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Camera review: the Zenza Bronica ETRS – Workhorse, or Hippopotamus…? – by Neil PiperCamera review: the Zenza Bronica ETRS – Workhorse, or Hippopotamus…? – by Neil Piper

Camera review: the Zenza Bronica ETRS – Workhorse, or Hippopotamus…? – by Neil Piper

From what I’ve read the Bronica ETRS I get the impression that it is considered the “lesser wanted” of the Bronica family. I really don’t know why. A ready to go setup can be has easily now for sub £200, probably nearer the £150 mark if you shop around. I know I picked mine up for £175 with two lenses, a metered prism and the speed grip. That’s cheap for entry into the quality end of the medium format market – sorry Holga/Diana users…they don’t count…today at least…!

Fully loaded up this camera is a monster compared to the rest of the cameras in my regular rotation. My full setup weighs 1.9kgs – body, winder, finder and a 50mm lens. Without the lens it comes in at slightly under 1.5kg. That’s quite a lot I think for a camera setup. For comparison, a Hasselblad 500CM, without a lens weighs 601 grams according to Ken Rockwell.

The ETRS was introduced by Zenza Bronica in early 1979 I believe as the replacement to the ETR. It as standard takes 120 roll film and creates a 6×4.5cm image, allowing you to get 15 shots per roll. That’s landscape format, not portrait.

The Bronica ETRS is essentially the same as the earlier ETR but Bronica added electrical contacts to the viewfinder to use the AE-II and AE-III metered finders, and they also added a two-position shutter release lock.

I’ve never personally used an ETR model, so I cannot vouch for any other differences that there may be. There were supposedly two versions of ETRS released during its time, the early version is of metal construction and the later is known as the “plastic” version. I’ve never used the later version, I assume its new nickname comes from its build.

According to Camerapedia you can tell the difference by the location of the lens release – the later version locates the release on the left-hand side of the camera. Mine is on the front, so I’m assuming mine is an early version. It’s certainly heavy enough that I’m pretty sure it’s all metal…!

The shutter is an electronically controlled Seiko leaf shutter in the lens, with a choice of 8, 4, 2 and 1 seconds, and 1/2, 1/4, 1/8th, 1/15th, 1/30th, 1/60th, 1/125th, 1/250th and 1/500th of a second. If the little 6-volt battery inside (A PX28A, or 4LR44) goes dead, it will also mechanically shoot at a standard 1/500th.

You’ve also got a ‘bulb mode’ (ish) by using the A/T lever on the lens (T for Timed, A is for Auto I assume) and a standard cable release socket for your long exposures. There’s also flash sync but I don’t use it and have no idea how it works so sorry, you’ll have to head elsewhere if you want to know more about that. I’m sure Mike Butkus has a manual if you need one.

 

 

Modular medium format

The ETRS is of a ‘modular’ setup, which if you’ve never used one basically means that just about every component can be removed and swapped out if you wanted to. For example –

Mine came with the AE-II metered prism finder but there are at least three other types available, an unmetered prism finder, a regular waist lever finder and an “Action Prism” finder. I have no real idea about that one though…

 

Bronica ETRS Review - Exploded

Bronica ETRS Review – Exploded

As standard, the camera comes with a hand crank on the right-hand side of the body for advancing the film. Mine has the manual speed grip which replaces the crank but you can also (if you can find one) get a motor winder as well. These speed grips change the feel and aesthetic of the camera to be more like a giant SLR camera, and for me at least when making that transition to medium format it made it much easier.

You really can treat the camera in the same way you would use your traditional SLR. The handle allows you to hold it in the same way, and the thumb use film advance will be familiar to any SLR owners as well. This advance also resets the mirror.

 

 

Film backs

…and the film backs..! Oh what a joy it is to use a camera that has interchangeable film backs.

Again, if you’ve never experienced this let me tell you about it. So as the camera is modular, one of the parts that comes off is the entire box that holds the film. This ‘film back’ as they are known simply clips onto the camera, but between the back and the camera body is what is called a dark slide.

This dark slide, when clipped into its little guides allows you to remove the film back at any point throughout the roll. Yeah, that’s cool. So I have two 120 film backs for my ETRS, one generally has colour neg film in, the other black and white. Handy, hey…?

They are clearly marked on the sides, Bronica were smart enough to give you that little bit of help, and the 120 backs at least have that handy little clip to tuck in part of your film box so you can keep track of the film stock inside. Very handy if you’ve got a few film backs that are all the same format but all have different films in.

Oh, and the backs from the old ETR are interchangeable with the backs for the ETRS. At least the ones I’ve had experience with have been… But 120 format film isn’t where it stops. If you can find them – and eBay to be fair does seem to have a supply of most – you can also equip yourself with film backs that accept 220 roll film, 35mm film and Polaroid pack film. Hell, I’ve never seen one, but apparently, they made a back that takes 70mm film, giving you a whopping 90 shots before you need to swap it out!

 

The ETRS in use

So how does it feel to shoot…? Well how do you imagine? It’s a freakin’ tank, and that’s a great thing for me to be totally honest.

Looking at its construction, feeling its weight, I’d frankly be disappointed if it handled any other way. You attach the lens with a satisfying click as the release switch engages. The mount is smooth, you can feel that it’s been machined to fit. The film advance is smooth and easy to move. You can physically feel the roll of film being pulled through the mechanism inside the back.

Every removable part when connected feels solid and secure. It’s silky smooth to use, yet solid and robust – I’m pretty sure if I dropped this camera the floor would come off worse.

You can hand hold it, of course you can. As I mentioned earlier the grip makes it feel like a giant SLR, but I generally feel more comfortable using this on a tripod. Oh, and yes, it has a standard 1/4 inch tripod socket. It even has strap lugs for diehard handheld shooters.

Bronica ETRS Review - Wussy strap

Bronica ETRS Review – Wussy strap

The strap’s rather wussy though, its pretty thin, so I tend not to use it.

 

 

Sample images

So now I realise that I haven’t given any examples of photographs I’ve made with the ETRS. I wasn’t going to if I’m perfectly honest, as this review was intended to be more about the use of the camera, and I have found that results (like many cameras) vary greatly dependant on what glass you have attached to the front and what film you have out the back.

But…I’ve changed my mind on that so below are a few examples across a variety of film stocks. They are all shot with the 50mm f/2.8 lens.

Oh and just one more thing about the weight before I sign off, stripped back to just the body, unusable without the film back, lens and crank, it weighs a shade over 0.5kg. That’s only 100g more than an Olympus Trip 35.

Thanks for reading!

~ Neil Piper

 

 

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About The Author

Neil Piper

I am a photographer, photography instructor and camera collector based in the east of the United Kingdom. I started shooting film in about 2013 after realising that using digital cameras held no interest to me. It wasn’t until I started my Masters degree that I realised that it wasn’t always the subject that I was shooting that was important to me, more the method of capture. Even the fact that I was using film wasn’t a huge deal – it was the actual cameras that I was using.Electronic technology all got pushed to the wayside in favour of the mechanically operated. The Olympus OM-1, Kodak Brownie Six-20, Olympus Trip 35, Mamiya 4b…amongst many, many others…I now shoot much of my work using home made or custom commissioned pinhole cameras, developing my own colour and black and white film and paper negatives.

6 Comments

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  1. That’s for real camera users, Nikon.

    Reply
  2. As an old guy that shot primarily film for my entire career, I have to say that I knew a lot of wedding guys that used this camera, but our local pro shop always had a ton of these on their repair desk waiting to go out for repair. Always a very problematic camera, altho I always thought with the backs and all, it was better than the Mamiya until they came out with the interchangeable back model. I guess most of the problems were with the electronic components of the camera that would not “read” correctly (i.e. the backs wouldn’t send info to the bodies, ditto with the body and the lenses.The lens quality was a mixed bag, some good one, some “meh”. I think a lot of Bronica fans will admit that the later series lenses for the SQ, after Tamron bought them, were the premium lenses of the Bronica line…

    Since I was an ad guy, I always used Hasselblad (but mostly shot sheet film anyway for product), but I did know a bunch of guys that swore by the old Bronica stuff with the focal plane shutter and Nikon lenses. Buyer beware….

    Reply
  3. @neil_piper On Twitter…there’s a further underscore after my name just to be a pain in the arse mate!!!

    Reply
  4. The ERTS is a decent camera, at least on a par with 645 offerings from Mamiya and Pentax. My only dislikes about later Bronicas is that they are all electronic shutter and that they have kind of a plasticky feel to them. Having said that, they are well designed and have good optical quality. I think you can pick one now for a song. Happy shooting!

    Reply
  5. There is to me at least one very annoying feature in general use. The lens mount rotates the wrong way when attaching/detaching lenses (compared with Canon EF, Minolta MD and Kiev/Contax). I’ve several times come close to having a lens fall off because of that.

    Reply

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