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Friday, 12 October 2012


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I wish was the Bronica 645RF was selling for what the SLRs are selling for. Having never used a rangefinder it looks like a fun one to mess around with. Unfortunately the value of them has gone back up. However, what is out there looks little used.

Fully agree with you Mike. Bronica is a great bargain these days, perhaps because they don't have a digital back migration path like the other brands, and never had the collectible caché of Hasselblad. I put together a full ETRSi kit this year for a few hundred bucks. I mainly have rationalized its use by shooting infrared film, something I could not do with digital without investing in a dedicated hacked camera for the purpose, at higher cost, but really, I just find it fun to shoot the Bronny and later unwind the big negatives from the developing reel to see what came out. I started with the prism finder, but recently got a waist-level finder. I find the compositional experience looking with both eyes at the ground glass to be markedly different--more 3-dimensional and more like looking at a proof print. My feeling is that if you're going to shoot film these days, you may as well go big. Med format seems to be a sweet spot in that lots of film is available, developing at home for black and white is easy without a darkroom, and low cost flatbed scanners come with film holders for it.

Thank you for the advice, the Bronicas seem like a great bargain. If only I could act on it - but I am far too in love with my Mamiya RB67 set to even consider buying another MF system. And they are even cheaper than the Bronicas.

The Bronica ETRSi was the only camera I owned that I hated.

Thanks Mike. Now you've done it. Single handedly you have gone and exposed my secret. Thanks a lot. Now these wonderfully inexpensive jewels will be scooped up by the masses, depleting the cupboards at KEH and prices will rise. What a guy!

Seriously, they are great cameras to use.

Surely, the mighty Fuji GX680III should be mentioned. Once top of the line, these splendid fallen behemoths now sell on eBay for a pittance. I still have mine - can't part with it for what the masses are now willing to pay. As a chunk of industrial design (someone like Bruce McCall must have participated) it is completely pleasing- big round knobs, stout rails, and far and away the best mirror slap ever made.

The Bronnies are nice.. Mamiya 645's are screaming deals too.

But hands down, for me, on the bang/buck scale is the Rolleicord III I traded three Pre-AI Nikkors for (28/3.5, 35/2, & 55/3.5). They were collecting dust and now are being used as I am now using his dust collecting 'Cord. That's the best for everyone.

Admittedly you have to love the TLR way of doing things... ;)

So what's the best bargain in LF? (Grinning, ducking and running... )

Might as well take a look at the mechanical Mamiya RB67 while you're on the KEH site. I'm a Hasselblad guy, and for the past 10 years I've also kept a Mamiya system going because it's dirt cheap and bullet-proof. I just bought another RB67 Pro S body on KEH a few months ago for less than 100 bucks, and when it came, it looked like no one had used it? Hasselblad users know that, non-strobe, sub-1/125th of a second, and the image has a real chance of getting mirror blur, but for some reason, I'm always shooting that RB down to 1/30th and never getting any shake. They must have really looked at the dampening of that thing. BTW, Hasselblad ELM's ELX's are cheap too, but more shaky than the unmotorized ones...

I acquired a Bronica ETRS on long-term loan from my uncle about a year ago and have since picked up a grip, extra backs and a MC 40mm f/4 lens... all from KEH, just like you recommend. Having never shot MF before switching from film to digital, the whole experience has been a real treat! I can't recommend the 40mm enough. Although bokeh at close range is pretty busy, the lens is sharp sharp sharp!

I also appreciate that the Zenzanon MC and PE lenses all use 62mm thread.... making a modular system even more modular.

Here a couple shots taken with Provia 100 and scanned using a cheap Epson V500.




Mike, you just made me buy a 6x6 back for my Mamiya RZ at KEH, and this even though the shipping to Germany turns out to be 1/3 of the total cost, excluding taxes. I love my RZ, but sometimes want to shoot square. But the prices on ebay for a 6x6 back held me back. The Bronica is certainly a fine camera, but investing in another camera system was not quite an option for shooting square pictures after I visited KEH, so thank you for your hint.

I just looked at Mamiya 645 cameras at KEH. You can get a 1000s body, CDS prisim and a 80mm 2.8 lens for about $230. You can't go wrong, they're great cameras.

Even the ridiculously low prices on SLR systems was too steep for my mild 6x6 jones, but I found that Yashica TLRs are going for around a hundred on ebay (except for the inexplicably overpriced 124G) and sometimes half that--much more my speed. I'd really enjoyed my time with a loaner early Rolleiflex, and prefer quiet cameras anyway.

There are several good Yashica models, and several to avoid, but there's a succinct and blunt lowdown at the Frugal Photographer http://www.frugalphotographer.com/info-YashicaTLR.htm

There's no doubt that MF cameras were nice to use and the build quality puts ALL digtial cameras in the shade..... I still have mine and sometimes get them out and have a momentary 'feel and memory' of the 30 years I spent with them.

However, the real question is; can one get better print quality from them over a high end APS-C digital body,..whithout, that is, having to resort to drum scanning at high cost for each tranny. My experience with the Epson flat-beds is that you mostly scan the texture of the emulsion, or 'grain' to gie it it's common title.

So, in real terms, can these superb vintage monsters of the past produce a better image than a Sigma DP2 Merill? .....Remembering that a rucksack with SQ bronny, three lenses, a couple of backs, vital sundries and tripod weighs in at well over 30LBs....

.....Or is this just the latest fad for fools and fanciers?

I purchased a working ETR with lens for $100 when the local schools photography business changed to all digital.

I completely agree that Bronicas are great buys, having assembled ETRSi, SQ-B and GS-1 systems via eBay/KEH/Koh's. And with their accessory speed grips the cameras are easier to hand-hold than a Pentax 6x7 or RB/RZ (I own those, too). The only reservation about the Bronica 6x7 is that items like focusing screens and some backs and lenses are getting harder to find. Anyone considering extensive use of 6x7 would be better off with the Mamiyas. They sold in much greater numbers, thus lots more clean gear on the used market.

@ Howard:

While it's true that the SQ-series bodies have no digital migration path, the Kapture Group still sells an adapter plate and other accroutement to use a Hasselblad V-series digital back on the ETR-series bodies:


I have no idea how well it works, although as a former Bronica SQ-A1 owner, I did start down this path myself before I decided to switch to a Contax 645 platform instead. In fact, I still have a NOS Kapture Group ETR plate that I'll be happy to sell inexpensively, if anyone reading this is interested. ;^)

For rangefinder fans (like me) my vote goes to the Fuji GW690III. It has a fixed lens, a modified Xenotar formula which tested out on a resolution target to equal the 80mm I had on my Mamiya 7! For B&W shooters with a darkroom you get a big negative that is so close to LF, but from a a hand camera. No meter, so you have to evaluate the subject with a handheld light meter (how old school).
I think the digital vs film argument itself is the stuff of fools and fanciers. Digitalics I know expound relentlessly about image quality but rarely make a print. We all want great image/print quality, but how many of the most famous images taken with a hand camera (LF is another story) are under or over-exposed, lack "sharpness", or tonality? Maybe they are famous because of the content of the image and how the camera uniquely represented them. Lets be glad they were not thrown out because they were not technically perfect. I shoot mostly digital and some film. I am happy to have both.

Another vote for the Yashica TLRs. I picked up a Mat EM a couple of years ago for around $50 on eBay. There is something about shooting with a TLR that reminds me of the "drawing on the right side of the brain" exercises we used to do in art class.
Here's one of my photos taken with it:

After I bought my Bronica in the 70's I heard the joke (a bit too late) that they were more expensive than Hasselblads because you had to buy two in order to have one that was working. As I recall, both camera and back, at different times, had to go in for servicing.

Rolleiflex for 6x6, ever since.


Personally I think the Mamiya C330 is one of the best cameras of any kind you could ever own. Interchangable lenses with beautiful bokeh, very sharp. The TLR advantage when you are taking portraits in that you can watch the subject during the exposure. Built in bellows. Semi-corrected parallax viewfinder (with crazy paramender available too). Reliable (after a good CLA). Pretty cheap.

A little self promotion to follow:

Always enjoy looking at your photostream, Paul.


For those who crop their squares to rectangles, the ETRSi is also worth consideration, especially you enjoy backpacking. It's somewhat smaller and lighter than the SQ, and less expensive, while giving the same usable negative size as a cropped 6x6.

Another advantage is that all the lenses, including the excellent 40mm (PE) wide angle (24mm equivalent), use the same 62mm filter size which makes it easy to put together a set of B&W contrast filters.

One great benefit of the leaf shuttered Bronicas (including the SQ and GS-1 as well as the ETR series) is that they can electronically time shutter speeds of up to 8 seconds (mechanically timed shutters generally only go to 1 second). And the leaf shutters have so little vibration when used mirror-up that only a light tripod, such as a Gitzo 2-series, is required.

All in all, an excellent camera to take hiking!

Since you brought up the topic, I wonder whether I might take shameless advantage of your expertise - any thoughts on the best ETRSi portrait lens? 150 MC vs. 150 PE or 135 PE?

One of the great things about a film system is that I'm contemplating buying myself not one, but two new lenses for Christmas, for less that $200.

135mm PE in my opinion.


Oh no, you really have to stop this, one moment I'm happily tootling along sure that I've got everything I 'need' and focussed on the projects in hand and then you go and wave temptation at me again...

The S2a was one of my favorite cameras, but seriously, how could you not like the 1963 Rambler American 440 ?

If you want to meet women with poor impulse control and the imagination to back it up, this is the car to drive.

Thanks Mike, much appreciated! (Of course it would be the rarest of the bunch!)

Manual for the SQ-Ai

Very recently shot my first 120 film via my parents' 55 year old Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta IV. After lying unused for the last 31 years, it worked fine, and was great fun to use. We know it had been unused for that time, because there was an exposed film left inside! And we identified the year from the associated holiday locations.

You can see some of the affects of leaving the film for so long, in this collection of prints:

It was never a big seller, the 6X7 GS-1, mostly because it was so difficult to use vertically, like a big, ungainly 35mm, or you could use some weird rotating finder they had, or some other contraption on the camera, sheesh...BUT, I used to know a couple of artists that used them, and, man, they were damn sharp, contrasty...if I found one cheap, I'd get it, especially for landscapes...

Having a renaissance with my ETRSi this year. This post is timely as I've had Bronica on the mind for months now. Great, cheap, camera. I got my body completely unused, new in the box, from an older photographer friend who was getting rid of MF gear. Pieced everything else from KEH, it's a really fun camera to use, esp. for a photojournalist like me who shoots frantically for work.

I love my Mamiya RB67 and Nikon F2. For some reason I prefer film cameras that don't need batteries for all shutters.

Yep, the Bronica is every bit as good as the Hasselblad 500cm and about half the price. I have to give a shout out to my favorite medium format camera, the unique Bronica rf645. I picked mine up about 5 years ago for $500 and I know they are more expensive now but it's a medium format rangefinder!!!

There's actually a brand new rf645 in box on Amazon from Idaho Camera - I called them and they have it, someone please buy it so I don't have to look and wonder every week.

great post!
what about a "Semflex" (+ Berthiot-lens)? saw one yesterday in a store, very cheap, mint condition, from 1950.
just for the fun of it..., does anybody have any experience with these compact MF-french cameras?

Bought Rolleiflex 80mm f/3.5, sold it after couple months. I am schocked with the image quality, it's not like people always admire. It's too average for me.

Got Mamiya 645 ProTL + 80mm f/2.8 + 150mm f/2.8 and already sold again 45mm f/2.8. It's fun box, not very expensive (Hasselblad is still too expensive for toying around) with stunning image quality.

I will bury this with a nice gravestone once film is dead.

"BUT, I used to know a couple of artists that used them, and, man, they were damn sharp, contrasty"

Crabby Umbo,
Very true. I have a good friend who was a medium format shooter. He used to use Plaubel Makinas. They had a Nikkor lens that was famous for being sharp. When considering the GS-1 he did some direct comparisons--16x20 or 20x24 prints from each camera of the same subject. The GX-1 blew the famous Plaubel away, just no comparison, especially in regard to flare but in virtually every other parameter as well.

In fact I'm looking at one of his prints on my wall as I write this.

He did finally have to give up the Bronica, for a very strange reason--with one of his lenses, and one only, about every ten frames or so, but randomly, there was a small half-moon-shaped flare ghost, always in exactly the same place on the frame. It occurred intermittently but persistently. He drove himself nuts trying to explain it or fix it--everything from multiple repairpeople to experiments trying to induce it to happen. He finally had to give up the camera because he just couldn't track down the source.

I've never heard of anything similar happening with any other GS-1.


William Barnet-Lewis pondered: "So what's the best bargain in LF? (Grinning, ducking and running... )"

No expert here, but I'd hazard a guess that a Crown/Speed Graphic if you count 4x5" as LF (and why wouldn't you?). But for really LF (8x10") try the Bostick and Sullivan Hobo. Basically a cigar box with a film holder and mounting board for a 90mm lens. Essentially a home-brew, and you can't buy them new any more. I'd bet Bostick and Sullivan would send you instructions for building one yourself.


...So, in real terms, can these superb vintage monsters of the past produce a better image than a Sigma DP2 Merill?

I suspect the answer has to so with how you define 'better'. Film images look different from digital captures, and MF film images moreso.

I used to have an extensive S2A system, and while it isn't for everyone, I was quite pleased with it. I had around 10 lenses from 40mm to 500mm, multiple backs (which were switchable between 120 and 220), a tilt-shift macro bellows, and all the interesting accessories for about the cost of a basic three-lens/three-back Hasselblad system. The main attraction for me was its hackability. It was designed for press camera shooters to be able to adapt their LF lenses to it easily with simple threaded rings or tubes (the focusing helical was separate from the lens), and it was fairly simple to adapt a Kiev Spot metering prism to it as well. My 500mm was a 500mm/f:5.5 Schneider Tele-Xenar with a tube machined by SK Grimes on a long helical made by Komura.

The loud mirror sound mostly came after the exposure, and the reason for it was that the mirror slid forward into a metal sheath instead of flipping upward, requiring an additional shutter blind for the viewfinder, but the advantage was that wide lenses could protrude into the mirror box, requiring less retrofocus correction than comparable Hasselblad lenses, and as a result, I suspect the Nikkor 40mm/4.0 and 50mm/2.8 would hold up quite well against the comparable Hasselblad 500C lenses of their day. The 40mm was a real jewel.

Cotton Club

I'm not sure what are the american prices, but here, where I live you can call Bronica everything but the bargain. It just isn't cheap.
For example the 120-format cam I use (Mamiya 645 1000S) cost's HALF the price of ETR(S)(i). Not that I find anything wrong with the Bronicas. Contrary, I like the ETR design much more than the design of 1000S in almost every aspect.
But it's price just doesn't go with the word "bargain" ;)

"what about a "Semflex" (+ Berthiot-lens)? saw one yesterday in a store, very cheap, mint condition, from 1950."

Gerry, I recently bought a Semflex TLR, with a pristine Berthiot lens, for a princely £10.

The viewfinder is horrible and the lens panel is out of alignment which gives me unintentionally artistic shallow focus shots.

Pity, because I used to own a Som Berthiot lens, for my 5x4, and I loved it.

Caveat emptor!

Looks like all the Bronica SQ's were snapped up at KEH. Wonder how that happened?

Was so centered on getting a Blad 503 kit until I read your take on the Bronica.

Got this today:


Thank you! I always find good reading on your site.


Splendid bargain--I should have thought* that kit would have sold for $4800 when it was new, possibly more.

And the person who put it together knew what he was doing, I think--check the filter sizes; don't all four of those lenses take the same size filter?

Now check in tomorrow for the film to use in it. [g]


*Sorry; Americans don't say this. I've been watching "Foyle's War."

No the 50 is 77 mm but the other 3 are 67mm. But that's not a problem because I already have some 67 & 77 mm filters on some on my 6X7 Taks.



thanks Andrew for your comments about the Semflex! £10..., wow! :)

In many aspects SQ-As surpass any other MF system, they're one cleverly designed cameras with all the features that make your workflow a lot easier: MLU, Multiple Exposure, TTL metering with flashes, AE and other metering prism with even Spot-meter in the menu.

Camera bodies are quite reliable and endurable, I don't treat both of my SQ-As gently and have used them in all types of weather and varying temperatures - proved more reliable than any of my electronic film Nikons.

The main buggers are those Zenzanons (besides those quirky backs), lens coatings render quite smooth yet sharp images but are more prone to unexpected flare than any other MF lenses I've used. Here's a typical example of what I'm talking about: www.flickr.com/photos/overdear/8034254833/

Though I have to agree about the bokeh they draw - smooth as the butter.

The rumor has it that some of the Zenzanons we're designed by Schneider-Kreuznach and some of those lenses were even built in Schnieder facilities (with Angulon Tilt Shift lens being the obvious).

Truly the best bargain in MF world.

Sold my s2a never looked back.

have a point and shoot now- quality is 1000x better than scanning and digitizing, I shoot more, its accurate and I am not tired lugging the 1000lb beast around.

I was a hard, hard core film guy til last yr- but digital blows the socks off anything film can do, period.

Nostalgia is great, but don't try and recreate it- came back from HK last yr after lugging the beast (S2a) around- spent almost a grand on developing and digitizing.

Set up a slide show with a my nice medium format projector and was humbled with my slightly out of focus shots and slightly off exposure and upside down slides.
Too dark too light, missed the moment, digitizing was awful, etc.

In contrast the pics I got with the p&S are nice, looser and have more style than the s2. Still like the looks and the gun shot shutter but you have to put things into the past and remember its just a tool.

Seems like the SQ's are back at KEH or I didn't search correctly. I am now the owner of an SQ-AI, and 80mm standard lens. One more check in the film is more expensive column. Mike I think KEH owes you a kickback.

Whenever someone asked me to whether to buy Hasselblad, I told them buy Bronica, you'll get same results, better bokeh and you'll save money.

I picked up a Zenzanon-s 150/3.5 on the strength of your 37th Frame bokeh article, so thank you, Mike!

I'd actually wanted a Kiev of some sort - partly for the retro cool (I enjoyed my old Moskva-5 and Jupiter-3 and Jupiter-9) and partly for budget reasons. But in the UK they're pretty much Bronica prices, even costlier if you want MLU. So I waited until I could snag a bargain SQ-Ai, WLF and 50mm PS package.

No regrets. Doesn't stop me wanting a 150mm Kaleinar and 250mm Jupiter, though, or a Mamiya 645 35mm. But what I've got is a light, inexpensive, versatile kit.

I can only add that with the 50mm and 150mm lenses, the Bronica's tripod socket is so well-centred that a Manfrotto 209 tabletop tripod makes a sturdy travel tripod.

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