Pentacon Six or Norita?

One question I have been repeatedly asked is, “Should I buy a Pentacon Six or a Norita?” In fact, I asked myself this question in the 1970s.
How do these two camera systems compare?
The Norita was designed on the same principles as the Pentacon Six: to be a 6 × 6 (2¼ square) Medium Format camera that handled like a 35mm SLR. In fact, some would claim that it was inspired by – or even copied from – the Pentacon Six and Praktisix, which had first appeared about 13 years earlier (Praktisix 1957, Norita, early 1970s). However, its supporters would claim that the design of the Norita was an improvement on the Pentacon Six. Let us compare them.

The bodies

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="669" caption="The similarities between the Pentacon Six and the Norita 66 (marketed in the USA as “Graflex Norita”) are obvious in this picture.The shape of the plain prism seems closely inspired by the Pentacon Six plain prism – although there are constraints on the possible shape of any pentaprism! Note the absence of a delayed-action lever on the Norita."][/caption]

The Norita was originally marketed as the Rittreck (or Warner Rittreck in the USA), but apart from a few cosmetic details (difference of name plate, chrome instead of black standard lens), this was essentially the same as the Norita.  It was very much in the style of the 1970s Japanese 35mm SLRs, and included some improvements on the Praktisix/Pentacon Six:

  • Unusually for Medium Format SLRs at the time, it had an instant-return mirror (even the Hasselblad didn’t have that!).

  • The advance lever protruded beyond the back of the top plate, and was easier to operate than on the Praktisix and Pentacon Six – BUT the big minus was that it didn’t advance the film in one swing; it had to be advanced approximately 1½ times!

There were, however, a couple of other minus points:

  • The Praktisix and the Pentacon Six had a top speed of 1/1000 sec.  The Norita had a top speed of 1/500 sec.

  • The Norita’s all-black body was considered by some more stylish than the chrome and black finish of the Praktisix and the later Pentacon Six.  However, the black paint soon wore off the corners and base plate, and most Noritas available now suffer from severe “brassing” of the corners.

The top plate of the Norita follows very much the layout standard on 35mm SLRs at the time.One innovation in the Norita: the orange triangle at the right-hand end of the top plate points to a dial on the side that enables the user to engage a double-exposure facility, so that it is possible to cock the shutter without advancing the film. To operate this correctly, it is also necessary to move a lever at the other end of the top plate, so that the counter doesn’t advance. The user must remember to return both controls to the Normal position after use!

The viewfinders

Most Noritas seem to have been sold with a non-metering prism, although by the late 1970s (approximately ten years later than for the Pentacon Six TL!) a metering prism appeared.

This had one major advantage, compared to the Pentacon Six, and three disadvantages.

The advantage was that it was coupled to the shutter speed control of the camera (but not to the aperture of the lenses!).

The disadvantages were:

  • It could not be mounted on the camera without having the camera’s shutter speed knob changed – a job for a professional camera repair person familiar with Noritas and in possession of the appropriate spare part!

  • The metering prism was extremely bulky and heavy, adding substantially to the size and weight of the camera.

  • The front of the ever-ready case could not be used with the metering prism in place.

Especially from behind, the Norita 66 with metering prism looks enormous compared with the Pentacon Six.
It also weighs a lot more!]

The lenses

The good news was:

  • The standard 80mm lens had a maximum aperture of f/2, unheard-of for a lens on a Medium Format camera at the time.

  • There was a quite compact 40mm ultra wide-angle lens for the system.

The bad news was:
The range of lenses was extremely limited.  The Norita never really took off in the market place, and as far as I can see only one lens was produced by a third-party manufacturer in the Norita mount: Zoomar’s 170 – 320mm f/4 lens.  Apart from this, one was restricted to the limited range produced by Norita Kogaku of Japan.  The following lenses were offered:

Focal LengthAperture RangeElements / GroupsClosest FocusFilter SizeWeight
40mmf/4 – f/229 / 81 ft (0.3m)77mm × 0.7522.5 oz (640g)
55mmf/4 – f/229 / 91.5 ft (0.45m)62mm × 0.7513.75 oz (390g)
80mmf/2 – f/226 / 43 ft (0.85m)62mm × 0.7515.5 oz (440g)
160mmf/4 – f/226 / 57 ft (2m)62mm × 0.7523 oz (650g)
240mmf/4 – f/226 / 512 ft (3.5m)77mm × 0.7540.5 oz (1150g)
400mmf/4.5 – f/226 / 721 ft (6m)95mm × 0.7580 oz (2300g)

The 400mm lens was advertised by a German supplier in 1975/6 but is not listed in most Norita literature that I have, although I have found reference to it in a recently-acquired brochure.  In June 2006 one of these lenses was sold on eBay for US$966.56 (approx EUR 750.00) – not within the price range of most amateurs for a rarely-used lens (unless one specialises in wildlife photography or various types of sports photography).  Another one of these lenses was sold on eBay in February 2010 for US$799 (approx Eur 584.45 or GBP510.74).

In addition, a very interesting special lens was produced for the Norita 66: a 70mm lens with built-in leaf shutter.  This enabled flash sync at all speeds.  Details are as follows:

Focal LengthAperture RangeElements / GroupsClosest FocusFilter SizeWeight
70mmf/3.5 – f/227 / 52.7 ft (0.8m)77m × 0.7534 oz (980g)

For all other lenses, the X setting on the shutter speed dial is selected.  This provides a nominal 1/40 sec sync, fractionally faster than on the Praktisix and Pentacon Six.

At the time that I was looking at the Norita (mid-to-late 1970s), none of the lenses was multi-coated.  However, Selmar Meents in Holland e-mailed me in December 2005 saying:

“I have owned two multicoated 40mm lenses for the Norita 66. These lenses were marked as such and the focusing ring was covered with diamond grid rubber as opposed to the metal focusing rings of the single coated version.
“Other owners have reported that they owned MC 240mm and MC 55mm lenses. These lenses were probably made in small numbers at the end of the production period of the Norita 66 system and are very rare.”

In fact, in 2006 I acquired a 160mm Noritar that is labelled “MC” and has the same type of diamond grid rubber focussing ring.  I have also seen a picture of an 80mm Noritar MC, which therefore accounts for all of the lenses other than the 70mm leaf-shutter lens and the rare 400mm lens.

The British photographic journal “Amateur Photographer” reviewed the Norita with standard lens and plain prism in its issue dated 27th October 1971, and reviewed the 40mm, 55mm, 160mm and 240mm lenses the following week (3rd November 1971).  While it went out of its way to welcome the system and be positive where possible, it is clear that many of the lenses produced images that were not very sharp, especially at the larger apertures, and revealed problems with flare.

The accessories

Very few accessories were ever produced for the Norita.  I am only aware of the following:

  • A waist-level finder, occasionally supplied with the camera

  • A magnifying hood

  • A set of extension tubes

  • A flash shoe for the standard prism

  • A carrying cradle, which was quite a clumsy contraption that was needed with earlier Noritas, which did not have strap lugs

  • An ever-ready case (which is, however, fouled by the strap lugs on the later cameras, and cannot be fitted to the camera without being cut!)

In a Norita brochure I have recently seen

  • a right-angle finder

  • two microscope attachments, one with a Copal shutter, and the other without a shutter.

However, I have never seen any of these three items for sale, and conclude that at best they must be extremely rare.  They may even enter into the category of items that were advertised but never entered serial production, not uncommon with camera manufacturers, as will be clear from other parts of this website! There were no bellows (unless someone can prove me wrong, and I have been looking for years!)
There were no 2× converters, additional focussing aids or other accessories.

A comprehensive Norita outfit[C418-29A]  A comprehensive Norita outfit:

At the back: the ever-ready case (which won’t fit the camera because of the strap lugs!) and to its right the metering and non-metering prisms
In the next row: the rather awkward carrying cradle, the 240mm lens, a Norita body with standard lens and the rare waist-level finder in place, with the extended shutter speed dial for the metering prism protruding up above everything.  Then comes the 70mm leaf-shutter lens, followed by the 160mm lens, and on the right the set of 3 auto extension tubes.
Next row: the 40mm lens in front of the carrying cradle, and the 55mm lens between the 240 and the body, then various lens caps.
The “mystery ring” in front of the largest lens cap is described on the next page, here.
Virtually nothing is missing from this shot: just the super-rare and hyper-expensive 400mm lens, some lens shades and the extremely rare microscope adapters.

For variety of lenses and accessories, this outfit does not compare well with the outfits on offer from:

Pentacon Pentacon Six outfitArsenal

Kiev 60 outfit


Exakta 66 outfit

In fact, the comparison is overly favourable to the Norita, since a non-Norita item is included in the Norita outfit shot, and various items are missing from the photos of the other three outfits: Cases, lens caps and lens hoods (shades) from the Pentacon Six and Kiev 60 outfits, plus specialised focussing screens for the Pentacon Six.  More focussing screens were available for the Exakta 66, plus more macro lenses and the elusive tilt-shift Super-Angulon.  What’s more, of course, the lenses and most of the accessories from each of these three systems can also be mounted on the other two cameras!  Of course, the Exakta 66 was not available in the 1970s when I took my decision, and little was known about the Kiev 60 in the West, but the Pentacon Six outfit with its lenses from Carl Zeiss Jena, Meyer-Optik and many other manufacturers was readily available.

Most important, there was always a niggling doubt about the design and the quality of the Norita range.  In my limited experience, this appears to have some basis in fact.  A few years ago I bought the Norita extension tubes.  For some strange reason, however the three tubes are combined, there are gaps in the range – certain magnifications that are just not possible, no matter how much you adjust the focussing ring of the lens.  This is just carelessness at the design stage.

Further, the aperture pin in Norita lenses moves sideways, as with some other cameras, but unlike the in-out movement of the pin on Pentacon Six lenses.  In order to transfer this sideways motion with the tubes, the designers have resorted to a double-tube construction, with an inner tube and and outer tube.  Firstly, this makes the tubes extremely heavy.  The three Norita tubes weigh 545 grams or 1lb 3¼ oz, while the four Pentacon Six tubes weigh little more than half this, at 330 grams or 11½  oz.
Secondly, the inner and outer tubes are in contact at many points, which results in friction when the inner tube is called upon to rotate and stop down the lens diaphragm.  Ball-bearings between the inner and outer tubes are designed to minimise friction, but I found the movement was not smooth, and do not doubt that on many occasions the lens will not have stopped down to the desired aperture by the time the shutter fires.

Worse, even though the tubes appeared new and unused, one day when I was trying them out, there was a grating noise, and all the ball-bearings fell out of one of the tubes, which is now useless!  I shall have to see if my repairer is prepared to take a look at it.  In contrast, the Pentacon Six tube design is simple and light-weight.  Above all, it just works without problems, year after year.

The ball bearings from a Norita close-up tube

Update, July 2008
My regular Pentacon Six technician, Tom Page, agreed to have a look at the faulty Norita tubes.  He was not impressed with the design.  Only one ball race in each of the tubes, even the longest one, means that movement is not as smooth as it should be.  After lubricating and replacing the ball bearings, he sealed the locking ring, aiming to make it tight enough to prevent the ball bearings getting out again, but not so tight that it would slow down the rotation of the inner tube that stops down the aperture.  Long-term reliability does not appear likely with this design.

My decision

I took the decision to go for the Pentacon Six in 1977 for the following reasons:

  • It was available, both new and second-hand in the UK.

  • The Norita was not available new and was extremely difficult to find second-hand.

  • I wanted a top shutter speed of 1/1000 sec.

  • I was impressed by the range of lenses and accessories available for the system.

  • The Norita lenses did not seem to be up to the standard of the Carl Zeiss Jena lenses available for the Pentacon Six.

I have not regretted that decision since, and what we know now confirms that it was right (for me and many other users, at least):

  • The Pentacon Six continued to be available new until 1990, whereas the Norita disappeared by the end of the 1970s.

  • A more sophisticated successor to the Pentacon Six – the Exakta 66 – appeared in the mid 1980s, and continued to be available new until about 2000.

  • The Pentacon Six proved so popular and successful in many countries, that the mount was adopted by other manufacturers, first Arsenal in Kiev, then Hartblei and others who modified Kiev 88 cameras to take Pentacon Six lenses.

  • A range of manufacturers produced a much wider range of lenses in the Pentacon Six mount – including zooms and even shift and tilt lenses at accessible prices!

  • In contrast, practically no MC (multi-coated) lenses are available in Norita mount – it had virtually ceased production before this advance in lens coating was developed.

  • Pentacon Six mount cameras and lenses are still available new today!

The Norita was clearly inspired by the Praktisix/Pentacon Six.  It did not succeed, in my opinion, because people who wanted a Medium Format SLR in enlarged 35mm style, but didn’t want to buy a product from communist East Germany, went for an alternative Japanese model: the Pentax 6×7. Why didn’t I?

To see a brief overview of the Pentax 6×7, compared to the Pentacon Six, click the following link.
Pentax 6×7

To see more information on the “mystery ring” in the Norita outfit picture, click here.

To return to the section on the pentaprisms, click here.

To return to the Frequently-asked Questions, click here.

To go back to the introduction to the cameras, click here.

To return to the interview with the author, click here.

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