The Pentacon Six System
by TRA

Why should I choose a square format system?

Avoid camera design compromises

The first reason for choosing a square format system is that the camera designers have not had to make the compromises that are necessary with an oblong format,  like 35mm, APS  –  or even 6 × 4.5!  With these systems, the camera needs to be usable in two different positions: 

  • horizontal (called “Landscape” by MS WORD and some other computer programs) and
  • vertical (called “Portrait” by the same programs).
Just holding some of these cameras in two positions is problem enough.  Viewing through them can be worse! – try using a 645 camera or the Pentax 6×7 without a pentaprism to take vertical pictures.  It is difficult to the point of giving up (or missing the shot you wanted to take).

If you add a flash bracket, you are really asking for problems.  In one orientation, the flash is likely to be above the camera, in the other, to one side, resulting in quite different lighting.  Of course, any problem can be overcome, if you spend enough money, and there are some very expensive flash brackets that will flip through 90°.

Then there are matters such as the optimum location for the controls – shutter release, film advance, shutter speed dial, etc.  If what the designers choose is best when the camera is held one way, it will not be best when it is rotated through 90°, and this will slow you down.

Image format

Of course, the most important reason for choosing a format is for the images it can enable you to produce.  We may not often see square images these days, so here are a few of my favourites from those I have taken with my Pentacon Six or Exakta 66

[C294-7] Pink flowers Exakta 66 with 80mm Biometar “III” 1/60 f/6.3
Hand held Fuji NPH 400

[C289-3] Bouquet Exakta 66 with 120mm Biometar at f/11 and 1 direct flash.
Fuji NPH 400

[C280-1718]:  Welcome Home!  Pentacon Six with 120mm Biometar ½ sec f/11
Fuji Reala 100

[C271-11/12] Engine room of M.V. “Africa Mercy” shot with Zodiak 30mm fish-eye lens.
Pentacon Six Fuji Reala 100

[C479-10_s.jpg] Port Sunlight in the rain
Pentacon Six with 80mm Biometar 1/60 f/8 Fujicolor 400

[C480-9_s.jpg] Eastgate, Chester
Pentacon Six with 45mm Mir 69 1/250 f/11 Fujicolor 400

[C38_2_s.jpg] Rose taken with Pentacon Six (non-TL) Single-coated 80mm
Biometar Pentacon Six bellows (minimum extension)
1/125 f/8 Kodacolor II Hand-held!

[C38_2_c.jpg]  The resolution is so good that even this tight crop of the picture on the
left gives excellent results.  This was one of my first colour shots with the Pentacon Six,
before I bought a prism.

[C269-1718] Autumn view in Stevenage
Pentacon Six with 50mm Flektogon 1/125 f/6.3 focussed at hyperfocal distance
Fuji Reala 100

[C322-6] Dunstable Downs
Exakta 66 Mk II with 150mm Tele-Xenar 1/250 f/32 on Fuji NPH 400
As you can see, plants and flower arrangements often work well in square format, and the last two images show that landscapes do not need to be in “landscape” format.  It is impossible to see the remarkable resolution of these images in the small copies that are reproduced here. However, they do serve as examples of possible compositions in square format.


Traditionally, painters have rarely used a square format, although Dr Gerhard Heyde says in his book “Pentaconsix Praxis” that Hans Holbein the Younger’s famous portrait of Georg Giesze, which is virtually square, is a piece of evidence against the claim that square format is “unartistic”.  The exact dimension of the picture are 96.3 cm × 85.7 cm.  He also refers to square and nearly-square pictures by Rubens and other famous painters.

Not surprisingly, for many decades Hasselblad promoted the square format, and even offered a free booklet called “Quadrat Kompositionen” (I have the German version, although this was also available in English, and no doubt other languages, too.)

In his book, “The Hasselblad Manual”, Ernst Wildi gives many advantages of the 6×6 or 2¼×2¼ in square format, concluding:

“Picture editors, artists, graphic production specialists love square prints or square transparencies because it gives them full freedom to crop to their specifications.  The 12 images from a 120 roll of film fit beautifully on a sheet of 8 × 10 in paper and since the camera is always held the same way, all the shots appear the right way up.”

Maximise freedom of choice

Of course, one of the greatest advantages of the 6×6 film format is that it is so much larger than 35mm (not to mention the sensors of digital cameras!!) that you can easily “crop” images to whatever format you want, without compromising on image quality.

Ron Spillman, writing in “Amateur Photographer” about his preference for using a medium format camera without a prism, said, “People who argue about the ideal format miss the whole point of 6×6cm.  You can always shoot from chest or waist level in comfort, and afford to lose a strip from one side.”  (17 May 1986)

I would add, “or a strip from the top and/or bottom, for horizontal images.”  In fact, one of my favourite formats with my Pentacon Six is the panoramic format used by the Russian Horizon/Horizont cameras and the Japanese Widelux – 24mm high × 56 or 58mm wide – without incurring the distortion problems that arise from using a swing lens camera.

To learn more about taking panoramic photographs with the Pentacon Six, click here.

Horizontal or vertical crop?  Whichever you prefer!
Here is an example of square composition at the taking stage.  This picture of Canonteign Falls in Devon was taken with a Pentacon Six TL with the standard 80mm Biometar lens focussed at the hyperfocal distance to maximise depth of field and exposed for 8 seconds in order to show the movement of the water.

Exposure on Fuji 100 ISO negative film, lens aperture f/22, camera mounted on a tripod.

The resolution of Pentacon Six images is so phenomenal that it is easy to crop the image, even quite aggressively, and still have a high-resolution result!  Scanned at 300 pixels per inch on my Minolta Dimage Scan Multi PRO, the scanned image was approximately 88 cm wide and high and in Photoshop it opened as a file with 305.5 Megapixels!  What digital camera can give you that?

(I obviously needed to reduce the resolution substantially for use on this page of this website.)

Horizontal crop

A modest horizontal crop resulted in the following image, which was used as wallpaper for a (non-photography) website.


With so much resolution available, other horizontal crops are possible.  Here is another image from the same frame:


Vertical crop

And here is a vertical crop from the same frame:

It is often said that horizontal images tend to be tranquil and vertical images tend to be dynamic, but here we have a vertical image that, in my opinion, conveys tranquility.

In fact, we liked it so much that we had a print made and framed,  to hang in our home.  We chose a slightly wider vertical crop, to produce a 16 × 20" image and had the picture mounted on a medium-brown card that echoes natural wood tones, then framed in a slim brown wooden frame with a gold line that helps the mounted image to stand out from the frame.

We hope that visitors are reminded of the beauty of nature and experience a sense of tranquility as they enter our home.  (These are, after all, some of the things that photography can help us to achieve!)


To go back to the Frequently-asked Questions front page, click here.

To contact me, click here.


© TRA March 2006, latest revision January 2015