewhere on this website. They are for illustrative purposes only.
In his book “Spiegelreflexkameras aus
Dresden”, Richard Hummel gives the production numbers of
Medium Format SLR cameras (and indeed for other
cameras), according to the official State Yearbook of
the GDR. The data is on pages 157-160.
Gerhard Jehmlich quotes some of the same figures (p.
228), but only for the years 1964-1989. We are
interested in the years 1957 to 1990. Here is the
data from Hummel, to which I have added an additional
column with the cumulative total. All of these
cameras are the Praktisix, Praktisix II, Praktisix IIA,
Pentacon Six, Pentacon Six m, Hanimex Praktica 66,
Pentacon Six TLs, Pentacon Six TL-M and Pentacon Six
TL. Included in these numbers are also
the bodies that were supplied to West Germany for
conversion into the Exakta 66 Mk I – Mk III.
Other medium format SLRs
According to Hummel (p 158), 350 6 × 6 SLRs were produced in 1951. On page 134 he states that these were a pilot production of a modified version of the 1939 Exakta 66. On page 120 he states that about 2,500 Meister Korelles were produced “between 1947 and 1952”, but these are not indicated in any of the figures that he gives for medium format SLR production between those dates in his table 216 on page 158.
His figures also indicate that 118 6 × 6 SLRs were produced in 1953, and 2,250 in 1954. These must be the short-lived vertical Exakta 66 of the 1950s.
Are these Production Numbers reliable?
The opinions of
collectors on this are divided. Hummel himself
writes (p. 157), “Trotz aller Sorgfalt sind im
rechtlichen Sinn alle Zahlangaben der Produktionsdauer
und der Produktionsstückzahlen als Angaben ohne Gewähr
According to the same source, no 6 × 6 SLRs were produced in 1955 and 1956, with Medium Format SLR production re-commencing in 1957. This was the Praktisix, and thereafter the only Medium Format SLRs produced in the GDR were the Praktisix (in its various versions), the Pentacon Six and the Pentacon Six TL. (Prototypes of the Praktisix were produced in 1956, but these were not for sale to the public, and therefore not listed in the figures.)
Hummel states on
page 153 that in November 1988 the 200,000th camera of
the Pentacon Six type left the factory. Serial
number evidence indicates that this is in fact
probably accurate, with the highest serial number at
the end of production two years later probably being
in the 206 (or 207?) thousands.
My own opinion is that it must be borne in mind that these figures are from the official GDR State Statistical Yearbook, so two factors can have led to inaccuracy:
1) In the centrally-planned economy of the communist régime, all factories were given target production numbers, and failure to meet those numbers could lead to serious consequences up to and including imprisonment for staff deemed to have failed (or “sabotaged production”, in the politically-charged terminology of the dictatorship). It would therefore not be surprising if some mis-reporting took place in the submission of figures to the organs of the State.However, we have three sources for Praktisix / Pentacon Six / Exakta 66 (etc) serial numbers:
As with any complex manufacturing process at the end of which there is quality control, some cameras will have been rejected. (Incidentally, this did not appear to happen in the Soviet Union, with very many faulty cameras finding their way into shops and even being sold!) The same collector says:
“The Praktisix/Pentacon six is a very complex camera with several hundred individual components. Though I guess there were several unit tests along the way, some faults could only be tested in the final product. If a camera was found faulty in the final production test and it was scrapped, the serial number was very probably not reused and the part of the camera with the serial number was not recovered either. A yield loss of maybe 2% in the final test would probably be fully acceptable with this camera. i.e. the serial numbers may be slightly higher than the production numbers.”
Serial Numbers and Dating
It must be emphasised that the numbers in the above table are production numbers, not serial numbers. The highest serial number for a Pentacon Six TL is somewhere between 206 thousand+ and 207 thousand+ We will try to achieve more accurate serial numbers and dates below.
Two factors affect the relationship between serial numbers and dates of manufacture:
“KW/Pentacon followed different schemes for different products revising these with the years. For instance, the Praktinas started with serial 20001, with the prototypes in a separate three digit system. The Praktisix serial numbers started with 10001, with the prototype bodies serial numbers embedded in the production serials. Prototype Praktisix bodies had one serial number - the regular production number, while prototypes of the II and IIA had prototype numbers in addition to the regular production numbers. Prototype II and IIA bodies both have serials late in the Praktisix (I) range - around 1964. The serial numbers were continued with Praktisix II and IIA, but with the introduction of the Pentacon six, the serial numbers were set back to a lower number.” [TRA: probably 501].
Armed with this information, we can attempt to correlate serial numbers to years, but this is dependent on calculations based on information available at the time of writing. At a future date, new information may appear that will result in the need to revise these calculations.
Note that because Pentacon Six serial numbers started at a low number and extended beyond 200,000, there are Praktisixes with the same serial number as Pentacon Sixes, but as these are essentially two different cameras, this does not cause problems. (There are too many technical differences for a Praktisix to be converted to a Pentacon Six.)
I assume that on average over the years 2% more cameras were made (and therefore received a serial number) than appeared in the Production Numbers summary given in the GDR Yearbook as quoted by Hummel.
(1) The earliest and latest known serial numbers are based on data gathered by collectors (mostly in Germany and the UK) and on a large database of the repair and service records of the principal UK repairer of these cameras. While the work done has been thorough, inevitably the data available is incomplete.
(2) The transition from the Praktisix II to the Praktisix IIA seems to have been gradual. Perhaps there was a time in the factory when both models were being completed. Thus it is not a great surprise that there is an “overlap” of serial numbers, with some Praktisix II cameras with a slightly higher serial number than the lowest-numbered Praktisix IIA cameras.
Our collector writes, “When the Pentacon six was started, they didn’t wait for New Year to begin production! So there is a gap between Praktisix IIA and Pentacon six production numbers.”
I will here assume that 235 of the
medium format SLRs produced at the end of 1966 were
Pentacon Sixes. This would change the final
line of the above table, reducing the numbers of
Praktisix IIA cameras by 235, as shown in the following
There are reports of a Pentacon Six being offered with a serial number in the five hundreds. I will therefore also assume that the starting serial number for the Pentacon Six was 501. These assumptions yield the following table:
Pentacon Six & Pentacon Six TL, and cameras derived from them
*Other known Hanimex Praktica 66 serial number: 20566
(1) In November 1983 a Pentacon Six with the serial number 32649 was received for repair. The production number evidence given above would lead one to suppose that this body was produced in 1970, at which time all bodies should have been receiving a Pentacon Six TL face plate. One must assume that this body (and perhaps others from the same batch) had left-over Pentacon Six (non TL) face-plates applied to them. In the GDR, where the first post-war Contax S cameras had left the factory without the delayed-action lever because of a lack of parts (see details here), and where throughout its history there were shortages of virtually everything, one should not be surprised if older stocks of parts that came to light were not simply thrown away, but used even when perhaps they should not have been.
(2) Some cameras manufactured in 1969 also had “Pentacon Six” faceplates to which “TL” had subsequently been added on the line below during the manufacturing process.
(3) It is difficult to determine with certainty the earliest genuine Pentacon Six TL serial number, as there is documentary evidence that a number of Pentacon Sixes have been upgraded by replacing the original front plate with a TL front plate. It is almost certain that official distributors, such as CZ Scientific Instruments in the UK, would not have done this, but many independent repairers had spare parts from the factory and some are known to have upgraded Pentacon Six cameras to the Pentacon Six TL specification. Thus, a body with serial no 4066, which was almost certainly produced in 1967, was received for repair in November 1985 with a Pentacon Six TL face plate. It is not possible to see how this could have been fitted to the camera during the manufacturing process.
One must ask whether the same applies to body 7303, which was received for repair in January 1985 with a Pentacon Six TL face plate. This camera was apparently manufactured in the middle of the 1968 production run. Perhaps the body was not completed in the correct sequence, and thus a Pentacon Six TL face plate was applied to it.
Body number 12794 is referred to in the table above. After that body, the next numbers in our database of Pentacon Sixes repaired in the UK are all in the eighteen thousand nine hundreds: 18948, 18961, 18974, 18993, then into the nineteen thousands.
One must also bear in mind that batches of cameras were sent to different countries, which may account for the “clustering” of numbers (groups of numbers that are near each other) in any given market, and for “gaps” in the sequences of numbers recorded in any given market.
The above table reflects the currently available data. It results in the Pentacon Six with the serial number 200,000 being produced in 1988, as reported by Hummel. If we include the various models of the Praktisix, total production numbers that left the factory are higher. If production started with serial number 501, the 200,000th Pentacon Six camera would not have been produced until early 1989, even though the camera with serial number 200,000 would have been produced towards the end of the production run in 1988. Reject numbers will inevitably not have been an exact 2% every year, even if this was the average, so that would introduce a slight variation. There is also evidence that a Pentacon Six TL with the serial number 200,8xx was available for sale new in a camera shop in East Germany in May 1989, which indicates that the above table is reasonably accurate.
using a Pentacon six chassis
It appears that the cameras that were labelled “Hanimex Praktica 66” were taken from the 1969 production run of the Pentacon Six TL.
On the basis of the information currently available, the Pentacon Six TLs was modified from Pentacon Six TL cameras manufactured in 1983 and 1984.
The Exakta 66 bodies were taken from
regular Pentacon Six TL body production at different
dates, but not completed in (the then) West Germany in
first in, first out order. So, for instance, Mk
III bodies for which data is known have lower
serial numbers than one Mk II body for which we have the
serial number. The situation may also be
complicated by the fact that some Mk I or Mk II bodies
have been subsequently upgraded to Mk III specification
(and labelling), without, of course, any change of
serial number. On the basis of the above tables,
most bodies for the Exakta 66 were purchased from
Pentacon’s 1985 production and some from the 1986
production, which ties in well with other information on
Exakta 66 availability. Bodies were then finished
as Exakta 66 cameras, although stock was not used in
serial number order.
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© TRA August 2010, revised October 2018