Photo Gear – Rittreck Optika II

In the mid-1950’s a Japanese company named Musashino Koki (now known as Wista) manufactured a medium format SLR camera which was marketed in various other countries as the Rittreck Optika IIa. By complete accident I stumbled across the existence of this camera while looking for something to shoot 6×9.

For those less familiar, medium format cameras shoot on 120 roll film. The height of a roll is 6 cm, but the width varies depending on the camera. While I love the square 6×6 format that my Bronica SQ-a shoots, it does have it’s limitations, and I sometimes find myself wanting to compose in a more ‘rectangular’ shape. For medium format, this leaves the 6×4.5, 6×7, 6×8, and 6×9 formats. Here are some quick opinions on these formats:

  • 6×4.5 – Had it on my Bronica ETRS, but didn’t love the camera for portrait work. Negative is a bit on the small side.
  • 6×7- Lots of (expensive) camera options, but hardly all that different from 6 x 6.
  • 6×8 – Only the Fuji GX680 shoots this so far as I know.
  • 6×9 – Nice and wide format, a fair number of options for cameras.

I had considered all these formats and the cameras that shoot them for quite some time. I had leaned toward 6×8 and 6×9 for the larger image size, and pleasing image ratio.

But, what camera should one choose? The Kodak Medalist has been at the top of my personal list for a while. It’s a legendary American rangefinder camera, but it shoots 620 film rather than 120 and is a bit on the expensive side. There are plenty of folding cameras out there which shoot 6×9. Inexpensive ones are zone-focus… problematic for my portraiture. The ones equipped with coupled rangefinders are quite costly. The Fuji GX680 is massive, and there are apparently issues finding batteries and/or power cables.

So when I happened upon an unknown 6×9 camera that was reasonably priced, an SLR, and completely unheard of to me, I immediately purchased it.

Disadvantages of the Rittreck Optika

I previously though my Bronica SQ-A was pretty heavy. In comparison to the Rittreck Optika, it’s practically a small point-and-shoot. The Rittreck is about double or triple the size and weight.

As you can see on the shutter speed selector dial, the Optika IIa has a grand total of six shutter speeds, as well as a bulb mode. Designated speeds are 1/20, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200, and 1/400. While this isn’t the worst range, I find myself needing slower shutter speeds when using film + natural light for lingerie/boudoir shoots. The 105mm Luminant lens for this camera can provide apertures from f/3.5 to f/32. You can see where accommodating bright light isn’t the problem; it’s the low light where options are limited.

Shutter Speed Selection Dial
Aperture Selection

The 6×9 roll film back for this camera is in no way coupled to the camera body. What that means is that two separate winding motions are required after each shot. The camera must be reset by winding a knob which returns the mirror and the focal plane shutter to the ‘ready’ position. Separately, the film must be wound to the next frame so as not to make a double exposure.

Shutter/Mirror cocking mechanism
Film advance winding knob on the film back

Shooting the Rittreck Optika in landscape orientation is simple whether handheld or on a tripod. Using a portrait orientation is not so easy. Handheld, it is very difficult to hold the heavy camera and frame the image in the ground glass. It’s slightly better on a tripod. Notably, the camera has a second tripod mount on the side to make portrait shooting easier. However, it’s still hard to frame an image; the image appears reversed on the ground glass, making it difficult to compose.

Advantages of the Camera

Limited by all of the disadvantages I’ve mentioned above may make you wonder why anyone would choose to purchase such a camera. First, I wasn’t even aware of the the existence of any 6×9 SLR, so I was quite pleased to stumble across one. For the type of shooting I do, I find an SLR preferable to a rangefinder, and far preferable to a zone-focus camera. It is easier to compose and focus on critical details, and there is no parallax error to worry about. This type of camera also lends itself to my deliberately slow form of shooting, almost like large format.

It is also a bit nice to have something a little on the rare side; a quick search on Flickr, Instagram, even Google reveal very few images and discussion on this camera. And yet the camera was still quite affordable at around $350 on an auction site.

Is the Rittreck Worth It?

So far, yes. This camera requires a bit more concentration and focus (no pun intended) on the process of shooting. But for this reason, I enjoy it. Like many film photographers, I find slowing down and thinking about each image beneficial to my photography.

Rittreck Optika IIA Example Photos

Here are some of my shots with this camera.

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