The Pentacon Pentona is an unusual camera in the Pentacon camera family but it offers some great features, most notably its lens. Read more after the break!
The VEB Pentacon firm in Dresden, which was then East Germany, was the biggest camera and lens factory in the GDR between 1959 and 1990. Best known for its ‘Praktica’ series of SLR cameras, it did however produce a few other more curious gems throughout its relatively long existence, including the Pentacon Six 120-film SLR leviathan, as well as two versions of the camera that I’m going to review here, the 35mm Pentacon Pentona.
Originally produced in 1956 by KW, a camera manufacturer that later got absorbed into VEB Pentacon, the Pentona is a fairly basic little point-and-shoot camera which might well have been aimed primarily at children (the frame counter dial has a lovely little smiley face on it.) It nonetheless has some highly attractive features in both of its two versions (I’m reviewing here the second version which differed only in minor details from the first.)
It has a lovely bright viewfinder positioned right above the lens which if combined with clear correction pointers, reduces parallax error to a minimum. It’s robustly built — mostly of aluminum rather than plastic. The whole of the back slides off to load the film, creating more of a light-tight seal to last. It’s small in the hand, and has an incredibly quiet shutter. The film wind lever is on the left (rather than on the right as is more common) and needs to be wound quite firmly along a short span three times to both prime the shutter, advance the film, and move the frame counter.
Finally, the shutter won’t work without film in the camera — the sprocket holes on the film turn a cocking wheel mounted at the center of the camera. Shutter speeds are limited at B-130-60-125. And aperture settings likewise, it’s between 3.5 and 22. It is an all-manual camera with shutter and aperture setting levers mounted on the front lens itself. There is no rangefinder or another way to get exact focus — you have to rotate the lens barrel to the range that you want. This will probably all sound relatively familiar to anyone with a Smena but I think the Pentona has better general build quality and a knockout lens. For me the lens redeems everything else, as you will hopefully be able to see below.
The cracking little Meyer-Optik trioplan 45mm lens on this camera gives truly astonishing color rendition, and has got me interested in Meyer-Optik lenses more generally. This lens family seems unjustly-overshadowed often by the more famous Carl Zeiss Jena lenses in the GDR, but were also dominant later on as they were re-labelled ‘Pentacon’. The lens alone leads me to forgive some of the other quirks in this camera, such as the fact that the film rewind knob is absolutely terrible or that I occasionally lose a frame due to the shutter not winding fully and firing correctly.
The range of shutter speed is also very limited, even more limited than on my Exa. But again, you learn to work with that. Finally, guessing the focus is not my favorite thing. But then again, you learn to work with that. The sharpness and color rendition of the lens lead me to forgive pretty much all these faults and makes the little Pentona a very lovable camera in my (or anybody’s) collection. I hope you enjoyed this short review. Looking forward to do more reviews in the future.