dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

Graflex Norita 66

Graflex Noritar sample image

Wild-eyed women prefer the 80/2 Noritar to the 80/2.8 Planar 2 to 1
(Noritar 80mm f/2 wide-open at 1/250 sec)

I am going to limit this review to things which will not be apparent from what is available on the Internet as of this date (6/25/2003).

Basics: The Graflex-Norita 66 is a 6x6 SLR that looks like a 35mm SLR on steroids. It is the spiritual ancestor of the Pentax 6x7 and a contemporary of the Pentacon 6. It takes 12 exposures on 120 or 24 on 220, with the film type selected by the pressure plate and a switch on the counter. The camera has a large cloth focal plane shutter that travels from right to left (from the back) with speeds of B, 1-1/500 sec. Diaphragm is automatic, and the lens has a stop-down lever. The camera body is brass, with glossy black enamel. It is lovely, even if it is worn a little bit.

Ergonomics: There is not much to complain about in terms of ergonomics. The Norita 66 handles like a bigger version of a Nikon F.

Viewing system: Especially with the standard 80mm f/2 Noritar lens, the Norita 66 has a surprisingly-bright finder that features a somewhat coarse fresnel brightener, a microprism collar, and a horizontal split screen in the center. There are crop marks which seem to show the area of a 6x6 slide. Magnification with the 80mm lens is greater than lifesize. The standard pentaprism interchanges with the waistlevel finder a a TTL prism, although your chances of finding either are slim to none.

Lenses: there are a number of lenses for the Norita, but the one you really want is the one it comes with: the 80mm f/2 Noritar. Of the normal and longer lenses, it focuses the closest (0.8m) and is the fastest. The lens is just... lovely. It's the MF version of the Noctilux. It's got so many aberrations wide-open that the subject is rendered perfectly and the background just melts away.

— In terms of minimum depth of field, the 80/2 at 0.8m has 28mm of depth of field, which is the same as a Pentax 105/2.4 lens for the 6x7 at 1m. At that distance, both have 0.11x magnification.

Transport: The Norita 66 uses a double-stroke winding mechanism. The first stroke cocks the shutter; the second winds the film just the right amount. In normal exposure mode, the shutter is actually cocked by a film roller. In multiple-exposure mode, it is cocked by direct action. I am not sure what the purpose of this is, except to make the transport more prone to breakdowns (on Fuji rangefinders, for example, the only effect of choosing Roll is to lock the shutter unless the film moves a frame). Thankfully, the spool retainers lock in the out position.

The wind-on is wind, shoot, wind, shoot until you hit frame one. Winding off at the end of the roll is many strokes.

The use of a single, non-interchangeable back is probably not as convenient as interchangeable backs like on a Hasselblad or Bronica, but there is a maxim that if your camera can take multiple backs, you must have multiple backs. This by virtue of the fact that interchangeable backs are always harder to load. And it's not like 12 frames is a lot before you can change films.

In use: The Norita 66 is a lot of fun to use. It is easy to blast through a roll of 120 without even trying. It is easy to focus accurately and at close range and large apertures. The hangups I had were

— Shutter curtain bounce (the Norita's shutter brake is prone to failure, and it is not much more than a cushion attached to the shutter curtain). This leaves a dark right edge when it is first curtain bounce, and a light one with second curtain bounced. I managed to get both on one roll of film.

— A weird transport quirk where I would only get 11 or 23 frames per film. It is my understanding that these are the bugaboos of cameras that have not been serviced in some time.

— Some kind of flare, which may be the shutter not capping properly at high speeds.

All are correctible conditions (by a repairman - or by buying a Pentax 6x7...). Although the shutter bounce was annoying, the 80mm lens is just so damn good wide-open that if you spent your entire time shooting 1/125 and 1/250 (the only speeds where I did not see it), you might get away with not servicing it. For me, the unpredictable flare was something of a showstopper, although I would expect that if corrected, I could like with everything else.

The upshot? If you have one of these that has been serviced, it will be a great camera. You can see why the Pentax 6x7 (a descendant with better mechanics) did so well.