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Bronica SQ-Ai

by Edwin Leong, 2000

I bought into medium format for a few reasons. The main ones not in any particular order:

  1. I love toys for big boys and I always want more then I can afford or my wife will let me have;
  2. I saw an increasing possibility of doing more portrait and wedding shoots and desired to have a system more suitable for these formal shoots;
  3. I love to shoot landscapes and I try to shoot for enlargements when I do so in a very serious fashion -- I came to regard my 35mm kit as a restrictive bottleneck for quality enlargements I'd be proud to display on my walls.

With those factors running through my head, numbers 2 and 3 being key (high speed flash syncing in a convenient sized body that could do portraits and landscapes equally well), I wanted to buy a medium format kit that would best address my needs.

The decision-making process started with trying to decide which medium format SLR size I would buy into, 645, 6x6 or 6x7, discounting the even larger and less standard 6x8, 6x9 et al. I took some ideas and inspiration from some of the wedding and portrait professionals I had come across or read about. Most used the 6x6 format for the compromise in a good-sized negative and being able to dispense with having to tilt the camera for verticals. I decided to follow suit and go with convention on the size issue and decided upon 6x6. Now I needed to decide which company to buy into.

I'm no Philip Greenspun with reams of ArsDigita.com Internet money flowing out of my pockets so overall costs were a major factor in my decision making. Rollei never entered into the picture because they simply aren't a presence on the West Coast of Canada where I live. It basically came down to Hasselblad or Bronica and as I was going over the prices of both systems it became a perverse experience to realize how poor I was/am. The price of admission into the rarified world of Hasselblad was a humbling experience. Even though the entry-level prices were actually affordable for me, subsequent purchases of lenses and accessories would not be. So much so that Bronica became the only realistic choice for me to pursue.

SQ-Ai Body

The Bronica SQ-Ai body is a system-oriented camera based upon the classic Hasselblad model. Meaning that you start with a squarish box that contains a mirror assembly and a few control dials and switches on the exterior. And, oh yes, you also get a film winding crank for your $1100 US. You must of course add a viewing device such as a waist level or prism finder, a film back and a lens in order to begin the picture taking experience with the Bronica. All of which will cost you $2500 at B&H Photo for the basic kit (waist level finder option).

Your basic Bronica SQ-Ai kit will look remarkably similar to a Hasselblad, which was probably no accident, functionally and aesthetically. The Bronica SQ-Ai, more so then the other bodies in the Bronica lineup, can be thought of as a Japanese Hasselblad. Incidentally, the other bodies of the 645 ETRSi and 6x7 GS-1, are respectively, basically smaller and larger versions of the SQ-Ai with slight differences in features. Buy one body and you'll know exactly how to operate the other two bodies.

The controls of the basic SQ-Ai body are simple. On the side of the body (right hand side as you look down at the viewfinder) with the film-winding crank there are two control levers and one release lever. One lever directly above the winding crank is for multiple exposures. Flip it down and the film won't advance until the switch has been flipped up. The multiple exposure switch is also utilized when the Polaroid back is attached or for testing out the shutter action without film in a back. The lever to the front of the winding crank is for mirror lockup in either single exposure or continuous exposure shooting. The third control is a release lever for changing viewfinders and is located near the top edge of the body closest to the lens.

On the other side of the SQ-Ai body are more controls and inputs for accessories. The shutter speed dial is situated at the top, middle edge of the body and ranges from 1/500 to 16 seconds with Bulb mode. These shutter speeds are in full stop steps. In front of the shutter speed dial is a release lever for changing lenses and to the rear of the shutter dial is a battery check button which will light up a red LED in the viewfinder to confirm battery juice is still good. This red light also confirms that the shutter has been released for an exposure. The lower portion of this side of the body also sees a threaded cable release socket which will work quite nicely with any standard cable so no need to buy an expensive $50 Bronica cable when your $10 one left over from your manual 35mm kit will do just as well. This cable release socket will also work when the SQ-i motor drive is attached, so again, no need to buy a special motor drive cable release either.

The other socket beside the threaded cable release socket is for the SCA 386 flash adapter. Buy this adapter and you will enjoy TTL-OTF (Off The Film plane) flash reading with Metz flashes. Sunpak and Quantum also make their own flash adapter compatible with their own line of flashes, which adds more flash versatility to the SQ-Ai system. The SCA 386 adapter is an expensive, puny little box with two coiled cords running out of it, one for the camera body and the other for the flash. The top of the box has an ISO dial that ranges from 25 to 1250 which means that if you're silly enough to shoot ISO 800 film outdoors and want one stop under fill flash, you're close but still SOL (Shit Out of Luck). Users should also note that the flash exposure is independent of any metered prism exposure values so one has to ensure that the shutter speed doesn't go dangerously slow and show up hand shaking when in low ambient light conditions. The last control on this side of the body is the release button for the filmbacks and is located beside the SCA socket.

The front of the body has the shutter release button with lock mode on the lower left corner of the body as you view it from the front. Diagonally opposite to the shutter release button is the PC Sync socket -- the joys of having an electronically controlled shutter means not having PC cords inconveniently connecting to your lens. The back of the body has no controls or features save for the slots for the film back hooks.

The under side of the body is spare with the standard tripod socket, motor drive pin sockets and the battery compartment. The SQ-Ai is an electronically controlled body and requires juice to run although it does have a "life-saver" default shutter speed of 1/500 should the juice run dry. The batteries required are four 1.5volt LR44 types which are at least commonly available in most drugstores should you run dry in Hicksville, Canada or USA. Add the motor drive though and you can dispense with the annoying little cells as the six AA sized batteries in the motor drive will power the camera as well as any attached metered-prism.

SQ-i Motor Drive

Since I, like most other amateur photographers, came to medium format from 35mm, I became spoiled by the ease of use of the smaller format. My Nikon F90x is not exactly the last word for state of the art in the world of 35mm but it is imminently functional and goes about its duty in workmanlike manner. The motor drive and autofocus are fast enough for most of my needs and of course the flash capabilities allowed me to become a moron when it came time to do flash photography. 35mm is all about convenience and I knew that moving up to 6x6 medium format would entail a bit of a learning curve for me to fully appreciate the virtues of the larger format.

What I never got use to though was the lack of ergonomic handling of a basic 6x6 Bronica or Hasselblad. I despise the winding crank and find the bottom oriented shutter release button to be awkward. I find it more comfortable to turn the body on its side to orient the release on top again (using a prism finder of course). This awkwardness prompted me to purchase the SQ-i Motor Drive right from the start and I don't regret the decision despite the relatively high cost for the blistering 0.7 frames per second winding speed.

The motor drive makes the SQ-Ai as close to a modern 35mm body as I can get for ease of use and handling. It of course adds bulk and weight to the body but the ergonomics of the motorized SQ-Ai make up for it and I don't have difficulty fitting it into my Lowepro Street and Field Reporter 400 (my bag of choice for street shooting) along with a number of other accessories. Bronica also makes a Speed Grip accessory for their bodies that looks like a motor drive but works like a manual 35mm camera with a film winding crank for your thumb. A more convenient shutter release and hot shoe mount are also provided on the Speed Grip.

The motor drive comes with a nice hand-strap that adds greater stability and security when hand holding the kit. The top of the motor drive from front to back is equipped with the obvious shutter release button, a hotshoe, a film winding button and power on/off dial that also selects either single or continuous shooting mode. The main handle section is covered with a rubberized material to provide better grip.

For as much as it costs the motor drive smacks of cheesiness in the amount of plastic used in its manufacture and I do wish that Bronica had provided better fit and finish to this accessory. There are other aspects of the motor drive build that give me some concern as well but I'll have more to say about that in the Caveats section.

For now though, the motor drive is functional and serves exactly the purpose I bought it for, that is greater comfort and easier transition from 35mm to medium format.

View Finders

The first time I looked down at a waist level finder I hated it. The reversed left/right image was awkward to get use to and given my penchant for buying more then I really need, I decided that I would add a metered prism to the SQ-Ai kit. I still bought the waist level finder because the 3.6X popup magnifier is too good to pass up for getting critical focus. I have since come to enjoy the virtues of the waist level finder and find it indispensable for much of my shooting with the SQ-Ai. But while I got use to the waist level finder, I had the top metered prism available from Bronica for the SQ-Ai body, the SQ-i AE Prism or AE III as it known in Canada. The SQ-Ai also has five other viewfinder options besides the top SQ-i Prism Finder. These five others are an older 90 degree metered ME Prism; a 90 degree non-metered prism; a 45 degree non-metered prism; a top viewing MF finder with built-in meter for critical close-up work; and the standard waist level finder.

The SQ-i prism is large and moderately heavy due to the amount of glass in its front structure. Despite the gross amount of plastic used to lighten the prism finder when mounted onto the SQ-Ai body, the whole kit with motor drive becomes a bit of a brute to heft for handholding at a combined weight of 5½lbs with an 80mm lens attached.

The SQ-i prism adds a number of features to make life easier for the non-manual type of photographer. Besides the obvious advantage of a laterally correct image the prism adds a full viewfinder area averaging meter and a spot meter. Aperture Priority auto exposure is also available as well as a metered manual mode in which the meter provides you with a meter reading that you can disregard as you maintain full exposure control. When in Aperture Priority mode the prism takes over the shutter speed and any speed set on the body's manual dial is disengaged. Shutter speeds available are from 32 to 1/500 of a second in 1/12 increments in AE mode and the same as that on the body in manual mode; B, 16 to 1/500.

An exposure lock is available in which the meter will keep a set exposure value for one minute or until the shutter release button has been pushed or the memory lock has been cleared. Exposure compensation is available up to +/- two stops in 1/3 increments. This exposure compensation dial is independent of the exposure compensation dial on the SQ-i film backs so when combined, exposure compensation of up to +/- four stops can be had. A viewfinder shutter and diopter control from --2.5 to +0.5 round out the features of the SQ-i prism finder.

Controls and layout are straightforward and right-hand oriented. The right side of the prism has the power on dial that the user sets to either Aperture Priority or Metered Manual mode. Above the power-on dial and towards the middle of the prism are two buttons, one labeled M for exposure memory lock and the other C for clearing memory lock. The top of the prism has the exposure compensation dial, which requires the user to depress a small button in the center of the dial to rotate it to the desired compensation value. Beside this dial is a switch to select either averaging metering or spot metering. The rear of the prism where the viewfinder eyepiece is has the diopter dial on the right side of the eyepiece and viewfinder shutter lever to the left of the eyepiece.

The prism also comes with two rubber eyecups, one small and one slightly larger. I find neither to be satisfactory and wish that Bronica would produce an eyecup that is of similar design to those available for Hasselblad users; that is larger and more comfortable.

When looking through the prism finder, a small LCD readout provides a few basic pieces of information. From left to right, the user will see either AE or M depending upon which mode of operation has been set, AE for Aperture Priority and M for Manual mode. When exposure lock is engaged an L will be added to AE and stay locked for one minute or until the shutter has been release or the lock is cleared. Next in the LCD information is the shutter speed. There is no aperture value readout, which is a shame and obviously requires the user to take the eye away from the eyepiece to confirm the aperture setting. The shutter speed indicator will flash when outside of the 1/500 limit ability of the camera.

Beside the shutter speed is the type of meter chosen. A rectangular outline indicates averaging mode and a black dot indicated spot meter mode. Lastly, a simple + or -- will be lit up to indicate any exposure compensation dialed in. In low ambient light conditions the LCD will be backlit by a lime green light similar to the Nikon F90x's LCD. A multiple exposure indicator is also visible when engaged but this is a mechanical indicator built into the body and can be seen with all view finder options.

SQ-i Film Backs (rollfilm and Polaroid)

There are several film backs available for the SQ-Ai. The standard 6x6 for 120 and 220 lengths as well as two non-rotating 645 format backs for 120 and 220 lengths that will provide 15 and 30 exposures respectively. Two 35mm format backs are also available, one for standard sized 35mm exposures and one for 24mm x 54mm panoramas. A Polaroid back rounds out the film back options for the SQ-Ai.

The standard 120 film back is non-excitingly functional in its layout and use. As with all medium format SLRs with removable film backs, a dark slide has to be utilized for mounting or dismounting a film back from the body. The Bronica film backs suffer from a problem that plagued most other medium format manufacturers, what to do with the dark slide. The companies have come around to the wishes of its users and have come up with storage slots on the film backs (Mamiya) or an internal engage or disengage solution (Rollei) to the dark slide problem. Even Hasselblad has addressed this issue in their most recent film back designs.

Bronica has yet to provide such conveniences for its users, as the current SQ-Ai system is now a relatively old update of the old SQ system of the 1980s. Bronica may come up with a redesign of the backs to allow for storage within the back in its next incarnation of the SQ design but for now, users have to put the dark slide in a place of there own choosing that will be readily available when the need for changing backs on the fly is required.

The dark slide is not that much of an issue for Bronica users changing over completed rolls of film since the inserts are interchangeable with the shells. The film back compromises of two parts, the shell and insert and 120 and 220 inserts can be exchanged at will with no need to match shells and inserts by serial numbers. I don't have experience with the 645 or 35mm film backs but logic dictates that these inserts can also be interchanged with other film shells. Thus, a user can have a film shell attached to the body and simply exchange inserts when required rather then fiddle around with a dark slide and disengaging the whole film back. This is assuming of course that the user has shot the entire roll of film. Mid roll changes will of course require the dark slide.

As mentioned earlier, the Bronica film backs are straightforward in design with little in the way of frivolous features or controls. Two levers on top of the back will disengage the insert from the shell when pressed inwards together. Also on top of the back are two gold plated pins that connect to a metered prism to send ISO data to the meter. The rear of the film back has a dual ISO and exposure compensation dial. The inner ring of the dial allows the user to set the ISO from 25 to 6400 while the other ring of the dial provides +/- two stops of compensation independently of the metered prism. The exposure compensation is of course just a temporary fooling of the ISO of the film to obtain the desired result. Beside the dial is a slot for storing a piece of the pro-pack film box so that you know what film is loaded in the back.

The insert has a film-winding crank on the lower right side. On the top right side of the insert is an additive film counter that counts up from 1 to 12 or 24. To load film, there are two spool holders that have pop out latch doors on the left side of the insert to allow the film spools to be placed in position. The film spool is placed on the top carrier and then the film is pulled over a roller on the top of the insert and then down over another roller and then onto the take up spool. The film loading procedure is actually far easier in reality then I can describe it in writing and I find it faster to load then a typical manual 35mm body. Fuji's film spools with the little hook to catch the paper on the take up spool are a great boon to speeding up and securing the film. Kodak et al, take note and do likewise with your roll film spools.

I also have a Polaroid back for instant images. I won't describe the loading procedures, as that would be tedious so only a few general notes and observations will be mentioned. Instant imaging is of course a great necessity and assistance when dealing with complex exposure situations. The downside though is the smallish usable image that one receives. The instant film print is able to provide a near 3x4-inch image but 6x6 users will get a 2¼x 2¼ inch image instead, which of course is the size of an individual negative or transparency.

The Bronica Polaroid back comes with a dark slide but this dark slide is not required for mounting or dismounting of the back, only for shielding the film from light. The Polaroid back also requires that the camera's multiple exposure lever be engaged for proper operation. The film-winding crank or motor drive would simply cock the shutter for the next instant exposure, as there is no film to be wound forward.

In my time using the Polaroid back, I came across one fit and finish issue that would present problems when I wasn't vigilant with it. I would mount the back onto the camera and appearance would appear to be that the back is fully engaged but if I neglect to push down on the lower section of the back to engage with the body's lower slots then I would get ruined exposures as light would leak onto the print. All Bronica backs engage onto the camera the same way. The top hooks are inserted first and then the bottom hooks are pushed in and a click is heard to confirm engagement. The Polaroid back is the same and when the bottom hooks are pushed in a click is also heard BUT another push is required with another click heard before the Polaroid back is actually properly engaged.

Without this second click you either get light leaks or a non-functioning camera. Trying to disengage the back is also problematic when not properly engaged. I thought I had a defective Polaroid back when I discovered this problem but subsequent experiences with it lead me to believe that it is more of a quality control issue that Bronica should deal with.

PS Lenses and Accessories

At various points of Bronica's existence there have been several lens makers for their 6x6 bodies with Nikon and Schneider being the two most notable quality manufacturers. Sadly though, neither produces lenses for Bronica bodies anymore. Users of the smaller ETRS bodies can still pick up new old stock Schneider zoom lenses in some stores but there is nothing available for the SQ line of bodies. Although two more high quality lens makers would be nice to choose from, something Rollei users enjoy with Zeiss and Schneider lenses; it should not be lamented too greatly. (Schneider and Bronica worked together to create the lenses but I suspect that the Tamron buyout was a major reason why Schneider is out of the picture)

Bronica emphasizes the quality of its current lenses and from what I can gather of users' opinions on the newsgroups and mailing lists; Zenzanon lenses are quite good and compare well to the more expensive German-made lenses from Zeiss and Schneider. The SQ-Ai's line of lenses is known as the PS series. These lenses had their origins in the mid-1980s when Bronica revamped the PG series of lenses for the 6x7 GS-1 body. They found the results to be noticeably superior to previous lenses and began to revamp the lenses for the SQ and ETRS bodies. The SQ-A body was upgraded to the SQ-Ai in 1990 but the PS lenses were not introduced until 1996, roughly ten years after Bronica began to redesign their whole lens lineup and one year after Tamron bought out Bronica.

Speculation has most of the improvements in the current PS series over the previous S series lenses to be an improved multi coating process of the lens elements. There had been some concerns regarding the buyout of Bronica by Tamron and what that might mean for the quality of future lens designs. To date there have been seven new lenses introduced for all three Bronica bodies that have been a direct result of Tamron engineering. Two sexy zoom lenses, a fisheye and a macro lens have been introduced for the ETRSi while a 35mm f3.5 fisheye and 110mm f4.5 1:1 macro lens have been introduced for SQ-Ai users. The macro lens is very intriguing, as it is a true 1:1 macro range instead of the previous 1:4 limit of the older 110mm lens. So as far as I can determine now the Tamron buyout has been for Bronica and its users a boon as more interesting and very high quality lenses are slowly being introduced.

At present I only have two lenses, an 80mm f2.8 normal lens and the classic 6x6 medium format portrait lens of 150mm f4. Finances forced me to forego the 50mm f3.5 lens at time of purchase of the main kit and it has become my biggest purchase priority for the kit. I won't feel entirely well equipped until I have the wide-angle lens as well as the macro and a 250mm f5.6 telephoto lens in my arsenal. I have already had a few shoots where a wider and longer perspective would have helped me capture better and more interesting shots.

The occasional wedding I do can be a bit restrictive with only an 80mm perspective for group shots, as I often don't have the room to backup to capture very large groups. I don't think I really need the 50mm for group shots. A 65mm f4 lens would probably be comfortable enough but since I like taking landscapes too, a 40mm f3.5 lens would be the more interesting perspective. Trouble is I can't afford both lenses so the 50mm lens has become the compromise choice.

I haven't worried much about the quality of the lenses, as I trust Tamron/Bronica to produce acceptable samples. I do admit to wondering what it would be like to taste the fruits of German designed and manufactured lenses but the cost of admission keeps those desires in check. I've found the quality of the Zenzanon lenses to be quite good from the enlargements I have had done to date.

One 16x20 inch print from a Kodak Portra 160NC negative of some friends in a wedding pose was shot at f2.8 to blow out the distracting background. When I saw the original 5x5 print I knew that I had a good shot and wanted to use it as an example to show others what could be done with my Bronica kit. I ordered 5x7, 8x10, 11x14 and 16x20 prints to round out a suitable example presentation. In the back of my mind I worried about what the f2.8 aperture would do for sharpness and clarity in the larger sizes but the 16x20 holds up remarkably well given the aperture.

Another shot of the same couple was enlarged to 20x24 for their personal display. This was another shot that gave me some concern about the quality of the enlarged print as we had to discard much of the negative in order to enlarge just the central portion of it. I needn't have worried as the 20x24 print showed enough detail to see which person had the whiter teeth. My experience to date gives me no concern about the quality of Bronica lenses. They are indeed sharp with good color and contrast and taking care of the other technical incidentals such as using a good tripod, cable release and locking up the mirror will produce excellent enlargements. Of course this is true of most other medium format lens lines.

The lenses are perhaps the best built of any Bronica product. Solid and with good heft to them, they inspire the kind of confidence that only metal build can provide. The lenses attach via a four claw bayonet mount and rotate on and focus in the same direction as my Nikkor lenses so there wasn't a need to adapt for focus direction. The body and lenses have six gold contacts for the passing of information and control. Most of the PS lenses have 67mm filter threads but a few of the more unique or larger lenses have larger threads such as the fisheye, macro and 500mm super telephoto lenses. A bayonet mount is used for attaching dedicated lens hoods.

Although the SQ-Ai has a bulb mode on its shutter speed dial, users can utilize the Timer switch on the lenses to conserve battery power. This lever is a manual control located at the front, bottom of the lens and is a slide switch. The slide switch is tricky enough that a piece of black cardboard or lens cap should be used to close up the exposure before fiddling with the Timer switch to avoid blurring or shaking. I should note here that buyers of the SQ-b kit (a stripped down SQ-Ai) will be missing this Timer switch on their ‘B' lens and their B body will only go up to 8 seconds on the shutter speed dial with no Bulb mode. The B body is also lacking contacts for metered prisms, TTL flash capability, and the B film back has no ISO dial as it also lacks contacts to mate with metered prisms.

All current PS lenses allow for half stop increment changes from the aperture dial, which is located near the front of the lens. The aperture ring is knurled but quite narrow. The focus ring that is also a bit narrow on the is covered with a textured rubber material for better grip. Standard depth of field notations are easily read. A depth of field preview lever is located to the front left side of the lenses. Bronica advises not to use the lever at the same time as changing the aperture.

Putting it all together (handling and use)

The SQ-Ai body and the style of photography it entails took some getting use to for me, as I was a 35mm AF user prior to buying into medium format. When I first started shooting with it, I found it amazing that professional wedding photographers could shoot a high percentage of usable images with such kits during candid moments. Of course I later found out that anticipation is much of the battle and like good sports photographers, you have to anticipate where and how the action is going to follow and pre-focus your next shot. Even so, I find it a frustrating enough process that I generally don't try to do action or flowing styles of photography with the SQ-Ai.

Having the SQ-i Prism Finder and motor drive greatly facilitates the rare occasions that I do use the Bronica for candids but mostly the two major accessories come into their own for some street shooting that I try and do every now and then. Lugging a large tripod on the busy streets of Vancouver is not exactly conducive to grab shots so handholding is the obvious way to go. The accessorized SQ-Ai will get a few stares from passers by as it is large but since most people have little idea of what a medium format camera actually is, I'm quite certain that most of the people who see me take me for a Japanese tourist with a camcorder.

For tripod mounted shooting, the motor drive does seem a bit frivolous and a bit lazy on my part for not manually advancing the film since it is so quick and easy but given how much I spent on the accessory and some of the trouble I've had with it there isn't a bloody chance that I won't use the motor for all of my shooting. As I mentioned previously, I found the waist level finder to be awkward, especially for handholding. On the tripod though it comes into its own and is far more valuable to me then my seven-times as expensive prism finder. The pop-up magnifier is the real key as it allows me to focus properly and critically.

What I would find to be absolutely perfect though is a 45 degree finder with a laterally correct image and a 3-5X magnifier that can be engaged when needed. I find the 45 degree way of viewing to be very natural and comfortable but unfortunately Bronica's 45D finder does not have a magnifier. There is hope for me yet though as Brightscreen makes an accessory magnifier that will adapt to various finders from several medium format companies. The cost is a bit steep though at $400 US (remember I'm from Canada where the current exchange rate requires that I add 50% more to every US $).

In the meantime I bought Brightscreen's custom Proscreen to replace the original Bronica focusing screen. Brightscreen claims an increase in light transmittance to be 1½ stops more then the original screen but more importantly the custom screen supposedly increases the contrast to allow for better focusing in low light or with wide angle lenses. The screen I bought also has a larger then normal microprism/split screen circle and has very well defined horizontal and vertical outlines for 8x10 cropping in-screen. Does it work as advertised?

This is subjective and my opinions and findings may differ greatly from other users. For some a custom focusing screen is a Godsend but for me, I found the $240 price tag to be grossly overpriced and not up to the hype of the Brightscreen promotions. The differences were subtle and hardly night and day that Brightscreen seems to imply. I could discern little difference in light transmission and only very small changes in contrast from the visible concentric circles of the screen. If I had a chance to do it again I wouldn't and would rather put the money towards a 45D prism or film back or just about anything else besides a custom-focusing screen.

The SQ-i Prism Finder is fairly accurate as far as reflected meters are concerned. Comparing it to the spot meter in my F90x and testing via a Kodak grey card found the two to be so close that they were essentially identical. I also used my Sekonic 508 in spot meter mode as reference and found it to be virtually identical as well. But in incident mode, all of the spot meters were about ½ stop underexposed in comparison.

In the field, the SQ-Ai kit is functional and performs its duties in workmanlike manner, just like my Nikon F90x. No frills or gimmicks and equipped with the features necessary to get sharp images. All the functions are easily accessible and with the motor drive handling the film winding and shutter cocking for me, changing filmbacks on the fly is a snap (provided of course you have your dark slide handy). The Bronica bodies require that the shutter be cocked before a lens can be dismounted. My brief moments using the camera sans motor drive required me to think a bit more to remember certain manual steps. Steps that become second nature for those without motor drives and ones that I could easily get use to but since I don't have to, I don't worry about them. In other words the motor drive is my most important accessory, so much so I don't remove it from the body whatever the type of shoot (besides the fact that it cost me too much not to use it).

Changing styles

The advent of medium format for me has done what many others have already stated, I slow down and contemplate a bit more about just what I'm shooting and why. With 35mm and 36 exposure film, it was easy and relatively cheap to burn off a bunch of exposures based upon a meter reading and compensated by +/- 1/3 of a stop. Even though I knew that I generally only had to go one over and one under the metered reading to get acceptable exposures the amount of frames available allowed me to experiment more from the base reading.

Medium format is of course more expensive. One roll of 120 Velvia (film and processing) is going to cost me the same as one roll of 35mm format and of course I only get 12 frames versus 36 frames. I try to make sure what I shoot with the SQ-Ai has something to it. Whether or not I succeed is another matter but I try harder with the medium format kit instead of going through the motions, as I sometimes tend to do with the 35mm kit. If slowing down and doing most things manually helps to make me a better photographer then I'm all for it.


As much as I like my SQ-Ai and the Bronica system in general there are some concerns and general comments I have to make.

I, like many other people, consider the lenses to be the most important factor in putting together a photo kit. The cost and quality of the Zenzanon lenses vis a vis Zeiss/Schneider was a major factor in my going with Bronica and for the most part Bronica has a well-rounded selection of lenses and accessories available for the SQ-Ai. I do however, miss the opportunity to eventually pick up a tilt/shift lens or adapter for the SQ-Ai. Bronica does not have either available for any of their bodies whereas all of their major competitors do. Even third party manufacturers that make tilt/shift adapters for Hasselblad, Mamiya or Pentax do not make them for Bronica. I'm hopeful that Tamron will address this issue in due time.

Plastic. Too much of it seems to have made its way into the build of the Bronica bodies and accessories but thankfully, not the lenses. I know that plastic helps to reduce weight and costs over heavier metal construction but I have tiny nagging concerns for long term quality and durability. I have already had an incident with the motor drive regarding the use of plastic in an inappropriate place.

The hot shoe of my motor drive failed to fire off my flashes during the summer of ‘99 and I sent it back to the distributor for warranty repair. The cause of the problem was a damaged base locating pin that helps to couple the motor and camera near the gold contact pins. Instead of having a warranty repair done I ended up having to pay for a replacement part and horrific labor costs as the distributor stated that only user error could cause the damage. The damaged part is a plastic piece and most certainly should not be made out of such material in a relatively critical juncture of the motor and body coupling. I was of course quite annoyed that I would have to pay for the cost of a part that is just asking to be damaged through normal mounting and dismounting, which doesn't speak well of Bronica's warranty policy and empathy for its users.

Plastic is abundant on all the other parts and accessories from the expensive prism finder to the film backs to the exterior body covering. I concluded that such materials help to make Bronica products very price competitive with Hasselblad and Rollei but I feel like I'm carrying the equivalent of a top consumer level 35mm SLR such as a Nikon F90x instead of a more robust, pro-oriented Nikon F5. In reality, I don't think I have much to be concerned about but a more metallic build would provide greater ease of mind and more pride of ownership. The plastic build issue has come up recently for the Contax 645AF. Most of its users do not feel that the plastic is a detriment to the quality of the camera so I guess I shouldn't feel like I'm slumming it with my SQ-Ai when even Zeiss/Contax users have to deal with it at a much higher cost.

Film back failures. Perhaps related to the plastic build is the rather notorious reputation for Bronica film backs to fail in very quick order, say five or so years compared to the twenty plus that Hasselblad users crow about. I think both claims are over rated but it is another thing that is in the back of my mind as a number of users have reported on filmback failures on the medium format newsgroups or mailing lists. >From what I can see of the Bronica filmbacks though, aside from a high enough catastrophic drop onto solid rock that would crack the plastic the only thing I can see failing over time is the black foam and felt used to keep light from leaking in and the pressure spring to keep the film flat. Even Hasselblad users can't escape this type of eventual failure or need for timely maintenance.

Bronica's 220 backs are also reputed to be faulty as far as light leaks and improper frame spacing is concerned. I have on occasion seen light leaks and improper spacing on 220 lengths of film but on those occasions it was due to my not winding the paper leader tight enough on the take up spool (the risks you take when you load film on a rush basis). Only the first few frames would exhibit the leaks and spacing problems while the rest of the roll would be fine as the film wound tighter onto the take up spool. This however, is not a problem unique to Bronica 220 backs as most other companies' 220 film backs suffer from similar problems.

I'm still too new of a user to experience critical failure with my 120 and 220 film backs but since I do have a quirky Polaroid back I do give a tiny bit of credence to the user reports I have come across.

Pricing policy. Although on an overall basis, Bronica is good value for the money compared to Hasselblad; there are inexplicable prices on some accessories. Extension tubes are outrageously priced even by Hasselblad standards. If I didn't find my 36mm tube used and at half the price of new I wouldn't have bothered to buy one new until much, much later.

Film inserts are also costly. A new insert is 2/3 of the cost of a full film back and it would seem quite silly to buy an insert when you're already most of the way towards the cost of a full film back. Most other medium format companies make the insert very attractive in price to allow the user to purchase more inserts and pre-load them for quick film changes. I personally would not bother with buying accessory inserts to save a few bucks and would rather buy the full film back.

If Bronica is to maintain its attractive pricing with its major competitors it should reconsider its more outrageously priced accessories. In its defense though, the lens prices are excellent in some regards to the Zeiss equivalent. Certain wide angle and macro lenses from Zeiss are double what the Zenzanon equivalent is. In that regard the pricing on some accessories is more palatable.


Bronica has a long history in the world of medium format. It has had some firsts in some of its old designs such as an electronically controlled shutter as well as a few innovative if head scratching ideas like the EC/EC-TL's split mirror hung with "fish-line". Some of its old bodies can be considered classic such as the S2/S2A that preceded the SQ designs. But for the most part Bronica seems to be the also ran to Hasselblad. That's a shame as it is a fine system even with some of my caveats; things that it shares with most of its competitors.

There is nothing pretentious about the Bronica SQ-Ai. It is an obvious copy of the venerable 500 series from Hasselblad but from what I know of and have heard about Hasselblad bodies, far less quirky and more straightforward in operation. No need to worry about jamming the shutter and requiring a special tool to fix the jam. It is battery powered so you'll never be admonished for not regularly firing your lens shutters like Hasselblad users have to do with their 500 series bodies to keep the shutter from sticking due to their mechanical nature. The Bronica's shutter speed will also always be more accurate thanks to the battery powered Seiko O shutter.

In fact I think of the Bronica SQ-Ai as everything the Hasselblad 501/503 should be as far as operation is concerned. I know the users of the Swedish "Faberge Eggs" will sniff at that but aside from the Zeiss optics the superiority if which is not conclusive among today's computer designed optics, I can see no real advantage to spending up to 50% more for the Swedish smorgasbord over Japanese sushi.

I have full confidence that I will obtain excellent images from the SQ-Ai when I take care of the technical and aesthetic details that all serious photographer have to utilize no matter what the system. Solid tripod, cable release, mirror lockup, interesting subject and good composition in fine light. These factors, I feel, are far more relevant then the make of a camera system.

I'm not a heavy user or abuser of photographic equipment and neither am I a long term user of the SQ-Ai so I can't comment as to how it will fare after years or decades of use. Despite my misgivings with some of the plastic build and the reputation of Bronica filmbacks I think I'm going to have a very good relationship with my SQ-Ai.

Phillip Greenspun asked if any camera system is worth $20,000 when he reviewed his Rollei 6008 system. Coincidentally, by the time I get to finish off my SQ-Ai kit to what I feel will be a well-rounded ensemble, the price will be about $20,000. Mind you that's in Canadian funds so you'll have to take the exchange rate into account but if and when I do succeed in getting that kit, yes, it will be worth it.

Article created 2000

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Robert G Welch , May 13, 2000; 03:02 P.M.

Notes From a Hasselblad User -

As a former Bronica ETRSi user I commend Mr. Leong's review, he was very thorough in both his comments on the Bronica and on issues of the switch from 35mm to medium format. I first would like to say the later issue (moving from 35mm up to 120 format) is one that I think will become more of a dividing line for serious photography, as digital equipment is quickly catching up to the quality of 35mm film. Now that 3-4 megapixel cameras are becoming the baseline standard, and the quality/economics of computers/printers is reaching a critical mass point it really makes amateur photographers, and pro-photojournalist, consider digital vs. 35mm very seriously. IMHO, I feel that the time is not far off that those who will continue using film will be mostly equipped with medium format or larger, as 35mm will be the first to be laid to waist by the digital revolution (and I have nothing against that, mind you).

As for the article at hand, I mentioned that I once had a Bronica. I now use a Hasselblad 500c/m system, so I feel capable of giving a few comparison statements. Mainly the difference for me is the overall quality of the equipment. Flat-out, there is no question but that Hasselblad is a very well made camera and by comparison Bronica is a compromise of price and features with build quality being the sacrificed element (though the balance that Bronica has achieved here is not bad--that is to say over all it is a good initial investment value as Edwin points out). The quality of the final image is not the question here, I would not try to tell you that you will get better pictures with a Hasselblad (I've experienced that the Zeiss lenses have an edge up with contrast, but overall the quality difference with the Zenzanon brand is a matter of pointless debate). I will say, however, that over 20 years of hard use I anticipate less chance of failure and will likely spend less $ on equipment repair/replacement for Hasselblad than I would with Bronica. My experience was that the Bronica is not designed with repairs in mind--replacement is the key word here. Hasselblad is a camera with more long term value, thus the used market is robust and retains it's value very well. I would hesitate to buy any piece of used Bronica equipment, and as Edwin himself stated, repairs on Bronica is just as expensive as any other high end camera, with less repairable components than Hasselblad (i.e. the electronic shutter in the Bronica can easily fail beyond economic repair, where as a Zeiss lens is repairable almost 100% of the time).

In conclusion, I'm not trying to start a "this camera is better than that camera" debate. I liked my Bronica and would be happy to have kept it, however I'm even happier that I didn't. For some people (particularly those who are not heavy daily shooters) I'm sure that a Bronica can be the perfect camera, while for others it might be less than adequate. My advise is to look at all options carefully and hands on as much as possible, only you know what is best for you.

Robert Welch www.RWphotography.com

Chris Long , June 20, 2000; 05:54 P.M.

My experience differs from Roberts. When I decided to move up to medium format, I bought a Hasselblad 501CM kit. I had always heard that Hasselblads were the best, and I wanted something that was going to last me a long time. Well, my first body had something wrong with the lens mount, it took all my strenght the mount and remove the lenses. Hasselblad USA took care of that for me, but then the backs never fit on perfectly and there was always a lot of play. So, they replaced the body, but the replacement had the same problem. I ended up ditching the whole system. After trying out many other cameras, I finally purchased a Bronica ETRSi. To me, this is by far the best MF camera system out there. It offers more usefull features then the Hasselblad (TTL metering and flash, electronic shutters), at much less cost. The lenses are just as good, but they cost less then 1/2 as much. During this time I was in school for photography and we had just about every Hassy lense imaginable ( I think we had all of them 30mm-500mm) so I had the chance to compare them, and the Bronica lenses are just as good. The Bronica does use more plastic in the construction of the camera, but it doesn't effect its durability. It is still a metal framed camera, just has a plastic outer covering. The electronic shutter is also a plus, not a minus. With this, the shutter speeds will be accurate from lens to lens where as the shutters in the Hasselblad lenses can vary from lens to lens. Basically, in my oppinion, the Bronica wins hands down. The Hasselblad is a nice camera (assuming you get one without problems) but in my oppinion, not worth the money. If you looking for a well crafted peice of machinery and are willing the pay the price, then Hasselblads are nice (though the lenses are still way overpriced compared to Bronica and Mamiya which are just as good). If you're looking for a great performing camera with all the important features for a reasonable price, then look at the Bronicas. You won't be dissapointed.

kwan cheung , June 24, 2000; 12:04 P.M.

I second to what Chris said.

I don't have the SQ-Ai. I have the older SQ-A. Bought second hand more than 10 years ago. I also have a collection of older and newer Bronica lenses: 40/4S, 50/3.5PS, 80/2.8S, 110/4PS, 150/4PS. Have the handgrip and the AE prism that transform the SQ-A to become as handy as holding a 35mm SLR. The camera body has control for mirror lock and double exposure. There are safety feature to lock up the back while the blind is not in place. All in all, the system is very versatile.

Some people may say that Bronica is not as well built as Hasselblad. I agree. I think I would consider Hasselblad if I were a pro. As an amateur that only use the system once in a while (around 20 rolls per year), the Bronica fits my bill. I am planning to add a Bronica SQ-AM too.

I can't compare the Bronica lens with Hasselblad. I can only say there are certainly very good, compared to my Rolleiflex 2.8 Planar. The guy that sold me the 110/4PS is a pro on taking portraits. He blows up a picture to 60"x60" and is still tack sharp.

Chris Long , July 05, 2000; 02:21 P.M.

I disagree that Bronica arn't built as well as a Hasselblad. Granted, the Hasselblad has a nicer appearance, and more expensive materials in its built. But the Bronice still has a metal frame that just happens to be wrapped in a polycarbonate shell. I know many photographer who use Bronica professionally, and trust me....they don't treat them nice. Yet, the still perform day in and day out, year after year. They don't have the elegance of Hasselblad, but they hold up just as well, if not better. I know of at least one photographer who dumbed an entire Blad system because they kept breaking down on her. She now uses Bronica, and says she has many fewer problems throughout the whole system. (Yes, both cameras were purchased new....not used, and it wasn't an isolated incident, she had multiple bodies and lenses) I just wanted to add this so people don't think the Bronica's won't hold up. They will, the just might not look as pretty doing it.

Tony Pulsone , July 10, 2000; 05:32 P.M.

A caveat/opportunity for people considering Bronica - While it is true that Hasselbad products hold their value (over-priced in my opinion), Bronica's will to a lesser degree.

This means that great deals can be found in the used market (unlike Hasselbad).

I purchased a two year old Bronica SQ-Ai kit (body, metered prism, speed grip, 4 backs, and 4 lenses: 80ps, 50ps, 150ps, and 110ps) for $4000.00 from a wedding professional who was "Upgrading" to Hasselblad. The camera was in near-mint condition, testament to its solid build.

After renting/borrowing both systems, the results were close enough for me to be happy with either. The Bronica, however, just felt "Right" in my hands.

My advice, rent/borrow to see if you like how the camera handles/records light...then check the used/classifides.

Simon Forsyth , November 09, 2000; 02:56 A.M.

I'd like to add a few comments about the Bronica SQA-i. As a working professional when I upgraded from an S2A kit about five years ago, I contemplated going to Hasselblad. In the end there were several factors that swung me back to Bronica. One was the idiosyncrasies of the Hasselblad equipment, such as having to have both the back and body cocked before mating them otherwise big problems. Also the handling of a box if you dont add a very expensive Motor Drive.To my knowledge Hasselblad do not have a seed grip in their range. I use this all the time and it makes handling just like a big 35mm camera. While I am the first to admit that the Hasselblad is a great camera, in the heat of a big shoot the body/back mating thing would concern me. The other thing that was a factor was the price, and this was a major factor. This is especially true when having to buy a whole kit. With the money I saved by buying the Bronica System I could have bought a spare body. I didnt do that til later, but it is a relevant thing. I have used the SQA-i for about 5 years now and apart from warranty things and dropping the prism head I've had no particular problems. Sure no system is or can be perfect, but I can't speak highly enough of the agent here in New Zealand. They will turn around Pro gear in 24 hours if possible. As regards the use of plastic in the system, it is there both as a cost saving and weight saving thing. Also in a lot of cases the use of plastic is there as protection, especially in things like the prism. If the prism casing were metal then in the event of it being dropped, the shock could vibrate through the metal and crack the glass. Plastic will most likely absorb the shock, and while it may break, it will most likely protect the glass. I've actually had this happen and can speak from experience. Also if you look at most cameras today they have the outer casings made of plastic. The plastics of today are very different from the old plastics of the 1960's etc. They are much more durable and in some cases are designed for the specific job at hand I have a collection of lenses in both the older series and the new PS series. My only comment about them is they are great. I often have 24x 30 inch and larger prints made from negs shot with these lenses and there are no problems at all. I would be confident in making 40x50in or 50x60 in prints from the negs. In short I would rate the Bronica as a worthwhile purchase against the Hasselblad any day, and while if money was no object, I might wish for one, to me it can't justify the expense.

Victor Panlilio , January 04, 2001; 05:24 P.M.

Three years ago I received my father-in-law's slightly-used Bronica ETR (precursor of today's ETR-Si) as a Christmas present. The camera itself is over 25 years old but is in very good condition. It came with a meterless prism finder, two 120 backs, speed grip, 75/2.8 and 150/4 lenses. All pieces are of mostly metal construction, unlike today's Bronicas (even Hasselblad is now using plastic in some of their accessories, e.g. prism finder housings, to save weight and cost). I've used my ETR for portraits and weddings and it performs very well -- lens sharpness is excellent, 16x20's using Fuji Reala or NPH are much better than 8x10's from 35mm. Problems I've noticed echo Edwin's experience -- improper seating of an NPC Polaroid back, and occasional irregular spacing on frames. When rotating the camera 90 deg. with a flash, I use a Stroboframe QuickFlip. Unless one really needs the square format, 645 is more than adequate as a step up from 35mm, plus you get 15 frames per 120 roll instead of 12, comparable image quality (assuming you crop 6x6), with less bulk and weight.

Anthony DellaRatta , March 08, 2001; 12:46 P.M.

I think one point missed was the diference in the total 'system' concept. I am an equipment freak. I have boxes of Nikon equipment. I love it. When it came time for medium format I went for the Bronica SQA, cost and optics being the major concern.

While Bronica's lens line is fairly complete (althought no tilt/shift) I think the Hasselblad/Rollie systems are much more complete in their 'wierd' pieces. The Arc bodies, the shift adapter the Super Wide, the cases, straps, microscope shutters etc. All this is missing from the Bronica system. Truthfully the Bronica system is a bit boring, no cool stuff. It really looks like it was designed for the working wedding pro.

andy chen , March 18, 2001; 04:14 P.M.

i have just relocated and have been toying with the idea of changing my medium format gear. i have been using mamiya rz stuff for about fifteen years now...but i find i now need a square camera for a firm i have started freelancing for. they require all their photographers to shoot 6 by 6 format, and since most of the work is hand held, location work, the option of dragging my rz all day long was out of the question.

i rented a bronica sq ai from a pro shop, and found it be really easy to use. i used a prism finder and also had a speed grip, so i could advance the film quickly. the lenses seemed pretty sharp to me, and compared favorably with my rz gear. plastic, to me, has never really been a detriment. the space shuttle, after all, is loaded with polymer construction.

as far as the comparison to hassleblad... a few years ago, i dumped all my small cameras for a lieca slr system. i purchased two R4s and a few lenses. in a word, the whole experience was a total letdown. the lenses were sharp, but that is not to say my nikkor a1 lenses suffered in comparision. all of the equipment was ludicrously overpriced, and the repair costs were exhorbitant. when it comes down to it, i find the same issues with hasselblad. the lenses and cameras are wayyyyyyy too expensive, and, you know....i dont buy cameras thinking about the "resale value". i buy them to use, as a tool of my trade. its resale value is irrelevant to me. my camera is not some stock on the nasdaq.

one thing i would like to know... the digital beast is breathing down my back, does anyone know if the makers of digital backs (leaf, megavision, sinar, etc etc etc) are producing backs with bronica in mind also? i know that their backs are compatible with hassleblad and mamiya rzs. i'd hate to get deep into this system and be left behind, you know?

thanks for the review. it was mucho informative.

-andy chen

Grant Corban , March 18, 2002; 05:08 A.M.

I have both the AE metering and the waist level finder. While the metering finder makes the switch from 35mm to 120 easier, the built in magnifier in the waist level one makes focusing wide angle lenses a snap. Most of my work is done in dimly lit rooms with a 50mm. I left the waist level home once, and only once. Don't despise it, and it really is small enough to slip into your pocket.

jazzman wheels , October 27, 2002; 04:06 P.M.

Ihave had my bronica sq ai for 11 years with no problems as mentioned in many of the comments and/or article...I do take great care to store it at all times; even when using it daily. I use the camera professionally and do alot of weddings and find the comfortability and ease of changing film a major plus! The lense of choice is the 80 f2.8 which renders wonderfully sharp images up to 20x24. Overall, I consider the Bronica SQ AI kit a "work horse" in my eyes.

H. P. , February 21, 2003; 08:28 A.M.

I too have used both the Hassleblad (500CM) and the Bronica. Although at one time I earned my living from photography I used both these cameras as an amatuer. I find that, looking through my old files, I got many more 'good' shots from the Hasselblad than the Bronica.

In both cases I used just the basic setup (80mm lens, one body, 2 backs, WLF) and I attribute the better results of the Hasselblad to the viewfinder, which I found to be more contrasty, and the general handling of the Hasselblad which seemed to fit my hands more comfortably than the Bronica. I also think that, looking at the prints critically, the Planar lens gives a nicer contrast range, though I doubt it's sharper.

You'll note that all my criteria are subjective, therefore, before choosing either, I would strongly recommend trying both if possible to see which one suits you better.

Robert Reis , September 18, 2003; 01:17 A.M.

Adapters to use Hasselblad digital backs on Bronicas are now available. Cheers, Bob

Julian Stevenson , October 30, 2003; 08:18 A.M.

I bought a Bronica SQ around 20 years ago and it has operated faultlessly during that entire period. Mechanically and optically it is still in very fine condition despite less than ideal handling and storage. 6 months ago two problems emerged, the foam light seal on the 120 back suddenly decided to disintegrate into a soft oily glug. Because this seal is largely hidden under the opening it's disintegration was not immediately obvious. It was only after some of the goo found it's way onto the film and a light leak presented itself that I found the problem. This can of course be easily solved, new seal or new back. The second problem I suspect will be less easy to overcome. The matte black flare-reducing interior coating of the camera body has degraded to a lighter grey tone with some areas exhibiting a slight crazing. The crazing I can live with but I suspect the light grey (flare-inducing) interior will be a real problem. JMS

Bill Henderson , October 18, 2004; 04:13 P.M.

I also am a Bronica shooter. Sad news folks - Bronica is no longer being manufactured and will not be available as of November 15, 2004 as stated via the Tamron web site. So, now what? One - start collecting additional gear to replace parts with or, Two - change to another line. My choice in a change would be to seriously look at what line has already 'digital' backs and are advertising same. I see Mamiya suggests Leaf. And, of course, Hasselblad has compatibility with Leaf. I contacted Asahi relative to the Pentax and received a generic msg and a list of potential digital back manufacturing outfits. I will miss the Bronica for it was my 'poor man's Porsche' gear. If I were very rich I would not be concerned. But, not so lucrative of the wallet I must be careful, plan ahead, regarding major purchases. Shooting weddings and such, I do not want to be ending up with old outdated and unrepairable gear. And, until the digital stuff has in excess of 15 to 16 megs per shot available without excessive dollars out the window I am not wanting to switch fully for I am very critical regarding quality of my image captured, 'original image' that is. Not doctored as is the case in digital - don't let anyone fool you about that. So ends my speech.

kwan cheung , November 16, 2004; 06:14 P.M.

Digital has come and analog has to go. I believe even Hasselblad is facing the same though decision. In digital age, do we need medium format again? I believe some even feel that a full-frame 135 may be too big relative to sensor's resolution.

So, Hasselblad or Mamiya may have deep pocket so they can proceed to engineer digital back for their analog equipments. I really feel if this further separates their products from the market.

To me, I believe technology make both cameras and lens smaller altogether. This enables manufacturers to chunk out those 10 or 12x superzoom cheaply. One example is the Panaonic's Lumix using 12x Leica zoom which is fixed with 2.8 in the entire zoom range, with a 5mp body and the price is around $550.

This would have been a dream in 135 world, and impossible in medium format.

I believe I will keep using my Bronica till it breaks, or as long as films and processings are available. And I will invest in a quality scanner for scanning what is needed to be archived.

Robbie Caswell , February 12, 2006; 01:09 P.M.

As a GS1 user in 2006, I've been contemplating adding a SQ or ETR series system. Multiple backed, multiple lense, excellent condition bodies for $1000 or less for the entire system! What is a man to do? I shoot with fast primed Nikon gear and it seems with the D200 the value line of cost/image quality is narrowing. However, I just like the look of film. Slow contemplatation of medium Format. The digital implications have me considering Hassey or mamiya or staying with Nikon. That said, it takes time to adjust to the format, but once you get a handle on things, you will come to love Bronnie's and the larger negative. Plastic wonders that blow away most images made by systems you could pay 10 or 20 times as much for.

WJ Lee , March 09, 2007; 08:44 P.M.

Medium format is coming back with a vengence, getting a digital reincarnation. I'm just waiting for the Bronica resurrection, surely one of the big optic/camera manufaturers can by it off Tamron and resurrect it. It is nice to see major digital back makers are still supporting the Bronica, yet Tamron has put it into an early grave. What a shame!

David Prouty , April 01, 2007; 03:37 P.M.

I think I may have had magic equipment! I seem to recall closing shop in 1996, but I had my 80mmPS and 50mmPS long before that! I wonder how I could have done that if they weren't introduced until 1996?

Oh well. Everyone is entitled to a mistake every now and then.

Bill Gieseke Sr , July 30, 2007; 01:27 A.M.

Kodak C-41, scanned to digital, PhotoShop b&w no manipulations

Digital 20 plus meg medium format vs medium film format? OK, must go to the grocery store to purchase a banana for a shoot. Should I purchase a very expensive 30 plus thousand dollar vehicle to get the banana just right or keep my very inexpensive (relatively speaking) medium format vehicle (that never cost anywhere near the 30 plus thousand dollars originally) that pumps out perfect quality images like clockwork without lost pixels, white balance, damaged hard drives, scratched DVD's, fried electronics, and don't have to worry about being near a magnet with them or being extremely careful about changing lenses for microscopic dust particles being attracted to the sensors and on and on.........huh? Film wins in my department!

Rick Jack , November 04, 2011; 08:46 P.M.

Are you still shooting film?

It was a great article/post and I agree with 99% of it.  But my local professional photo finisher stopped processing film and now that I can get stunning 20x30" prints from my DSLR my Bronica GS-1 & SQ-a systems are collecting dust.

The real shame is how Bronica lost their value. I blame that on Tamron. Had they kept the SQ-Ai in production and developed a digital back they would be very popular among pros.

Hope your still enjoying yours.


Louis Meluso , November 24, 2011; 02:20 A.M.

Yes, still enjoying mine. Mostly for B&W work these days, Funny, prints from my Nikon D700 and Canon 7D stop being "stunning" around 16x20". Using PS lenses, Imacon-scanned Tmax 100 goes to 24x30 and looks great...nose up.

Jim Gardner , December 22, 2011; 06:43 A.M.

I bought the Bronica ETRsi kit some years ago-cant remember how long but it was new so obviously before they packed up. I can honestly say I have never had any problems at all with it and the lenses are very very good.

However, about 4 years ago I decided to invest in a new Hasselblad 503cw with 80mm, a new 50mm and a used150mm for the reasons, not in order, below;

1. I had always wanted one

2. They are the best MF camera made

3. I learnt that the 503 was the last film camera they would make

4. I felt fairly sure I would still be able to get parts/service in 50 years.

5. I leke mechanical things

6. The ETRsi is 6x4.5 and I wanted to go a little bigger/really enjoy the Hass 6x6 format

7. Pride of ownership

8. I can go into Hasselblad and ask them to check/service/repair my equipment.

In use, if the Bronica was 6x6 I doubt I would be able to tell the difference. Both makers produce fantastic razor sharp lenses that still make me say wow when looking at a big enlargement. The plus side to the Bronica is that I dont mind/worry about walking round London etc with it. If I dropped it/had it stolen, I could get a s/h one from ebay within a few days for affordable money. The slightly smaller neg means more shots to a roll of film which is nice when walking along a busy street.

The Bronica is smaller and lighter but feels it. By that I mean it feels a little weaker, perhaps not as strong. I have two lenses for the Bronica, waist level finder, meterd prism, speed grip and polaroid back. I doubt if I could get £500 for the whole package now whereas I hope the Hasselblad will have kept most of its value and continue to do so.

On refection, if I had bought a SQai originaly, I may never have bought a Hasselblad, but I would certainly still be lusting after one.

 To a point it is a little like cars. Many of us would like that very expensive super car, it would be a joy to use and do everything the makers say it will. Would you want to use it to go to the shop in the snow though?

Ken Mac , April 08, 2016; 10:28 A.M.

Old thread ! It's like back to the future, I'll add a few more years to it !

I'm seeing mint Bronica bodies and lenses on Ebay so I purchased an ETRSi with metering to replace my 35mm photography. It's a unit I had no knowledge about but on researching MF cameras for a specific purpose (air shows) I decided on the Si because of all the accessories and lens available at reasonable prices, plus quick advance via motor drive and other features that will be handy. I'm sure I'll enjoy it for other purposes as well like portraiture. It's still in transit, not just a little anxious to receive it. I'll spend time and test films learning how to use it, that will be a challenge to master this "new" piece of electronic wizardry, I'm more used to older cameras of simpler design.


I was intrigued by older cameras and had an ambition to buy and trial old folders from the '30s '40s and '50s. Did that, it was great fun. The ambition has waned now but I still love going out to shoot B&W occasionally with them, my favorites being the Franka Solida lll, a perfect consumer camera using it with a handgrip attached, and the Zeiss Tessar 521/2, another good consumer taker, again handgrip is vital for steady shooting. Exa and Exakta, two more good cameras


I contemplated using my other MFs, a 6x6 and a 6x7 for the required purpose, they are good shooters for me but both need handheld metering, I'll save that snail pace shooting for landscapes, I now need something faster with higher quality images than 35mm without breaking the bank. The 6x4.5 negs from the Si will suffice for A3+ prints, the maximum size from my R2400 printer



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