The Bronica ETRSi 645 is a great budget friendly medium format camera system, a great deal in the film world. The Bronica is a high quality camera and fantastic lenses that can deliver amazing results. It doesn’t have the hype and lore of a Hasselblad, nor the cost, but can almost match it in picture quality.
The Bronica ETR line started in 1976, the ETRC in 1977, ETRS in 1979 and updated in 1982, and the last model ETRSi in 1989. The latest model improved on the overall design, included mirror lockup, bulb setting, and improved film advance mechanics.
In 2000, a complete system body, finder, lens, and back would run $2,350; now you can get the same system for around $400. # If you are thinking about medium format cameras, give the Bronica a consideration; larger negative, great quality, low cost. Win. Win. Win.
Camera and Lens
The Bronica uses its own Zenzanon lens which are fantastic big pieces of glass. The shutter mechanism is by Seiko and included in the lens. So the body ends up being a basic box which all the pieces connect to, similar to the Hasselblad V-series.
There is a good range of lenses lengths from wide-angle to zoom that you can get for the system. I simply use a normal 75mm lenses which is equivalent to a 45mm lens. See this 645 equivalence chart for a full list.
The standard 120 back in the ETR line is the 645 format, approx 6cm x 4.5cm negative. The company also produced a similar SQ system, which shot at the square 6×6 format. With the ETRS you’re not limited to this format.
One of the best parts of the Bronica system for me is its flexibility, at least with regards to film. For film backs, you can get a 120, 220, 135N and 135W. The 135 backs allow you to shoot standard 35mm film on the medium format camera. I particularly like the 135W which gives you a wide format 54×24 negative.
With interchangeable back you can switch to different films at any time, assuming you have enough backs to switch to. For example, you can be shooting a color film, and switch to a pre-loaded black and white back for a shot, and then switch back; easy as switching lenses.
There are a few different viewfinders, the most common is the waist-level viewfinder which you look down into, the image is reversed horizontally when composing. I find using this viewfinder the most comfortable and adapt easy enough to composing with it. Its not as quick as easy as an SLR, but a little more discrete to use this viewfinder the most
Viewfinders – waist level and prism – even a metered prism, which I haven’t used
For a medium format camera, the ETRSi is fairly compact, though not necessarily light. I don’t really use a neck strap, typically a wrist strap for my 35mm or digital gear and just hold the camera in my hand. With the Bronica, I don’t use a wrist strap because if I were to let go, it might break my wrist. So I just hold it in my hand, or it’s in my bag when not shooting; a shoulder or messenger bag works well with it.
The biggest gripe I have with the Bronica, there isn’t a dark slide holder like there is on the Hasselblad. I often find myself putting the dark slide in my pocket, or thrown loosely in my bag, which I’m worried its going to get bent.
Shutter Release Cable
You can use a standard shutter release cable, the kind that screws in and has a tiny plunger. It took me a bit to figure that out, since its not on the shutter release button but on the side. You can see below the smaller whole on the bottom left is where you would screw in the cable.
The multiple exposure switch is the top lever on the right side of the camera. When it is down, like in the picture below, you can see the orange dot which means it is in multiple exposure mode. When you wind the camera, it will just cock the shutter and not advance the film. It will stay like this until you flip the switch back and then winding will advance the film.
So steps for a double exposure would be:
1. Flip switch down, so you can see orange dot
2. Take Shot #1
3. Wind camera (cocks the shutter)
4. Take Shot #2
5. Flip switch back
6. Wind camera (film advances)
I often wind the camera between step 4 and 5, out of habit, not a big deal since all it does it cock the shutter. You can then still flip the switch and then wind the camera again to advance the film.
A nice thing with the Bronica ETRSi is there are several safety measures built-in. For example, you can’t take a picture if the dark slide is in; a good measure, but I often forget it and a minor annoyance when you try to take a shot and nothing happens.
Also the shutter release has a knob which you can turn to lock, so if you put the camera in your bag it won’t accidentally go off. Turning the knob so the two orange dots lineup sets the shutter release in lock mode.
Another safety measure with the dark slide is the camera won’t let you detach the back if the dark slide is not in. You still need to be careful with the back release knobs if film is loaded, but usually that requires both to be squeezed together.
Here are some samples shot from my Bronica ETRSi:
For more details and information see the Bronica ETRSi Manual.