Pentina - resurrection and life

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Jul 7, 2013.

  1. Some background first
    This is one of the those cameras that I have frequently referred to as basically unlikely to still work and impossible to find someone who can service.
    The other day, I dug out this one to look at it in response to a post about unworkable cameras - a sort of Triste Camerique ( )

    I looked at it again, and tried to figure out what was wrong with it. As it was, it was clearly impossible to load film into it without exposing it. So I puttered and finally figured out that there had to be shutter leaves in the lens assembly (this was a unique Pentacon SLR with a leaf shutter, back to that later). They were not visible, but I thought - it doesn't work anyway and am I not the Lord Naphtha, King of the Mild Solvents, Spirit of the Petroleum Wastes?

    So I splashed (actually, carefully) a little naphtha (aka, more expensively, as Ronsonol) into the area immediately behind the lens, proper, mount and worked the camera a little -
    LO! The edge of the shutter blades popped out a little. A few more drops of solvent and suddenly the shutter popped into place, covered with dirt and solvent. I carefully wiped it off, worked it some more, and it started to close consistently after triggering the shutter (see below). I continued to work it, cleaning it as I went, and then left it to dry overnight.

    Is, is , it alive? (Mark Twain - Innocents Abroad).


    So what follows is a report about the Pentina and how it is supposed to work (the match-needle metering is, of course, deader than a doornail unless somebody knows of a meter magic similar to naphtha for the mechanical parts)'

    first models 1961

    When it arrived, I looked up some details about the model and the like on Dr. Mike Otto's fantastic (to a DDR-camera enthusiast) web page ( ).

    My model is the one shown at .

    But it was clear that no shutter was working, in the lens or out of it. So I accepted the widespread (as far as DDR cameras go) stories about repairmen fleeing in terror when they saw someone bringing in one of these.

  2. Context
    Let us go back in our minds to 1960-61. At least those of us who were alive then can testify that it was only yesterday.

    For those who read German, some of the story is told at - a shorter discussion in English at

    The main stimulus for this development was to escape the slow speed of flash synchronization with focal-plane shutters - typically about 1/50 sec. in the days before vertical metal focal plane shutters. Leaf-type shutters can be synchronized at higher shutter speeds.

    This was also a desire of other SLR makers in 1961. Here, for the clearest example, is a 1961 ad for the Nikkorex-35 -

  3. Pentina
    basic model 2 (one variant was gold with brown cover).

    Hummel Nr. 114 Kadlubek Nr. ZIK5430
    VEB Kamera- und Kinowerke Dresden

    I got mine on eBay back in 2006 for $13.50 and $7 shipping, As Is. The story of its apparent resurrection is told above. on eBay today, actual sold prices are often comparable, with shipping from Europe to the USA often more than the price of the camera and 50mm lens. People often ask more, but even the likely-to-be-rare additional lenses often sell for under $40, probably because there is no very likely way to use them on any other camera.

    Here are the basic features:

    • Exposure Meter - built-in, match-needle system in a window on top of the camera. Camera settings from ASA 6 to 1600 (DIN 9-33º)
    • Shutter: Prestor behind-the-lens shutter. Speeds B, 1-1/500 sec.
    • Standard Lens - automatic diaphragm Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 2.8/50 - interchangeable lenses 30, 50, 85 and 135mm focal length with a Praktina-like twist collar attachment (pictures of the lenses at the Dresdner-Kameras link above: )
    • Finder: Pentaprism, ground glass focus screen.
    • Advance: Lever built into body, returns mirror and shield to focus position, and opens a blocking shutter in the viewfinder.
    • Other features: folding rewind crank

    If you look at the Nikkorex ad above, you will note not only the outward similarity of the two contemporary cameras, but also that many of the features are the same. The Pentina has a real reflex prism (which makes it rather heavy), but the Nikkorex-35 has a self timer. Otherwise, very similar indeed.
    Obviously great minds are working in parallel evolution here, at the least. Same problems met in astonishingly similar ways.

    Which should you have bought in the early 1960s? Well, Hillebrand and Hauschild in their Nikon Compendium (Hove, 1993:14) describe the Nikkorex as "The Unnkown Nikon" and say
    The Nikkorex cameras are an unknown part of Nikon history. … Still, the question remains why the Nikkorex series never [in 1993 JDM] appears on any official Nikon family tree. Apparently Nikon prefers not to be reminded of these models, the main reason perhaps being the fact that the [some JDM] Nikkorex models were the result of a cooperation with Mamiya and not of pure Nikon design and manufacture as in every other case. Also it probably does not fit into Nikon's present attitude as a professionally orientated company to once have included cameras of such relatively poor quality in its list.​

    Since that was written, Nikon has acknowledged the Nikkorex-35 as a "cousin" ( ). But even then they comment:

    Contrary to big expectations for the NIKKOREX 35, many problems arose upon its release.
    Nippon Kogaku K. K. was not much experienced in mass-production of relatively low cost cameras.
    Besides, this was the first time that the company outsourced assembly operations for one of its cameras.
    There was confusion caused by the difference of company culture.
    The subcontractors had much diffculty in doing things which were easily accomplished in Nippon Kogaku K. K..
    Engineers and technicians were frequently sent to teach and train them. But improvement was slow.
    The lens shutter unit built into the camera was not a great match for this camera's mechanisms, which also caused problems.​

    We lack comparable "official" documentation of the Pentina, but in the 30 years left to der "Volkseigene Betrieb", VEB, Pentacon, the very idea of the Pentina seems to have been a much a dead raccoon for them as the Nikkorex was for Nikon. Hummel does include it in his great catalogue of Dresden SLRs, to be sure.

    Probably the best answer of which of these to have bought, is "neither".

  4. How the Pentina functioned

    The mechanism for operation is actually fairly complex.

    Here is the front of the camera with the shutter cocked, the mirror and a light seal 'stop' down (rather like the Exa mechanism).

  5. and the same (cocked and ready to fire) from the rear:

  6. After releasing the shutter (button on left front of camera like an Exakta, the film also advances from right to left), a blocking blade moves in front of the viewfinder window, the mirror flops up (and does not return), the shutter clicks and then closes to shut light off from the film (which otherwise would be open to the light with the mirror up).
    From the front you see only the shutter blades now:
  7. From the back, after shooting, the mirror is up and it looks so:
  8. Denouement

    Did the camera, re-animated with petroleum spirit work?
    YES, as said above, the exposures were spot on (metered with a Gossen LunaPro SBC), so my worries that it was working but that the apertures and speeds might be off turned out not to be true.
    To try it out, I went down to a local state park that was built up in the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). A sort of New Deal equivalent of the Reichs Arbeitdienst in contemporary Germany.
    Although the site has been repaired and restored, it still keeps the look of the 1930s originals.
  9. The cabins were competely rebuilt and larger, but maintain the interior and exterior appearance of the CCC cabins.
  10. The main roads through the park, provide picnic shelters and playgrounds
  11. But just off the "mowed" area are trails through the geological and other natural areas of the park. There were also originally built by the CCC workers.
  12. Wilder areas of the park are canyons, "mesas", and other natural features of this part of Illinois which has never been glaciated like the Dirksen Steppes to the north.
  13. A very pleasant place to spend a warm (80 degrees F, 26 C) early summer afternoon.
  14. The film was Kodak 400, a good choice in the wide variety of lighting here, so the shutter speeds and the aperture got a decent try out.
    That's all folks.
  15. This is why I enjoy this site. Just a great post.
    As a side light, my father was in The CCC as a very young man. After that he was with the 101st Airborne in WWII. He grew up rather quickly in that organization.
  16. Wow, those are really nice pictures, JDM! The lens on this camera seems to be a very nice, sharp one. Great write-up as always. Thanks!
  17. Thanks for the kind thoughts and words.
    I've had very good, actually excellent, results from the Zeiss Jena Tessar lenses. They're so simple and yet work so well, especially when stopped down a little.
  18. The pictures are lovely! Good colour hues and Jena class and quality. The camera looks as if it was designed in a hurry and put together for sale. I have seen some Japanese cameras that seemed to have copied this format and design. I recall that Rick Drawbridge posted one such, some time ago. Congratulations on the resurrection! Thanks for posting those lovely pictures. The CCC building facade looks like a bit influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. sp.
  19. Ah, more leaf-shutter SLR love. I think it's catching...

    Excellent job!
  20. Pictures I like, I have been trying to[​IMG]
  21. Now that's what I call a comprehensive post...Great work, JDM, and nice results from the Tessar. I've been owner of a couple of these brutes, both non-functioning, and one sits sadly on the shelf in front of me, malingering. You've encouraged me to take it down and make another foray into it's mysterious workings. Many thanks for your efforts.
  22. You're getting excellent photos from that camera JDM. Great work w/ the repair, and a wonderful read! I think a lot of us are such 98 pound weaklings when it comes to camera repair. If its a film camera and not that expensive, just tear into that thing. It might just be worth it, as you found out. The Nikon version in the ad is a real ugly duckling compared to the clean lines of your camera. In fact, when I saw your first photo of the old gal I thought "oh no, not a toy camera" because its so simply designed. Good engineering and design philosophy should look just like this, and no one did it better than the Germans. Today, I have trouble telling a Mercedes from a Nissan.
    For some of us, not only were the 60's just yesterday, we're stuck there permanently. Which has its good points and its bad points, but I can't deny it leads to a lot of self inflicted suffering. The modern world just ain't like it used to be. People have probably been saying that for as long as there have been people though. Things do come back around eventually (so far), so maybe I'll be back "in" one day.
    Now of course I need a camera like that.
  23. Great repair job and great shots. Thanks for posting.
  24. That's not a post...that's a thesis! Always love to read about these cameras that I have never used, never even seen one in the flesh...but I do have a Nikkorex somewhere...must see if it works.
    I can see that "complex mechanism" and made in GDR in one sentence would bring a case of the terrors!
  25. I am surprised that Pentina worked. I would be curious to hold it in hands. It is VERY interesting looking piece of photographic history. Quite unusual indeed....
  26. Nice return to Pentina. ( I am the resurrection and the life) I do recall your previous comparison post with the Nikorrex or what ever it was called. In the previous post the questions was who is imitating who...which came first ..the chicken or the egg. Is imitation the greatest form of flattery ?
    A great story of redemption .. returning to an otherwise lost cause and finding paradise. How rewarding! And a passel of good photos to boot. The Tessar turns in a great performance in good hands. The trusty meter was dependable. Your hand was steady. Now all you need is the rest of the lens selection!!

    There have been a spate of less than mainstream "between the lens shutters" cameras. What has God wrought?
  27. As this post reveals, the synchronicity of the Nikkorex-35 and the Pentina is so striking that I have come to conclude that this is one of those rare instances of convergent evolution.
    They seem to both be eggs laid by two closely related chickens. In more senses than one.
    As for the other lenses in the set? - Shame on you. I'm suggestible enough as it is without help from the gallery. ;)
  28. I bought a Pentina off eBay some years back and was delighted to find it worked perfectly - even the metering was faultless. It's sat in the camera drawer for a couple of years but I'm aiming to stick a few rolls through it while London basks in summery sunshine.
    It's one of those cameras that just looks beautifully bizarre - liek the Kiev 10 and Zorki 10.

  29. Excellent post JDM! I always enjoy your write-ups and so glad that your success with this one translated to some nice results. The front of the camera actually is quite minimalist-looking, sort of a space-age camera. While most of today's cameras look pretty much alike, back in the CMC era, there sure were some interesting designs.
  30. Hi JDM, nice post. I had posted about this camera a few years ago. It was passed on by my uncle, who had bought it as a student in East Germany. He had shot slide film and negatives with it.
    He expired recently and I have kept the camera in his memory. Mine says Pentina FM and I have the 30mm and 50mm lens.
    The focussing ring on the 50mm seems a little shot. The ring turns, but the lens does not seem to come in /or go out.
    I have had the lens drop out from the body, turning the lens lockout instead of the focus ring (being used to the Canon EOS system) . I also had the film back coming off.
    Currently, I am not sure if the light meter works. It worked before. It does not seem that responsive.
    A) If I understand correctly , if exposure is towards overexposure, the needle moves away from the parallel mark in the window. If I reduce the exposure amount, needle will move to the parallel mark (reference) in the meter window?
    B) I see two rings - one for setting aperture and another for shutter speed. There is a line on the shutter ring. I believe this mark indicates the set shutter speed and aperture number?
    C) When I change the aperture, only the aperture value changes ?
    D) When I change the shutter speed, does the aperture also change, as the marking on the ring for shutter moves and points to a different aperture ?
    Thanks in advance
  31. Here is an English website (which is miraculously still up) which answers most of your questions:
    and there is a German original manual at Butkus:

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