Vintage Film Camera Review: Pentacon Six TL (6×6 Square Format)

There are only a few cameras that have been coined “an SLR on steroids” in the medium format camera world, and one of those is the Pentacon Six TL. The Pentacon Six TL is a medium format SLR camera similar in style to its more famous rival the Pentax 67. It doesn’t use interchangeable backs but instead opts for one of the quirkiest ways of loading a camera perhaps ever. Shooting square format 6×6 images, it’s also prone to problems like frame overlap unless you’re careful. Though if you can work with its quirks, you’ll have yourself a solid SLR camera that is reliable otherwise.

Pros and Cons

An example of frame overlap

Pros

  • The square format is really nice
  • Build quality is fantastic
  • Fairly bright and accurate viewfinder
  • Can be shot handheld
  • Great lenses are available
  • You can find a lens, finder, and body together for a pretty good price online

Cons

  • A lot of quirks, but you can expect the camera to continue working
  • Film advance isn’t so ergonomically pleasing
  • Loading the camera is such a pain

Gear Used

The Pentacon Six TL was used with the Carl Zeiss 80mm f2.8, Fujifilm Pro 400H, and Kodak T-Max 400.

Tech Specs

Camerapedia will do a much better job of delivering specs and essential information.

Ergonomics

When you look at the Pentacon Six TL, it’s tough to not just want to swoon over it. It’s a big, beefy SLR designed to be tough, though in many ways has odd quirks. For starters, if your eyes will look at the Pentacon Six TL logo then move to the left, you’ll spot the shutter. It’s in an extremely weird spot, though the designers probably did this to make shooting the camera comfortable. In that regard, they succeeded.

Move to the top and what you’ll find is the removable prism finder. Lots of folks sell this camera with just the top down finder. If you’re lucky enough to find this configuration, go for it. The top left side of the Pentacon Six TL has the shutter speeds and a different setting for the type of lighting you’re in. For the most part, you can ignore that. Move to the right and you’ll find the film advance. In order to advance the film on the Pentacon Six TL you need to do an almost total 360 degree turn of this advance lever.

Oh yeah, the lenses are breach mount, so they’re not the most standard to remove.

Come around to the back of the Pentacon Six TL and you’ll spot a very plain Jane back of the camera. On the bottom are the spool knobs–which honestly don’t even move.

On the bottom of the Pentacon Six TL you’ll also spot the tripod socket–which makes a lot of sense when connecting a half case to the camera. You can also spot the PC Sync port here.

That’s about all there really is to the Pentacon Six TL except for the little area on the left, where you can pull a tab downward to pop the back of the camera open.

Build Quality

The Pentacon Six TL is made of metal through and through. There isn’t a single piece of plastic (except maybe in the darker areas with texture) on this camera and I absolutely love that. It’s built harder than a rock in many ways and it has never fallen apart on me. For that reason, it’s a great camera for the photographer that wants to work with a camera for a really long time–like a student.

Ease of Use

The Pentacon Six TL isn’t the simplest camera to use. You’ll need to really give it some time and understand the way it works. Don’t get me wrong, taking an exposure is straightforward but the Pentacon Six TL teaches you a lot about being careful with loading a camera and more. For example, this video below is how you load the Pentacon Six TL.

When advancing the film, be sure to be slow and careful but complete. Now this video below is how you unload it; which is also odd.

Also note that with the Pentacon Six TL, you can get a metered prism; but otherwise you’re best off just using Sunny 16 and adjusting to the moment.

Focusing

This camera isn’t at all an autofocus SLR. Instead, it’s manual focus. The viewfinder is fairly bright and if you’re having trouble focusing, you can always set the lens to stop down focusing/metering. That will make life so much easier for you. However, a split prism finder would be best.

Image Quality With the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 80mm f2.8

The closest thing to a kit lens is the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 80mm f2.8. This obviously isn’t a kit lens, but it’s standard and fantastic for a number of things such as portraits. In fact, I love it for portraits.

Kodak T-Max 400

Fujifilm Pro 400H

Conclusions

I really, really like the Pentacon Six TL. It’s affordable and portable; with that said though I’ll be quick to say there are better and more reliable options out there. For example, the Bronica SQ-A is one of the best square format cameras ever made. It holds its own with the Mamiya 6–which is also an absolutely fantastic camera that is even more lightweight.

To that end, I have to be honest and say that I wouldn’t buy the Pentacon Six TL again if I had the chance in the same way that I wouldn’t buy the Mamiya RB67 Pro S again. These cameras just aren’t my style and I’m a person who really likes things to work so that I can concentrate on what’s most important–the image making process.

However, if you happen to get one that works flawlessly, hold onto it for dear life.