Hello. My name is Aivaras and I am a bokeh junkie. I got into film photography mostly because of my ability to play with limited depth of field and I still can’t let it go. However, there are minor signs of remission; I already managed to understand that in the 35mm film world at least, I rarely need a lens that’s faster than F/2, that bokeh quality is more important than F number. I generally have to give more depth in my photographs, where I want to tell a story and include more of the surroundings/details.
As a side note, have to add that (happily for me), I never fell into the expensive horror that is pursuing faster than F/1 lenses for 35mm film cameras. Shallow DoF still fascinates me, but I started to use it a bit more wisely. Maybe 🙂
Back to my story and somewhere along my film journey, I got into medium format. That happened because of some specific results that medium format is able to deliver -– relatively wide view and shallow depth of field. Concerning medium format’s focus field, I’m talking not about reality-obliterating ability to melt backgrounds out of existence, but about the ability to use very thin DOF enabled to make subtle subject separations that together with MF quality and perspective produces pictures with a distinct 3D feel.
Medium format “gold standard” lenses are generally 80mm F/2.8 that, in my favourite square format, is transformed into very a versatile something-like-44mm-equivalent from the 35mm world. I do like the medium format 80mm focal length, it can be a portrait lens, or a storyteller’s lens depending on the camera to subject distance. I do also like wider medium format lenses but talking about tele-, well, for some reason, in the last 4 years I’ve rarely used longer lenses, somehow, they don’t touch my soul…
Here’s what I cover in this review:
Getting my Norita 66: Back to DoF
Let’s get back to shallow DoF. F/2.8 in the medium format world is more than enough. Even F/3.5 or F/4 is more than enough to have pronounced subject separation in case the camera is focusing close. But I just couldn’t stop asking the question, how would faster standard lenses act?
Naturally, I looked at the famous Pentax 6×7 thunder machine with its widely known 105mm F/2.4 lens, but I don’t like the 6×7 format. It’s worth noting that my first MF camera was a Mamiya 645 1000S with a faster-than-light 80mm F/1.9 lens. It’s an awesome machine, but again, it’s not square. A second, very subjective, but for me deciding factor to leave this system was the 6×4.5 format. I don’t see a real medium format view there, it’s like super 35mm. This medium format feel, for me, starts with 6×6 or bigger negatives. My third issue: the Mamiya 80mm F/1.9 rendering is a bit too clinical to my eyes. That’s why Contax 645 80mm F/2 planar sits also outside my interest range. If it was, then we would be talking about the expensiveness of the system and reliability issues.
So, with these three factors set, I started to dig.
I found out about Hasselblad’s 110mm F/2 Planar lens (not interesting…long lens, expensive), then about the Schneider 80mm F/2 Xenotar HFT PQ for the Rollei 6008 (astronomically expensive, and well, I‘m not drawn to the Rollei 600X system). Then I stumbled on one photographer (warning, the link is NSFW) who extensively uses a camera system that’s largely unknown to me — the Norita 66.
I get it, the unbelievably good photos that Mr. Szymon Jobkiewicz takes are 99% based on his talent and experience, and only 1% based on gear but my goodness! What photos they are! What rendering, how surreal some of them are! I was awe! This was first example that introduced me to the pinnacle of the Norita system, the Norita Kogaku Noritar 80mm F/2 Planar lens.
My first impressions, after short check on system, were:
- Fast standard – Check.
- 6×6 format – Check.
- Specific, a bit old school drawing – Check.
- Still relatively affordable – Check. Note here – I bought mine a year ago, today’s prices are way higher, sorry guys, wasn’t me. 🙂
That was it. In my head, I had already made my decision and started to look at what cameras should I sell to fund the Norita 66 system.
My main problem with the Norita 66 is that it’s rare. It took me almost a year to finally get where I wanted to be. I’ll touch on that aspect of my story after some general information about this system.
The Norita 66
The Norita 66 is a medium format SLR camera. In it’s design philosophy, it’s very similar to a 35mm SLR and quite basic, which for me is a good thing. This camera is most often compared to the Pentacon six or Pentax 67. It shoots square format 6x6cm photos on 120 or 220 film. What separates it from the competition though is that ultrafast for (medium format film) standard lens: the Norita Kogaku Noritar 80mm F/2 Planar.
Worth to note that there is almost same camera under different brand names – Rittreck 66, Warner 66.
Those who want to get deeper I’ll provide you with some links: a bit more information about history of this camera, a detailed comparison with Pentacon six and a short overview of the Norita 66 camera.
The dimensions of the body with a non-metered pentaprism are W176xD76xH142mm. I don’t know the exact weight of body, it’s not mentioned in the manual, but expect it to be really heavy and durable. It’s more of a tripod camera, but I did a lot handheld shots with it…
Let’s start by looking at the beast. As you might imagine, the front of the camera has lens mount, flash socket and well, that’s it. Here it is with the 80mm F/2 lens installed and the non-metered pentaprism (left), and wait level finder (right).
Rear has rotational loaded film reminder and pretty standard film loading system. Shutter is cloth and has a top speed of 1/500.
On the bottom of camera located film spool holder and tripod screw.
The left side has dual action film door opening mechanism.
The right side has one of two dials/selectors used for enabling the camera’s double exposure.
In normal operation, this dial and a switch on the top of left side of the camera are set to “N”. The camera will shoot and rewind film as it normally should. However, if both controls are set to “D”, the camera will perform double exposure.
A speciality of Norita66 camera – when there is no film loaded, the shutter will not fire. If you want to test the shutter with an empty camera, set it to double exposure mode.
Looking to the top of the camera, on the left side is the film selection switch (120 or 220), film release knob, film frame counter, and as I mentioned above, the double exposure control.
On the right side is a threaded shutter button (mine here with a soft shutter release button mounted), the shutter speed selection dial, and film wind-on lever. The camera has a double stroke wind on (well in fact, about one and a half strokes). The first movement winds-on the film and the second arms the completely mechanical shutter.
The centre of the camera has two side switches to remove the interchangeable viewfinders.
Something worth mentioning is the lens mount. I’m used to lens mount types where you have to align the lens to body and then turn it clockwise until the lens locks on body. Norita’s case is different. It used a breach lock: you have to place the lens straight on the bayonet tighen a ring to secure it to body.
See the closest ring to camera body in the picture below.
Another unusual for me thing is the DoF preview switch. Its placed not on the camera body, but on the lens itself (like Haseelblad lenses).
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You most probably noted that there are two types of interchangeable finders in my pictures: a prism finder and waist level finder. There is a third type of finder which I haven’t had the opportunity to see personally — a metered prism. From pictures that I have seen, I can only say that it is very bulky and probably weighs a ton. I don’t care about inbuilt metering in medium format cameras, so I don’t have any interest to own one. One more thing that you have to know about metered finder – there should be a different coupled shutter selector dial mounted on the camera and to change it (if it’s possible to find such a spare part) you most probably need a camera repairman.
As for me – I rarely use the prism finder. But it’s really good, bright and has decent eye relief– good news for prescription glassed wearers like me. The most enjoyable experience for me is to shoot with waist-level finder. As usual, it has a built-in magnifier that makes critical focusing a lot easier. And believe me — you will use it with that medium format F/2 lens. There is a bit of inconvenience/design fail with Norita 66 waist-level finder – the back “wall” of the chimney has to be carefully placed under the cap of the WLF when closing it. This operation is not convenient and not self-explanatory at all. If you don’t do that – you will break it.
Let’s talk about the focusing screen. First: it’s not the biggest; I made a comparison picture with Rolleiflex 2.8GX screen below. Second: it’s bright. Same picture with Rolleflex shows the real difference. And please note, that GX has quite bright screen. This difference, most probably, comes not from the screen itself, but from Noritar 80mm F/2 lens maximum aperture that is a stop faster comparing to Rolleiflex’es F/2.8. Third: the screen gives a real old school experience, as it’s a bit convex. It reminds me old cathode type TV screen. 🙂
The focusing screen has several aids for focusing: split screen, a microprism (area surrounding split screen) and matte focusing area (the area surrounding microprism). The other areas of the screen are good for composing, but I wouldn’t recommend rely on focusing precision outside of the focus aids. The etched lines on sides of screen are meant for cropping the picture to large format 8×10 proportions.
The screen works perfectly; it is real pleasure to compose and focus the Norita 66.
Unfortunately, there is no mirror lock up feature in this camera. Considering the frame size of roughly 6×6, the mirror and shutter curtains are big and it potentially could cause vibrations during the exposure process that could cause degrade in image quality/sharpness.
From a practical point of view, when using the camera, I haven’t noticed typical problems caused by mirror bounce caused vibrations. Most problems with sharpness that I experienced were user errors (there will be a couple of non-perfectly focussed pictures in samples below).
And yes, the shutter is LOUD. No surprises here.
Reliability and availability issues
I mentioned that these cameras are quite rare. There’s another legend I uncovered when assembling my system — they are not reliable. I think those two problems are interconnected — if there are only a few examples of a camera on the market to choose from, then there is a higher risk to get a lemon, no choice means no choice…
Anyway, I did experience issues myself. Both issues — rareness and reliability. I have two bodies and both of them have problems. One of the bodies has problems with the film counter — it doesn’t work. The other has a problem with shutter curtain bounce. Using high shutter speeds results in a dark portion on the right of the frame — see the cat photo in this review. Part of dark area is cropped, but still, you can see what’s going on. Why do I have two bodies? The long and painful story of assembling my kit. I wanted to buy a WLF and it came with a dead camera body as an extra. When I wanted to buy a 55mm lens it came with TWO half disassembled bodies as an extra. 🙂
My personal opinion regarding reliability of the camera – I think it’s on pair on any cameras of such age. The problems exist because it’s an old, used, and abused camera with a lack of proper maintenance. I will need to service both bodies and after some time of using them, I will report about my real experience of reliability.
Any advice where is a good place to perform a full CLA for the Norita 66 in EU?
The Norita 66 system
I walked you through camera body. But Norita 66 is not only one camera and one lens – it’s quite a full system. Let’s take a quick look at how the ecosystem looks:
- Norita 66 body
- 3x interchangeable viewfinders (Non-metered and metered pentaprisms and waist level finder.
- 7x lenses – 40mm to 400mm:
- Norita Kogaku Noritar 40mm F/4
- Noritar 55mm F/4
- Noritar Noritar 70mm F/3.5 (with leaf shutter)
- Noritar 80mm F/2
- Noritar 160mm F/4
- Noritar 240mm F/4
- Noritar 400mm F/4.5
- Right-angle finder attachments
- Two microscope attachments
- Lens macro extension tubes
I didn’t list all the accessories that were made for Norita 66 system, but I did want to go through the main ones, for you to have a glimpse of the scope of it.
My Norita 66 system
What I use and will go (or already vent) through is as follows:
- Body – already covered that.
- Prism finder and waist level finder – covered.
- Lens macro extension tubes – pretty standard stuff. It’s possible to focus closer with them when mounted between the lens and body. The tubes come as a set of three. I mentioned them below as I talk about lenses and the results.
- Norita Kogaku Noritar 80mm F/2 lens
- Norita Kogaku Noritar 55mm F/4 lens
- Norita Kogaku Noritar160mm F/4 lens
I have it because, again, I wanted to get macro tubes set and it came with 160mm F4 as an extra… 🙂 Haven’t shot a single frame with it, so I cover mention it in this write-up.
Now this is where all the fun begins. Let’s start to talk about the glass!
Norita Kogaku Noritar 80mm f/2
This lens is the main thing why I and anyone should look into Norita 66 system. Let’s start with the fact that it’s very compact for what it is. It’s 76mm in diameter and 62mm in length and weighs 440g. The filter diameter is 62mm. Consider that this is a medium format F/2 lens! Closest focusing distance is an acceptable 85cm. Smallest aperture is F/22.
Here I would like to cover the macro tubes. Closest focus with different macro tubes is:
- Macro tube No.1: 40cm-55cm
- Macro tube No.2: 32cm-35cm
- Macro tube No.3: 29cm
The Norita Kogaku Noritar 80mm F/2 is unbelievably good. It actually exceeded my expectations. I wanted to get an old-school ultrafast lens with interesting rendering but It appeared much more than that. For some reason, I expected this lens to suffer from haze and flaring under backlight conditions, low contrast, but it goes on pair with my Rolleiflex 2.8GX that has quite modern lens coatings!
It’s also sharp. It’s sharp from wide open apertures all the way closed down. It’s sharp at its unaided closest focusing distance and it’s sharp wide open at its closest focusing distance of 32cm with macro extension tube No 2 installed.
To sum up, it handled everything that I threw it at. A note – I use Heliopan lens hood with this lens – you can see it in the pictures of camera. Enough talking, let’s look at pictures.
Norita Kogaku Noritar 80mm F/2 @ F/2
Norita Kogaku Noritar 80mm F/2 @ F/8:
Norita Kogaku Noritar 80mm F/2 @ F/2 with macro tube No. 1
Norita Kogaku Noritar 80mm F/2 @ F/2 with macro tube No. 2
Norita Kogaku Noritar 55mm F/4
76mm diameter, 62mm in length and weighs 390g. The filter diameter is 62mm. The lens’ closest focus is 45cm. F/4-F/22 aperture range.
Close focusing with macro tubes:
- Macro tube No.1: 24cm-30cm
- Macro tube No.2: 22cm
This lens surprised me. I thought that this would be my landscape and detail lens but it is working as a portrait lens, too. Same remarks as the 80mm F/2 – excellent sharpness and flare control. Keep in mind – all photos were shot without any lens hood.
Norita Kogaku Noritar 55mm F/4 @ F/4:
Norita Kogaku Noritar 55mm F/4 @ F/8:
Norita Kogaku Noritar 55mm F/4 @ F/16:
The shortest conclusion in the world
I came to point where I ran out of things to show and tell. The Norita 66 and lenses, as tested by me, reached and exceeded my expectations. They are awesome! However, it might be an expensive, and problematic choice for you, due to limited availability and previous abuse of cameras on the market today. In case somebody reading this decides to go the same way as me: you’ll get not only pleasure but also pain! 🙂
I’m pleased to leave you with such wicked ending.
Thanks for reading!
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