Light quality is extremely important to a photographer, just like snow for an Inuit. We have countless names for the different types of light while any average people would only call them “strong” or “weak”. The amount of light we get is very easy to measure and describe. But the quality is a far more subtle, much harder to formalize concept and therefore much more interesting to me. Modern cameras can handle low light extremely well thus photography is now possible under such difficult circumstances no one could be foreseen just until a few years before. But high sensitivity sensors with great quantum efficiency and extremely sophisticated noise reduction processing cannot create great photographs just by extending the lower bound of minimum illumination necessary to capture an image. Although these new tools certainly aid the photographing process, the quality of light (among other factors) is and always will be key to a good image.
I am currently experimenting with mainly available light, trying to find situations which work for me so I can get the results I like in a somewhat predictable manner. One of my favorite spots lately is the door of our balcony. In my opinion, this location has nearly ideal light conditions for portraits during most of the day. The balcony is relatively deep, and only the front is open (sides are solid walls), then comes the big door followed by a deep room with white walls and furniture.
This setup has a similar effect to a soft-box. Light comes through in a beautiful evenly distributed, soft way, which then decays rapidly as it penetrates into the room. A subject placed close to the door can be lit very well with a strongly directional but soft light while the background is lost in darkness.
I have taken several portraits at this place using different formats (APS-C, 35mm, 6x6cm), films and digital sensors, and a small, but representative selection can be seen in this post. I think it is interesting to see next to each other similar shoots using similar focal length but with vastly different capturing technology.
The conclusion is that, no matter what your medium is, good light (and composition) could always give respectable results but technology does not save the day if the light quality is poor for the subject. But it is again another subjective property, what is poor light for a photographer for a given purpose, could be magnificent for another. Nevertheless, I think it is crucial to study light as a photographer, amateurs and professionals alike.
Walls are usually not the most exciting subjects to photograph. To use medium format slide film to do that is even more strange and could be considered as some sort of crime by some. After all, we live in a time when both film and labs which are able to develop slides are more and more scare.
But what if you’ve found some really awesome walls filled with stunning graffiti masterpieces varying in size up to 30 meters (my approximation) and the whole place is a partly abandoned industrial complex.
Well, I couldn’t resist and loaded my Pentacon Six with a roll of expired (in 2004) Kodak Ektachrome 64 and headed to this place with my wife to take pictures of walls. In fact, she took way better photos than me, so maybe I will post those in the future as well.
I usually have no problems with expired film stocks, but this roll of Ektachrome gave me a very interesting result. When it came back from development it was possibly the flattest looking positive I have ever seen. I thought that I majorly overexposed all the frames equally. Surprisingly after scanning, I had to realize that almost no highlights were blown away and I could recover many details and color information during post-processing. I have the impression that the last 10 years after the end of the expiry date of the film was not spent in a refrigerator. I still have 4 rolls of the same batch of film, I need to think it over if I want to give them a second try.
The place we found hosted the Livin’ Streets 2014 festival for urban art, graffiti & street art between 07.06-18.07 2014. Their facebook page is here. Although we were too late to see the actual event, we could still meet with one of the artists who stayed to finish his work and also we could see all the paintings in the finished form. It was a great experience and we had a lot of fun, so yes it is totally fine to shoot some walls from time to time.
The photos were taken by my Pentacon Six Tl using a Carl Zeiss Jena Flektagon 50mm and in some cases a Biometar 80mm. The film was developed by a local shop and scanned by me with a CanoScan 9900F.
Finally, the Sun has returned to us and days are once again long enough for me to have a chance to enjoy the light even after working hours.
To celebrate this blessing I have finished shooting the roll of Velvia which I have started last October and now sharing with you. A mixture of my two favorite seasons, autumn and spring on the same roll in vivid colors. Isn’t it wonderful? I am truly being energized by the spring, and I hope you too. Go grab a camera and have at least as much fun taking photos as I do right now.
I have a very special relationship with my Pentacon Six TL camera since it is my only working medium format camera. I was always heavily attracted by medium format photography, but I couldn’t afford for a while to get into it. Eventually, the P6 was the camera which allowed me to shoot 6×6 frames and since then I have not to regret my decision nor had a single thought to change to another system. In this post, I tell my story with this camera and try to show both the bad and the good things about it while hoping that some of you can find this information useful. It will be more like a subtract of my personal user experience and all the important bits I learned during my research.
My Pentacon Six story
I was a student at the university sometime around my second year when I first heard about this camera. I have just started up an experimenting film with an old Zenit-E when my buddy and roommate showed me a website with lots of photos and a description of the P6. Both of us got pretty excited when we realized that there is a world beyond the 35mm film, so we started to google and find more information about this beast. Unfortunately, I had no money at this time to simply buy one on eBay, therefore, I almost abandoned the idea until I found a Pentacon in a repair-shop next to my sister’s old apartment where I helped her to move in. The camera was broken, not complete and had no lens. It was literally a looted old donor of a camera. Despite the conditions of this camera-corpse, I was amazed by the size of the thing. It was huge, much bigger than I have expected after all the photos I have seen on the Internet, especially the lens mount was extraordinary sizeable compare to anything I have seen before. I could only wonder what a hell of a lens could possibly fill this gigantic hole on the front of the camera. From this moment, there was no return. I knew I had to get one of these monsters, but I still had to find the right one, which turned out not to be that difficult at all. A few weeks later I found a little shop in a small village next to my hometown by accident. I had spotted an ancient Russian enlarging machine in the shop-window so I stopped by and found a great repairman and a huge cabinet of precious vintage cameras and other relics. As you have already figured out, he had a nice Pentacon Six TL in the shape I was looking for. The camera was there for cleaning, but the owner hasn’t fetched it for many years. It was not an easy deal because the guy was not really keen to sell anything from his collection, but eventually, I got my Pentacon Six with the standard 80mm f/2.8 Biometar lens made by Carl Zeiss Jena and with a waist level finder. Both the camera and the lens were beautiful, nice, clean and fully operational. In fact, it was not really heavily used and in addition, the repairman was kind enough to check the shutter speeds before he handed the camera over them to me. Since then I have added many additional accessories and lenses to my Pentacon kit so today my collection consists of:
2 Pentacon six bodies
2 Waist level finders
2 Carl Zeiss Jena (CZJ) 80mm f/2.8 Biometar
1 CZJ 50mm f/4 Flektagon
1 CZJ 120mm f/2.8 MC Biometar
1 CZJ 180mm f/2.8 MC Sonar (This lens belongs to a friend I just use it)
1 CZJ 500mm f/5.6 MC Pentacon
Extension tube set
Split image focusing screen
Ever ready cases
The way it looks
Unfortunately, there are not only great things about this camera even if most of the bad rumors are only partially true. So let’s start with the not so nice before we focus on the good things. Many people think that the quality insurance was not the best during the manufacturing of these cameras, therefore, it is a real gamble to buy one as you may get a pretty bad and unreliable one. It is true that it is hard to find a Pentacon Six in a good working condition with perfectly accurate shutter speeds, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the cameras. The fact is that these cameras are pretty old and most of them were used for professional purposes where most likely a tremendous amount of film was burned through of them. You should think of them like you would think about an old car, for instance, a VW Beetle. It is a nice car with very few flaws, but since it is old and was driven around the Equator like 30 times you need to pay attention to maintenance to keep it running. You wouldn’t drive a 40-year-old Beetle found in someone’s backyard without checking the oil level, would you? Of course not, so why would you treat a camera differently? An old mechanical camera is just like an old car. It needs some maintenance and care. Of course, if you were a Hasselblad user, you might disagree, but the category and price tag of these brands are completely different, however, the produced images could be very similar.
Typical issues and solutions
I am lucky because I have personally met with only very few issues you can read on the Internet according to the P6. Most problems are easy to fix during a general overhaul which involves cleaning, lubrication, and adjustments of strings etc.
Slow and inaccurate shutter speeds
The Pentacon Six TL uses a huge canvas focal plane shutter which has 3 implications.
Lenses are cheaper because there is no shutter in the lens
Flash photography is limited to the sync speed which is 1/30s.
The huge canvas needs big and strong strings which can lose their adjustment as time goes by.
Usually, the speed 1/125s is the most accurate, anything faster could be slower than intended if the camera was not used in a long time. The slow times also could be problematic because the mechanical clock could pick up some dust. The solution is an overhaul by someone who knows what he is doing. The camera must be disassembled, cleaned and adjusted. There are no big worries here if you casually use your camera this does not have to be done too often, maybe once in every 10 years.
This problem is much more apparent than the previous one though. Many people have this problem of “kissing” or worse, overlapping frames. I think in most cases this happens because of the improper loose loading of the film. Have a look at this video from PentaconSixExpert on Youtube. I am not saying that this is the only problem because my rolls have uneven spacings between frames too (but no kissing or overlapping so far), but many times it is only because of the way you load the film.
I had no problems with this feature either, but this is definitely one of the weak spots of the camera. I have seen some Pentacons where the back of the camera was modified by adding a little window covered with red plastic to be able to see the numbering at the back of the film. This is certainly a solution, but a very harsh one. You could get the counter fixed by a professional or you could live without it, eventually, you can shoot even if it is broken.
The bright side
Now that we finished off the not so nice things it is time to celebrate and inspect why this system is so great. If I had to be short I would say we need to have a look at the following aspects to justify:
Lenses and image quality
The lens selection for this system is just fantastic in my opinion. You can find excellent optics for literally no money (compared to modern lenses) for every focal length from a wide variety of manufacturers most notably Carl Zeiss Jena (CZJ). The lenses I use most of the time, are generally very fast, sharp and joy to shoot with.
It has to be said that even the multi-coated (MC) versions are more prone to flare than modern lenses with similar optical formula, therefore the use of a lens hood is always a good idea. If you want to read more about compatible lenses, visit the truly great site pentaconsix.com.
A friend of mine gave me a 180mm f/28 Sonnar to use. While this is one of the best and most iconic Pentacon mount lenses, I rarely use it, because it is so much bigger and heavier than the not much shorter 120mm Biometar.
Size and weight
The Pentacon Six looks like a 35mm SLR except this is much bigger, therefore, many people call them beefed up SLR or SLR on steroids. While it is true that they are significantly bigger and heavier than their 35mm counterparts, in fact, the P6 is a rather compact medium format camera which shoots 6x6cm frames. Yes, there are smaller ones, but those usually do not have the capability to switch lenses or having similar dimensions but with more weight. If you, like me love to travel with the biggest “sensor” possible then this size/weight aspect could be really important for you.
It has to be said, that this kit could be still awfully heavy especially if you pack more than one lens and a tripod too.
Value for the money
I think the Pentacon Six system comes with a very appealing price nowadays. You can get your body with an excellent standard lens around 100€ and even if you add the extra for cleaning and adjustments it is still far cheaper than most other interchangeable lens medium format system.
The fun I have
Eszter documented how I took a portrait of a painter in Istanbul. I think it reflects my emotions during the usage of this camera.
During the years I used my Pentacon Six, I have gained a lot of experience with it. So I would like to share some random thoughts I think could be useful for you.
Pentaprism vs Waist level finder
I do have a TTL prism, which provides a correct image in the finder (no switched sides) and can be used for through the lens light readings.
On the other hand, the prism is very dark and the light metering is not very easy to use. It is great to have in some cases, but generally, I prefer an external light meter. There are different brighter prisms available for example the older non-metering version. If I am not wrong the even brighter prism of the Kiev 60 is also compatible and can be attached.
In contrast, the waist level finder is definitely the brightest solution, therefore I use it the most. But it switches the sides of the images in the viewfinder, and you can hold the camera lower than usual to be able to see through the finder. For me, it is much easier to focus with, especially with the little magnifying glass built in.
Despite all of the inconveniences of the waist level finder, the image in it is something really special. I know it is an oxymoron, but it looks even better than reality. It is huge, bright and vivid, no viewfinder of any 35mm camera can come even close to it.
Focusing as always is a critical thing to do when talking about any photography. I had to learn that the depth of field is just way more shallow when you shoot medium format, thus even a slight movement of the camera could cause your subject to fall out of the sharp region.
When I shoot handheld with the 80mm/120mm lenses I try to not going wider than f/4 or even f/5.6 because it still provides nice bokeh, but has some safety in terms of the size of the sharp areas. Naturally, I often find myself shooting wide open (f/2.8) on a street, but it’s always risky to do.
Luckily I haven’t had many problems with my cameras, but during the last 6 years, I had some cases where I had to ask someone to help.
I had “the old” (my original) P6 cleaned, lubricated and adjusted one time after I heard some unusual noises from the shutter. Since then it works perfectly. No exposure problems even when shooting Velvia.
My 120mm lens had a stuck iris once which required the disassembly and general cleaning of the lens. This is, unfortunately, a common problem with old lenses. Conclusion and recommendation
Needless to say, this camera is not for everyone. As long as you can accept that your camera needs some care in a form of regular maintenance, you could be very happy with it. So keep in mind that the final price could be higher than the purchase itself as basic repairs might be needed.
Nowadays it is not always easy to find someone who is qualified to repair old mechanical cameras. Therefore it is best to buy from a trusted source with grantee that you get a working camera. I think it worth the extra money to get an overhauled camera in the first place.
I think this is a great camera, and could be a good choice for anyone who wants to try medium format photography and needs an interchangeable lens solution. If you don’t have the budget for more expensive systems like Hasselblad or Mamiya, or simply want to find the most compact option this could be the solution for you.
So far my Pentacon Six never let me down, the images are just amazing and for me, it is great fun to shoot with.
The Pentacon Six System Far the best and most comprehensive informational site about the topic. Highly recommended.
My last post about portraits (Portraits round 1) featured black and white photographs. Black and white often help simplify things by skipping the colors and thus resulting in a cleaner image focused more on geometry, composition, and effects of light and shadows. Many times this monochromatic approach emphasizes important properties which would have been otherwise overwhelmed by the chaotic world of colors and can be greatly beneficial. While I love the more abstract nature of the B&W images, I also admire the emotional power of the colors. Sometimes a photo just works better in color.
I am quite fed up with the long, cold and dark winter here so now I am starting to see and use some colors. Besides this post is a post about portraiture it is a small celebration of colors hoping that spring will come soon.
Unfortunately, I had less time to take pictures recently, therefore this selection is composed of my old works exclusively. The photos are taken in many different locations and seasons using various films and lenses but with the same old Pentacon Six of mine.
Color negative film
If you want to take portraits in color, negative film is probably the best choice. It is usually less prone to exposure issues than positive (dia) film so it can accept slight over or underexposure without serious problems on the final image. Also, these films are not as contrasty and vivid as most positive films (except Kodak Ektar which I have never tried so far) so the images are smoother and it is often a good point in the case of general portraits.
It is also very easy to make black and white images out of a color version so you have the flexibility to change your mind during post-processing.
Color positive (dia) film
Positive films are generally recommended for natural product and architectural shoots. At least this is what I have heard a lot. But of course many uses dia film for portraits as well. For example, the famous photographer Steve McCurry used to shoot on positive film and took fabulous portraits like the Afghan Girl.
I personally like to use these films for portraits because of the character and the fact that they have the finest grain ever. But this is true that lights and shadows have more contrast, the exposure must be bloody accurate and overall you have to be very precise to achieve a good result. In addition, it is not too easy to find a lab where you can get it developed especially if you shoot medium format or bigger.
At the bottom line, I think it is still worth to shoot positive films regardless of the subject because the view of the developed dia film makes you happy as a kid at Christmas for sure. You get the final (not inverted) image. Because it gets visible by the light passing through the film rather than reflecting it. That is why dia has a huge dynamic range which makes the experience (in my opinion) kind of better than reality.
Portraiture is a very exciting branch of photography probably because of its subject. It is indeed a very ancient and natural thing to depict our fellowman. Therefore an enormous amount of portraits has been created over history and especially nowadays.
Most likely this is the reason why portraiture is not easy to do well, fortunately, all of us genetically attracted to faces. People are hard-coded to recognize human faces virtually everywhere and in anything even if there are only a few random craters and some shadows on the surface of a dead planet.
I also do love good portraits, and I am generally taking a lot as well. Unfortunately, I am not as good as I wish to be.
It is rather hard to catch the moment of emotion in the right composition among proper lights to get a really special portrait. In addition, as it is an interactive process you have to be connected to the other human-being on a level which is challenging and exciting at the same time.
This is overall very rewarding for me and I am going to keep shooting portraits for sure, hopefully on a higher and higher level.
I was planning to post some of my portraits here for a long time ago, but on the other hand, I decided to push myself to publish new works as much as possible.
Finally, the time has come and I have developed a few rolls of film a few days ago. So now I have some new photos which I will mix up with a few not so new ones.
The recent shoots caused a quite a bit of excitement because as always everything was experimental. I have tested a new focusing screen in my Pentacon Six as well as 2 new types of film (Fuji Across 100, Lomo Lady Gray 400) and this was the first time I used Kodak D76 developer.
It turned out all good, however, there were lessons to learn again.
Some new shoots
Some not so new shoots
These two pictures were among those I shoot on my first few rolls and developed myself around 2007-2008. The guy was my roommate during the university and these were taken in our kitchen next to a big window.
By the way, he is also a photographer and shooting film too from time to time. He is the founder of a really nice blog called 100ASA.
Naturally there are many more portraits in my collection which deserve a frame in this blog and certainly many will show up. I only need to find the occasion and the context to merge them with recent works and publish. But hey this is only the round 1. I hope some of these cached your eye.
According to Wikipedia he was a Hungarian philologist and orientalist, author of the first Tibetan-English dictionary and grammar book. He was born in Kőrös, Grand Principality of Transylvania (today Chiuruş, Romania).
Anyway, I am probably not the right person to describe this sight historically neither theologically, but it was a wonderful experience and we could really smell a special religious atmosphere.
There were a Fantastic sunshine and clear deep blue sky although the air was a bit chilly plus, of course, the stupa which indeed looks extraordinary. I hope the photos will explain better what do I mean.
If I made you interested in this stupa, have a look at this link.
I used my Pentacon Six TL and most likely the standard 80mm f/2.8 Biometar and some Kodak Ektachrome 100 slide film. This was my first and so far only trial on this film. I would love to get some more of it though. I have used my Ricoh GR Digital digital compact as light-meter.
Coupe of months ago I had got a chance to join to a photo tour into an abandoned iron factory. I had no idea what to expect, I only visited one building before to play paintball.
So I grabbed my “grown on steroids” SLR camera (the medium format Pentacon Six TL and), a few lenses (180mm Sonar, 80mm Biometar and 50mm Flectagon) and 2 rolls of slightly expired Fuji Reala ISO 100. Yes, my bag was pretty heavy, but who cares, the quality worth this price for me. Despite my expectations the weather turned good and I could shoot the slow speed film and the sight was even more amazing than I could imagine. I also toke some digital shoots as well. But since those come from my GR Digital compact camera (and nowadays light meter) they are so different, I decided to not to mix with the 6×6 images. They will be published in the next post probably.