I’ve been into photography since I was a student at university, it was during the time DSLRs started to become reasonably affordable and were all the rage. Long story short, I bought one and took a bunch of photos over the next few years, but there was always something missing. I got tired of the pursuit of technical excellence rather than the pursuit of substance. Also seeing silver gelatine prints of black and white film didn’t help my digital photography journey either, but I always thought of film photography as a hard, expensive and unrewarding process…little did I know.
During the first lockdown due to the pandemic, I decided to try it out. Jumping straight to square and medium format seemed the right way to go. Pricey Hasselblads were out of the question and after some research, I chose a Bronica SQ-B and an 80mm f/2.8 Zenzanon PS lens — I didn’t regret it.
Shooting with the Bronica is unique kind of experience. Looking through the waist level finder, your frame feels so much more alive, bright and 3D, popping the magnifier glass to help you with focus feels like watching old cinema. Everything slows down when operating this camera, you first have to remove the dark slide, manual focus and framing takes more time as you only have 12 frames per roll available, making each shot super precious.
Other limitations are the non existent meter and the shutter speed, that only goes up to 1/500th of a second. Υet I found out that working around these limitations gave me better results than I ever had with all the bells and whistles of a Minolta X-700 I also bought and use.
Carrying the Bronica around isn’t cumbersome at all, and despite its weight, with the right strap, it is more comfortable than carrying a 35mm SLR that tends to jiggle around. The sounds this camera makes when operated is another pleasure to be experienced, the Seiko leaf shutter of the Zenzanon PS lens can barely be heard, because of the unapologetic big fat slap of the mirror, that thing definitely turns heads! The gears of the manual hand crank are equally loud and satisfying.
The first time I shoot with the Bronica was at my summer Vacation in Crete, Greece. Shooting under the Greek summer sun meant I had to choose a fast film, so I loaded an ILFORD FP4 PLUS. I enjoyed the whole process so much. Every picture I took, as well the ones I didn’t. After processing the film at home I was amazed at the detail and the sharpness of the negatives. I am not sure if it is the size of the negative, the lens, the film, or the combination of everything but I never thought the first roll would come out so beautiful.
I will definitely keep this camera forever.
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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