I’ll be talking today about the first medium format film camera I bought in 2016, a Zenza Bronica S2A.
My first contact with photography was at age 11, when my mum gave me her Kodak Instamatic. On my 15th birthday my dad gave me a Fuji AX SLR camera. Later on, I shot digital most of the time with several compact cameras in the beginning, and later when I was at professional school I bought a used digital Pentax SLR with 35 and 50mm lenses. Here’s what’s covered in this article:
Table of contents
In 2015 I got the chance to see the exhibition „American Prospects“ by Joel Sternfeld, which was shown in the Albertina Art Museum in Vienna, Austria. His analogue large format captures captivated me very much, and they exerted a pull on me. Some of his paper prints were approximately one meter in diameter, printed on high quality paper. One thing attracted my attention at once – the outstanding resolution of Sternfeld’s photographs.
I have no clue why just now, but this was the initial ignition of the fire for analogue…sparked again.
After a lot of research I decided to get a medium format camera. One day I found – more or less accidentally – a Zenza Bronica S2A in great condition, in an English camera shop online.
I had the idea to get a camera that was well-proven over the years and with the ability to change lenses.
The Zenza Bronica S2A platform
The Bronica S2A is a 6×6 focal plane medium format camera with stainless steel body and leatherette covering. The S2A hit the market in 1969. It has a slotted shutter and a swinging mirror which – if the shutter is released – swings down and moves backwards, unlike any other medium format SLR.
This unique mechanism makes it possible to mount lenses that enter deeper into the camera body than others.
Working with the S2A, you can change magazines while a film is loaded independently of what state the shutter is in. Therefore, you are able to change the film back if you need another film speed or color vs black and white, for example.
There is no need for batteries, everything works manually, and with the S2A you still have access to a comprehensive range of accessories.
The Bronica is really beautiful, it lightens in the sun like a fresh washed Cadillac and it is really heavy, about 1.3 kg (2.87 lb).
Besides that, it is also really loud. Someone wrote it might be the loudest medium format camera. Therefore it is definitely not suitable to shoot during a classical concert or a holy mass. At the same time, the camera behaves very steadily at the moment the shutter is released. Therefore captures at the border of good exposure are possible, even though not absolutely essential for me.
Oh yes, the shutter. If you release the shutter, the attention of every innocent bystander is yours. Using the S2A is a good conversation starter. I like that.
The S2A is the enhanced model of the S2. In this, the final model, Zenza Bronica added an improved film advance gear mechanism, the cocking dial has been changed and it is smaller than the previous version. The lenses are now called „Zenzanon“.
Most of the lenses on the market these days were made by Nikon. Here and there you’ll find some Seiko lenses, and to the best of my knowledge these lenses differ in their coatings and internal set-up.
Zenza always supplied lenses from other manufacturers. Later, they also produced TTL medium format cameras and one medium format compact camera. After their take-over by Tamron the Zenza brand was closed in 1995 and no more cameras were built.
I use Bronica’s 75mm f/2.8 lens. It’s my portrait lens or for capturing close-up themes or even everyday tasks. This lens illustrates over the whole aperture and speed range very neatly, objects can be obscured from the background very nicely.
To find clean lenses online needs some time but you can be successful. You can find many, but some of them have been heavily used or suffer from fungus, or carry cleaning traces on their surfaces. Price tag is an important aspect, in that it doesn’t often correlate with the condition of the lenses being offered.
In the end the lens is of high optical and mechanical quality from my point of view. My 75mm lens is still working faultlessly. I don’t have problems with dry screw threads or oily blades. It is squeaky clean.
As I mentioned above, it renders over the whole aperture range sharply, although with when wide-open we could discuss a minor lack of definition at the outmost edges. I should say that this doesn’t disturb me for my style of photography.
I’m using the S2A mostly for still life and portrait photography. From my point of view it isn’t a camera for fast shots. If it comes to fast or moving themes, I’ll going to use another camera.
For good pictures with this tool, it demands from you that you spend some time. With help of the bright viewfinder it’s easy to focus but needs more concentration than working with a modern SLR. A foldaway magnifying lens in the finder makes focusing easier.
When using the S2A I appreciate the inconspicuous waist-level position, which I think it is less obtrusive, and I think it gives me another access to my theme/model than the classical SLR.
Focusing on people or groups without attracting attention is easier with this kind of camera because my behavior is not recognized directly as photography. The shutter sound limits this phenomenon, of course.
I live and work pragmatically, I love to keep things simple. The S2A only does what I adjust, time and aperture, that’s all. The rest is in my responsibility.
Zenza Bronica Accessories
If you visit the well known online marketplaces you’ll find a more or less large supply of Bronica cameras, lenses and accessories. You can find more lenses, film backs, or even bellows!
Some online dealers are spezialized in Bronica equipment, most of them are from England and Japan. I found mine at a shop from England. Every now and then complete Bronica kita are sold online. In these cases it is possible to place a real bargain bid, especially if you appreciate the value of the individual parts.
Sum up and conclusion
The Zenza Bronica S2A is probably the last of its kind. A mechanical masterpiece, that stands out with mature features which couldn’t be found elsewhere on cameras of that time. It is outstandingly manufactured, made of stainless steel like cutlery and exudes the charm of an old road cruiser. It is always ready for use thanks to no need of batteries. It generates its power out of the pretension of the crank. Nothing is thin or light on it. It is loud and heavy but also very nice to look at and reliable. With a little fortune you can find a S2A in „mint condition“ online. If you use it carefully, it will be loyal to you forever.
~ Michael Preinfalk
Zenza Bronica S2A technical specifications
|Camera name||Bronica S2A|
|Camera type||Single Lens Reflex|
|Format||6x6 - 120/220 rollfilm
6x4.5 - 120/220 rollfilm
|Manufacture dates||1965-74 (unconfirmed)|
|Shutter||Cloth Focal plane (vertical travel)
B, 1 sec - 1/2000 sec
|Lenses||Ranging from 40mm wide-angle to 600mm. 10+ in total|
Waist Level Viewfinder
|Metering||With TTL prism only|
|Flash||Focal plane and X-Sync PC connection|
100mm x 100mm x 140mm (W x D x H)
Write for EMULSIVE
EMULSIVE is all about promoting knowledge transfer across the film photography community. You can help by contributing your thoughts, work and ideas to inspire others reading these pages: check out the submission guide.
If you like what you're reading you can help this passion project by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.