In recent years I have enjoyed the possession of a couple of Bronica 645 bodies, an ETRS and an ETRSi. For the newbies around, these cameras take 15 shots on a roll of 120 film, each negative measuring approximately 6x4.5 cms. For those who prefer square format, Bronica also made a slightly larger version of this camera that takes 12 6x6 negatives.
The Bronica is a single lens reflex system camera whose format is copied from the Hasselblad. It's a bit like a Lego camera, you build it up from a set of building blocks to suit the situation. The main body of the camera houses the mirror mechanism, the lenses all have their own Seiko shutters which are electrically controlled from the body. There are separate cassettes or backs for conventional film or Polaroid, and you can change backs mid way through a film. You also get a choice of viewfinder, a waist level finder or a pentaprism for eye level viewing. At least two varieties of metered prism finder exist, one with just centre weighted metering and the other with both that and spot metering.
The lens mounted shutters are flash synhronised up to the maximum speed of 1/500th second.
The ETRS body is more robustly made than the ETRSi which incorporates more plastic components, but the ETRSi does have a mirror lock up feature.
What's it like to use?
The lenses are excellent. I don't have exotic glass to compare them with in this format, but I have tested them against my aged Rolleicord with a Schneider Xenar. The Bronica Zenzanon is streets better until you reach f11 when it is similar but still ahead, and it's not until you reach f16 when the results become indistinguishable.
Beware however that the Seiko shutters do cause problems from time to time - and this is not limited to Bronica cameras, much more expensive marques also suffer. Buying secondhand you are best off with a guarantee, or at the very least, the ability to put a couple of films through before parting with your cash as shutter repairs are expensive.
Light leaks around the dark slide slot of the film back are a common fault, but easy to fix.
The cameras are about as ergonomic as a house brick. They are heavy to carry and horrible to hold. The view finders are OK however, the waist level finder is a tad brighter than the prism, but not anything like as convenient, particularly for vertical format shooting.
If you want to use the mirror lock up you need to have degree in film photography, while how many people have changed the film back and forgotten to wind on, or attempted to take a once in lifetime shot with the dark slide in place?
The long and flexible cable release that operates successfully with my Pentax cameras will not budge the Bronica shutter. A much shorter and stiffer bit of kit is needed.
In short this is no point and shoot happy snap camera. It is a serious tool intended for dedicated professionals and ridiculously keen amateurs such as myself.
Did I mention that the camera only works at one speed if the battery is flat, a user friendly 1/500th! I once lugged my Bronica kit (three lenses, three backs, a body and two viewfinders) up the hillside at Whitby and beyond only to discover that the battery was flat. It does keep you fit.
In a strange way I do enjoy using the Bronica, the results can be technically superb, while it is challenging, to say the least.
Here are a couple of shots: -